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TV Tech: 10 Dumbest Things I've Seen In 10 Years ^ | Phillip Swann

Posted on 03/09/2011 4:05:04 PM PST by Las Vegas Dave

Washington, D.C. (March 8, 2011) -- Editor's Note: To celebrate the 10th anniversary of, over the next several months I plan to publish a series of features honoring what I think represents the '10 Best' in the field of TV technologies.

(And in some cases, '10 Worst' articles will expose companies and people who I think are failing to strive toward excellence, or, in some cases, not even making a serious effort to satisfy their customers.)

So today, I offer the '10 Dumbest Things I've Seen In The Last 10 Years of TV Technology'

In 10 years of covering TV technology at, I've seen some smart things -- and I've seen some dumb ones. The latter category always fascinates me because it's hard to believe that otherwise smart executives can sometimes make such foolish decisions. But they do and so...

I present, 'The 10 Dumbest Things I've Seen In 10 Years of TV Technology'

1. 3D TV Based on the success of one damn movie, Avatar, an entire industry, from TV makers to studio chiefs to movie theater owners, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions, on a new technology that few consumers actually want.

Folks, Avatar would have made a fortune at the box office if the movie was in 3D, 2D, or perhaps even black and white. Say the name James Cameron and moviegoers come a running. That's an historical fact. But the movie and TV bigwigs somehow interpreted Avatar's success as consumers saying they want all movies, or at least, most movies in 3D. And even worse, they concluded that people want to watch 3D movies, sports, guitar lessons, operas, you name it, in 3D at home.

But thus far, the executives have been spectacularly wrong. Only about 1 million 3D TVs were sold in the U.S. during their launch year -- and the 3D channels on cable and satellite systems are watched by fewer people than a September baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. And 3D theatrical movies continue to struggle with some wags saying they know a movie is terrible if the studio decides to convert it to 3D, in a last ditch effort to generate some box office.

2. The Video iPod In 2005, Apple introduced a new iPod with a 2.5-inch video screen that was supposed to entice consumers to watch movies and TV shows while on the go. However, I said at the time that it was a dumb idea because few people would want to watch their favorite shows -- or even lousy ones -- on a 2.5-inch screen. Why watch on such a small screen when you could watch your faves on a 60-inch screen or bigger at home? However, tech journalists and other Silicon sympathizers proclaimed that the video iPod would revolutionize the world.

They were wrong -- and dumb. It wasn't long before research indicated that consumers were downloading movies and TV shows from Apple's iTunes store, but they were watching them on their much larger PC screens, not the video iPod.

In subsequent years, the video iPod concept has migrated to larger screen devices such as the iPad and laptops. And you don't hear much from Apple anymore about the 2.5-inch video screen concept. Instead, the company is pushing mobile video on the devices I just mentioned -- or they are promoting their new Apple TV set-top, which, lo and behold, uses an actual television (maybe even a 60-inch one) to display movies and shows.

3. The Launch Of Voom Chuck Dolan, then the 78-year-old Cablevision chairman, cajoled his company in 2003 to launch a satellite TV business called Voom. The service, which featured roughly 40 HD channels, was intended to targeted the high-def audience which was being underserved at the time by the cable and satellite operators. The problem was, though, that DIRECTV and Dish Network -- Voom's main competitors -- had millions of subscribers and enormous resources. The two companies had been in business for nearly a decade and were well entrenched -- and they planned to expand their high-def lineups in the very near future.

So I predicted that Voom would not succeed. This is what I wrote in 2005 when Dolan tried to buy the sagging Voom from his own company.

" launching four new satellites over the next two years so it can provide up to 150 national HDTV channels by 2007;and it will start offering local high-def channels in 12 markets sometime this summer. Why would anyone subscribe to an upstart satellite service when DIRECTV will soon provide an even better HDTV lineup to go along with its established satellite service?"

But despite the obvious problems facing Voom, I was ripped apart by industry officials and Voom apologists who maintained that it would survive. (See this message board from They thought I was crazy for saying Voom would fail.)

But Voom did fail and the collapse nearly tore apart the executive wing of Cablevision.

4. TiVo Focuses on Retail Sales In 1997, TiVo launched as one of the first two DVR companies in the U.S. (ReplayTV was the other.) Almost immediately, the tech world announced that TiVo would take over the world. The DVR, they said, was so much better than the VCR that consumers would soon switch one for the other.

