March 27th, 2009 - Convert or Desert...?


As I noticed my neighbors bringing in a TV set from their van the other day, I got to thinking...
I wonder how this whole "Digital TV" switchover thing is going for people, and if it is going to create a tidal wave of junk TVs headed for the landfill.
Effectively, our household is biased, we don't watch TV. We don't seem to miss it. I don't understand how people can spend time in front of a TV set and still get the rest of the things in their lives done. 
We will watch a Minnesota Twins baseball game if one's on standard channels, but since they sold out to the cable channels a few years ago, "network" TV games are few and far between. We don't have cable, have never had cable, and probably never will, it's just not cost effective for what we're interested in.
I don't understand the digital TV switchover. It seems like they (who ever "they" are) are giving us something we never asked for. Yes, Europe's had Hi-Def TV for many years, but it's like not it's a knock-your-socks off improvement, (correct me if I'm wrong) and with the necessity to buy cable to properly view it, for us, what's the point, we don't like TV programs. 
The way I understand it is, if you buy the converter box you get to keep watching your non Hi-Def TV, with your signal still coming in through your crappy antennae, and the signal you are seeing is digital converted back to analog, which is crappier and more degraded than it is now. All for a one-time (as far as we know) fee of "$120 + a rebate, amount TBD."  Wow, that's, um... pointless. Plus a little more electricity to run the converter box thrown in, as icing on the cake.
We will watch DVDs occasionally, so I suppose it's worth keeping the TV for that, but it seems like at some point we would be better served by getting better computer monitors and using the computers to watch DVDs, download our video selections, or watch streaming vid if we have a fast enough connection, or pay a subscriber fee to record our baseball games, at least we don't have to get twenty extra channels just because we want baseball.
Hmmm, then we are still sending our old monitors to the landfill, unless we wait until they completely die. Dang.
It seems to me that this 'Digital Switchover' may be the last gasp for the networks, possibly even for cable TV. When people figure out that they can get the video stimulation they want from their computers; on demand programming without the extra crud, get downloadable media, and more control over that media, it just makes sense. Why have a dedicated appliance to do everything in your house. That would be just like buying a donut-maker just to make donuts! Have you ever noticed how many donut-makers there are at the thrift store?
So who are the people that would be the potential analog-converter box buyers again...?  
Seems like they would be basically poor people with no cable, that depend on TV for entertaining and educating their kids, learning cultural intricacies, getting their news and providing respite from a day of drudgery of a low-paying job. Can they afford $120 for a converter box...? Is it important enough for them to go into further into debt for? And if they say, why should I pay $120 for a converter box when I can get a new TV that is all Hi-Def and digital ready, I can't watch my old TV and I'll get all that mind-blowing high-quality video everyone tells me I must have for 'just a few hundred bucks more.' I'm going to debt anyway, maybe this is something my family needs and uses every day so what the hell, let's get rid of that old TV.

This permeates the crux of this post's flame up: what happens all those old sets that fall by the wayside?  Do you need a converter box for every set in the house that is not digital-ready?
If that is the case, I fear hundreds of thousands of TVs now in kitchens, bathrooms, workrooms, garages, etc. are going to be headed to the boneyard. That seems like it would be a strain to the growing global garbage pile that is already reaching Mephistopholian proportions. 
I've heard that appliance manufacturers are "stepping up and taking responsibility" for the junk electronics that come back to the recycling centers. Which is good. I think. Except what do they get out of it...? I have a hard time believing they are that big-hearted that they all just decided to pay millions to take back their old junk with out passing some cost on to the consumer.
People counter with, "Yeah, but they're recycling it!  Melting it all down to get the precious metals and stuff!" I would like to know more about how that works. How do they separate all the parts out of an old TV?  How much time and money is involved? Do they heat big piles of them up in the garbage-burner and skim off the tantalum? How much does that cost? How much air pollution does it make? Are they making us pay for a converter box that we have to have to keep watching TV so they can pay to recycle the old ones soon to be obsolete?  Soon the converter box will be in the landfill next to the old TV because no one will be buying non-Hi Def TVs... 
I don't know these things. I would like to know. It seems like we need to start looking further down the road soon before we run out of places to put our old junk.
Why does it seem like progress is so good at inventing something new and great, but it's always that it doesn't allow you to use any of the existing hardware or infrastructure to get it...?
Okay, taking a deep breath and slowly backing away from the soapbox. 
What's a soapbox again...?