My television set died this week. I've had it since the 20th century, so perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise. It's one of those cathode ray tube things, you remember, they used to be quite popular. I bought it in the January Sales 1999, by which time it must already have been out of date, and I've been living firmly in the past ever since. Freeview prolonged its life somewhat, but it couldn't do anything more than live TV and radio throughout its life. Which ended on Wednesday.
There had been this strange smell in the room earlier in the evening. I wondered what it was, whether perhaps an electronic gizmo had malfunctioned or a neighbour was cooking something strange. Only later did I realise this was the telltale smell of dead television, the waftings of an defunct tube, because I haven't smelt anything like that in years. Indeed I may never smell anything like that again, given that CRTs are now essentially extinct technology.
But the terminal blow was cast not by the tube but by the switch. I went to turn off the TV so I could go to bed, and the switch failed to work properly. It's always been the Achilles heel of my TV set's design, a not entirely convincing plastic push button that I always felt could break at any time. On Wednesday it did exactly that, sticking firmly in the 'off' position. Permanently busted and unable to move, I realised I could never turn my television on again.
Then on Wednesday evening I had to cope without a functioning television. This was much easier than it would have been, say, five years ago, before the arrival of on demand catch-up TV. Then I'd have been forced to miss everything, forever, whereas at least now I could watch later, or even live, via my laptop. On Wednesday even recording programmes to watch later wouldn't have worked, because I couldn't read the text on my screen that would have allowed me to set the recording. Hurrah for iPlayer and 4oD, hurrah.
So I finally had to face up to the future and find a new television to buy. A considerable amount of range and choice has erupted since I last went to the TV showroom, so did I want LCD, Smart, 3D, Wi-Fi, whatever, or all the above? Brands have also got rather more important since the era when all a set did was show programmes. Which brand you choose defines integral features and menu options, so choose wrong and you could be cursing lack of functionality for years to come.
I did my research, which involved scouring the internet for models and prices. I did my research, which involved asking other people what they had and what they recommended, not always the same thing. And I did crucial further research which involved going to a shop and actually looking at some televisions to try to determine whether 32 inches was too small or 42 was too big. The former, I decided, which was the opposite of what I'd been expecting when I went in.
I soon realised that the week before Christmas is not the best time to need a new television. If my set had died ten days later I could have hit the sales, but I needed a set now rather than missing Week One of the double issue Radio Times. Plus it's a dreadful time to get a set delivered. Imminent slots are booked, medium-term slots fall when you're far from home over Christmas, and any time after that you might as well have waited for the sales anyway. I wondered if I was televisually stuffed.
But I hatched a plan, a plan which wouldn't have worked in 1999. Back then I lived in the countryside, far from a functioning public transport network, reliant on cars or taxis to get about. But today I live in transport-friendly London, more specifically network-dense East London, with a variety of accessible options in all directions. So I sourced an appropriate shop on a bus route that passes my house, and took a punt that the package I'd have to manhandle home wouldn't be too large. Correct, as it turned out.
Buying a TV on the Thursday morning before Christmas proved a doddle. Most of you lot were still at work, so I had the attention of half a dozen assistants in a mostly empty electrical appliance store. A pleasant and helpful bloke accepted that I knew what I wanted, didn't try to oversell me anything, and allowed me to try to pick up the box before I paid. And then I waddled to the bus stop, boarded a lovely mostly-empty midweek bus and hopped off a brief distance from my front door. Result.
Removing my old TV proved more difficult than installing the new one. It's obscenely heavy, for reasons of technology rather than avarice, so I had real trouble lifting it off the table in the corner of my lounge. In the end I only managed to shift it about a metre across the carpet, so it's currently still lying there, upturned and defunct, awaiting the day when I can work out how to get it as far as the street for a council bulk refuse removal.
And blimey, isn't the new one light, and simple? I had a spaghetti twist of cables emerging from the back of my old one, but there's no need for a separate Freeview box with the new - indeed that's another gadget that's become entirely obsolete since Wednesday. This set just sort of plugs in, and sits there on a tiny stand without somehow toppling over. The screen does look rather dominant sat in the corner of the room, but that may just be Day One speaking, and I'm sure I'll get used to the size.
And blimey, doesn't the new set do a lot? You lot have probably been enjoying interconnected functionally for years, but think back to your first smart-tv hi-def flat-screen day and that's where I am now. I have a long way to go before I understand how the remote control works and can find my way successfully around various menus. But I have now entered the 21st century, broadcast-wise, and it hasn't been as scary as I thought. Now all I need to do is work out how to record something. There must be a button for it somewhere.