Well, the tech world was onto to something there. The DVR was a stunning innovation. But the dumb part here is that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, TiVo CEO Mike Ramsey believed that DVR technology and TiVo was one and the same. Instead of focusing on licensing TiVo's unique software to cable and satellite operators, who controlled nearly 90 percent of U.S. households, Ramsey thought his particular DVR product was so good that consumers would run to the store to buy one.

But they didn't. As much as they liked TiVo, consumers preferred the convenience of their cable or satellite operator bringing a generic DVR to their home and installing it for a small monthly fee. So long as the generic DVR did much the same thing that TiVo did, that was good enough for them. So, soon, millions of cable and satellite homes had DVRs, but not TiVo DVRs, which sat gathering dust in retail showrooms.

Ramsey's arrogance in choosing the retail strategy over the licensing option gave the cable and satellite companies home field advantage. Now, TiVo, which has fallen from 4.4 million subscribers to around two million now, is trying to use its patents to play catch up. The company (under new leadership; Ramsey was asked to step aside) is hoping the courts will force cable and satellite operators to use TiVo to avoid a patent infringement defeat.

But even if they win in the courts, it's probably too late. Consumers are content with their current DVRs.

5. Toshiba Launches the HD DVD In 2006, the majority of movie studios decided to support the Sony-backed Blu-ray high-def player, which was intended to replace the DVD as the main vehicle for home video. The studio support meant that Sony -- and its Blu-ray partners -- could count on the majority of new video releases being on Blu-ray. And everyone knows that whoever controls distribution controls the business.

However, despite that, Toshiba decided to launch a rival format called HD DVD.

And that was dumb. Less than two years later -- and after hundreds of millions of dollars in losses -- Toshiba pulled the plug on HD DVD.

In tennis, they would have called it, an unforced error.

6. TV Programmers Decide to Use 720p HD For Sports More than a decade ago, when High-Definition TVs started to show up on store shelves, the networks made some decisions. Some, such as Fox and ABC/ESPN, decided they would present high-def video in a format called 720p. Others, such as CBS and NBC, decided they would use 1080i.

Over the years, it's become distressingly obvious that 720p or 1080i works just fine for dramas, comedies and other scripted fare. But for sports, 1080i captures the fast motion of play so much better than 720p that the 720p networks struggle to keep up. High-def viewers are constantly screaming that the HD picture during sportscasts on Fox, ABC and ESPN fail to meet the same standards as seen on 1080i networks.

The 720p network executives went with their chosen format because they thought it would save money -- and, in part, they thought viewers wouldn't notice the difference.

The executives were wrong -- and they were dumb.

7. Congress Sets the Digital TV Transition Amid Chaos Because it wanted to generate revenue from auctioning off analog spectrum, the federal government decided it would force local TV channels to only broadcast digital signals. That meant that viewers had to get a Digital TV, or a digital converter box, by the Digital TV transition deadline to continue watching television.

So when did the government decide the transition would take place? February 17, 2009 -- just a few weeks after the Bush administration would leave office. That meant that Bush administration officials would not be around when the transition occurred -- but they would be in office for the most important decisions leading up to the transition. In other words, they wouldn't be around to take responsibility if the decisions backfired.

Consequently, many decisions were made in a half-assed fashion and some important DTV transition posts were constantly having to be filled and re-filled. For obvious reasons, Bush administration officials saw little benefit in supervising the transition so they either left their positions or (possibly) sabotaged the transition so the next administration, the Obama one, would be stuck with the result.

The result of this poor planning is that Congress had to move the transition to the summer of 2009 at great expense. And to this day, there are reports that many low-income Americans still do not have the right equipment to watch the new digital signals.

8. Studios to Charge $30 To Watch PPV Movies at Home Later this year, DIRECTV is likely to be the first TV provider to offer movies just 60 days after their theatrical release -- and at least one month prior to their Blu-ray and DVD release. I can't tell you how dumb this is, but I'll try.

If the movie was available on the same day as its theatrical release -- or perhaps a month after its theatrical release -- a family of four might justify paying $30 to watch it at home. The $30 would be cheaper than paying for four movie tickets.

