I watched some television on Christmas Day. Or at least I tried to, through the back of my one-year-old's head as she stood three inches from the screen in a bid to redefine the notion of "immersive" viewing. And for a moment, I wavered: what would it be like, I thought, to have a "home cinema", watching Doctor Who on a screen the size of a snooker table, showing an image of such gob-smacking resolution that you could tell when David Tennant last flossed?
But the wavering was quite hard to keep up for very long – over the top of Doctor Who, Grandma was telling me about her finest hauls at TK Maxx this year. Watching telly, I therefore tried to remind myself in my slightly drunken glow, isn't really about my Panasonic's "unique image-analysis processors" delivering ever-sharper visual "fidelity". It is, as any of the Royle family will tell you as soon as EastEnders is over, a bit of a get-together round any box with half-decent reception.
And, comfortingly, it's clear that millions of others feel the same. Last week came the news that Sony is worried that not enough of us are buying their Blu-ray DVD players or the high-definition discs to play in them: the players only accounted for 12 per cent of the market in western Europe this year, which is bad news, apparently. Are we refusing to embrace the most up-to-date (and most costly) viewing technology because we're just a bunch of neo-Luddites?
Perhaps. It took nearly a decade for the DVD player, with all its whizz bang knobs and dials, to kill off the VHS player. DVD triumphed, eventually. But the recent advent of the new "high-definition" (HD) viewing systems shows that it rarely pays to be – jargon alert! – an early adopter.
Earlier this month the BBC had to deal with complaints when viewers of its HD channel claimed that the picture quality had deteriorated; the BBC responded with some flannel about bit-rates and encoding, but the grumbling continues.
Down at the pictures, it's quite different: digital projection is increasingly common in cinemas and we'll apparently flock to any film with "3D" in the title. But that's because someone else is footing the bill for the kit, presumably. At home, though, industry analysts say that we're happy to put up with "good enough" tellies and DVD players, and then shake their heads in disappointment.
And neither is the recession entirely to blame. In fact, if you're sitting there reading this between glimpses at a cathode-ray telly showing a DVD you cadged off a Sunday paper a couple of years ago and on a player you got for £50, you're not that far from the leading edge of 21st-century audio-visual technology: the "good-enough" credo.
The iPod, for all its genius, uses none-too-faithful MP3 sound files; the iPlayer is watched by and large on rubbish computer screens; and internet phone calls can be iffy, suffering from lag and prone to sudden termination. Each values convenience over high fidelity, and found mass audiences for technology that is good enough, and no more.
(By the way, as a plodding good-enougher, I would never have spotted this trend on my own. I read about it in Wired magazine.)
Cue the next home entertainment revolution: 3D TV. Sky has begun trialling this, and by some accounts it's pretty good, particularly for sport. But let's fast-forward a few years, to Christmas Day 2015. The six-year-old has pulled the 3D set-top box off the telly for the three-year-old to see out of the window better. Grandma has sat on a pair of 3D specs (£50 a pop?). And Grandpa is sitting at the wrong angle and can see four Doctor Whos but only in D. It's just not good enough, is it?Reuse content