But if the movie is available just a month before its DVD or Blu-ray release, who is going to pay $30 knowing that it will soon be available for $4.99 as a rental? (Or you could buy it on Blu-ray for less than $30 and keep it forever.)

The price is too damn high! And dumb!

9. Celebrities Pile On the Makeup to Combat HDTV When HDTVs started to enter U.S. homes in the early part of the last decade, many celebrities and local TV news people went into a panic. For the first time, viewers could see the aging signs and facial imperfections of the stars.

But instead of trying to subtly cover up the problems with light makeup and trick lighting, the celebs pilled on the goo. Watching local news programs, or national talk shows, in HD was like watching the clowns at Ringling Bros. The makeup was so excessive that it just made everything worse. The celebs didn't realize that the ultra-heavy foundations and rouges were clearly visible to the viewer. (And then they started to use plastic surgery to combat HD; dear God...)

In time, makeup artists adjusted to the new picture format and developed new techniques that soften facial imperfections. (Although many celebs and local news people are still seeing their careers being damaged by high-def's candid pictures; just ask the acne-scarred Cameron Diaz for one.) But for a few years there, there was plenty of dumb to be seen on screen.

10. Journalists Predict Porn Will Revolutionize New Products For the last 10 years, every time a new video product is introduced, from Blu-ray to 3D TV to the video iPod, both tech and mainstream journalists publish articles saying that porn will help make the new device a success. For instance, they said that video iPod owners would download porn movies on their little 2.5-inch screens.

The reason the journalists keep repeating this argument is that some consumers did buy VCRs in the 1980s so they could watch dirty videos at home. But there was a reason why they did that then -- and they don't use new devices for porn now. In the 1980s, it was not so easy to access pornography. Basically, you went to a sleazy movie theater or you got a VCR.

But now you can get porn everywhere -- the Net, on TV, you name it. So there's little reason why someone would go out of his way to buy an expensive new toy just so he can watch porn.

But because porn helped the rise of the VCR in the 1980s, journalists can't help themselves to write that it will boost a totally different product in a totally different time.

But it's just dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

TOPICS: Music/Entertainment; TV/Movies
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1 posted on 03/09/2011 4:05:06 PM PST by Las Vegas Dave
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To: ADemocratNoMore; advertising guy; aft_lizard; AJMaXx; Alice in Wonderland; american colleen; ...
Pinging the HDTV list..
HDTV pings!

2 posted on 03/09/2011 4:07:49 PM PST by Las Vegas Dave ("Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Ronald Reagan)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

The only thing I can say about HD is that I finally got some HD stock footage where it will pass technical evaluation at Shutterstock and Fotolia due to a freebie utility program. No HD TV here and real desire to get one. My old TV shows on DVD look just fine with no commercials.

3 posted on 03/09/2011 4:14:33 PM PST by wally_bert (It's sheer elegance in its simplicity! - The Middleman)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

I hate watching the football games in 720p on Fox. I agree with him on that one...that is really one of my pet peeves.

4 posted on 03/09/2011 4:18:36 PM PST by LivingNet
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To: Las Vegas Dave


I’m still not convinced that Blu-Ray is worth the switch over, unless forced to. I don’t know if the difference is worth it.

5 posted on 03/09/2011 4:19:21 PM PST by cicero2k
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To: Las Vegas Dave

Not really related to HD but I thought I’d share this. Back in the day of using a rotatable tv antenna, I would install the rotator box next to my recliner for ease of use, not on top of the tv console.

I mean, what is the point of having a remote control to change the channel when you’d still have to get up, walk across the room and spin the knob to aim the antenna?

6 posted on 03/09/2011 4:22:41 PM PST by freebird5850 (Of course Obama loves his's just that Sarah Palin loves mine!)
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To: Las Vegas Dave
Doing stupid things in the industry is not new. The two items that killed RCA.

The RCA CED Video Disk that used a small diamond to track a video disk. It was 14 year old technology when they tried to market it.

The RCA XL-100 TV flyback transformer. It combined the TV power transformer and the high voltage flyback picture tube voltage. They broke about every two years and RCA had to replace them for free.

7 posted on 03/09/2011 4:28:09 PM PST by bmwcyle (It is Satan's fault)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

I bought a Tivo once.
It cost a couple of hundred dollars and 10 bucks a month.
You could fit like 6 low def tv shows on it.
My GF at the time would fill it with Ozzy’s show(i already forget it’s name) and Y+R.

What a frigging waste of money.

I really wish Comcast would allow a flash drive supplement to my current rented DVR, the box has a USB port.
Even it’s hard drive is paltry when recording HD.

8 posted on 03/09/2011 4:31:03 PM PST by mowowie
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To: Las Vegas Dave

I had Cablevision during that period of Voom network, number 3 on this list. Voom had a great set of original programming and programs picked up from Europe. I think only two programs are still in production from all of those dozens, Three Sheets with Nick Lamprey and an extreme sports travelogue show.

I miss the days of 24/7 hi def nature shows with hi def 4.1 audio, used to run it as background noise at work.

9 posted on 03/09/2011 4:32:24 PM PST by JerseyHighlander (p.s. The word 'bloggers' is not in the freerepublic spellcheck dictionary?!)
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To: cicero2k
Get a 1080p DVD player for cheap and rent from redbox.
You will need a good set to match the HD player though.
10 posted on 03/09/2011 4:43:46 PM PST by MaxMax
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To: bmwcyle
I have one of these collecting dust out in my garage. It weighs about 60 pounds. probably one of the very first laser disc player. It was used at a chevy dealership to promote new cars. I imagine it cost a few thousand to buy at the time. The remote is the size of a paperback book. Anybody want it?
11 posted on 03/09/2011 4:45:18 PM PST by mowowie
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To: mowowie

It does not even make a good boat anchor.

12 posted on 03/09/2011 4:49:38 PM PST by bmwcyle (It is Satan's fault)
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To: Las Vegas Dave; Swordmaker

#2 is wrong, and dumb, but the rest of the list looks pretty good.

13 posted on 03/09/2011 4:50:32 PM PST by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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To: bmwcyle

No it probably would not be safe to use as a boat anchor.
As you can see from the mechanics under the top cover it requires plutonium to run.

14 posted on 03/09/2011 4:53:45 PM PST by mowowie
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To: cicero2k
I’m still not convinced that Blu-Ray is worth the switch over, unless forced to. I don’t know if the difference is worth it.

It really depends on your TV.

In my bedroom I have a 32" 720p LCD. On this TV I can't discern any difference whatsoever between Blu-ray and DVD. In my living room is a 46" 1080p LED and on this TV the difference is incredible, so much that I can't hardly bear to watch old DVDs on the living room TV anymore. The DVD picture is just too blurry whereas Blu-rays are sharp and crystal-clear. I have 320GB Sony PS3s hooked up to each TV that I use primarily to play discs and stream Netflix (I've never been much of a gamer but the PS3s are just fantastic all-around media devices).

I'm not about to go and replace the few DVDs I own with Blu-ray but when I rent from Redbox or Netflix, I definitely choose BD over DVD.

15 posted on 03/09/2011 4:53:51 PM PST by Gena Bukin
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To: Las Vegas Dave

They left off Google TV.

16 posted on 03/09/2011 4:54:41 PM PST by Terpfen (Buh-bye, Suntan Charlie.)
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To: SunkenCiv

I bought a Sansa View mp3 player a few years back thinking it would be cool to watch stuff on it.

After going through the time consuming process of converting avi’s etc to play on it i soon said the hell with it.

Now it just sits in my draw until lawn mowing, snow shoveling music time.

17 posted on 03/09/2011 4:58:29 PM PST by mowowie
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To: JerseyHighlander

I had VOOM for 4 weeks and they went dark, I have two voom boxes in the basement!

Yes they were nice shows and also some great monster flicks..

18 posted on 03/09/2011 5:00:20 PM PST by Las Vegas Dave ("Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Ronald Reagan)
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To: mowowie
What a frigging waste of money.

I am compelled to agree with you. Your GF at the time WAS a waste of money, wasn't she?

19 posted on 03/09/2011 5:02:11 PM PST by Cyber Liberty (You CAN get blood from a stone, if you throw it hard enough.)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

Toshiba made a good DVD burner with a 160/250GB Hard Drive and decent editing software. I could record stuff off the digital cable onto the Hard Drive, eidt out the commercials and burn standard DVD-Rs. Unfortunately I killed it and then I found out they’d stopped making them.

20 posted on 03/09/2011 5:12:26 PM PST by PLMerite (Thanks for fixing the clock.)
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