Friday, August 5, 2011

The Way We Used to Watch TV and Movies

vintage televisionImage by phrenzee via FlickrI remember my family's first color TV. Like most new technology, we didn't get the full value out of it at first. Most of the networks were still broadcasting in black and white. But on NBC we could see the colorful peacock, and we felt special. I could not have predicted that less than five decades later, I would be able to carry a device in my purse that would allow me to watch not only television, but movies - on demand - from just about anywhere. I am, of course, talking about my iPad.

Yes, the world has changed - again.

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled, The Way We Used to Read Books, and stirred up some nostalgia. But text is just one small piece of how our world has been changed by technology. Video has arguably made an even greater impact. This is the conversation that many of us are having with those born in the 21st century:

"When I was growing up, we had just one TV. It was a big box that sat in the corner of the den. We couldn't sit too close, we were told that the radiation would hurt our eyes. There were just three stations to watch, and we were lucky if we could get a clear picture by adjusting the antenna on top of the TV. We had to get up to change the channel.

" If Get Smart was on at 8pm, we had to watch it at 8pm. If we missed it, there was no way to catch up until the reruns were broadcast. It would be years before VCRs allowed us the flexibility to record and watch later. A VCR? Oh, that was a device that would allow us to record to tape.

"I remember the first movie I saw; it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I saw it in a huge theater with an enormous screen. Each theater only showed one movie at a time - they only had one screen - and they had limited show times. Usually the same movie played for weeks before a new one came out. I was in college when the first movie theater in my town added added two more screens. Now we could choose which movie to see!

"When the movie production companies started selling movies on tape, we could buy them to watch at home, on our VCRs. We could also rent movies at Blockbuster (yes, they went out of business) to watch at home. It was a little bit like borrowing a book from the library, but we had to pay to borrow them. DVDs, DVD players, and digital video recorders would come later. No, the XBOX was not the first DVD player.

"Netflix changed the game when they allowed us to subscribe to have movies that we chose sent home for viewing. We never had to leave home. They were even more brilliant when they took advantage of streaming technology (and yes, cloud computing) to let me watch a movie on my TV whenever I want to. Better yet, I can watch movies on my laptop and my iPad from wherever I am."

I predict that within the next decade we'll also be saying:

"Now, I never buy DVDs or movies, and I don't even need a DVR. Whatever I want to watch is available via cloud technologies. I can watch for five minutes while I'm in line at the grocery store, and then continue watching later at home. I pay one low fee to get this service across all of my devices."

Okay - that last bit about one low fee may be unrealistic, but maybe if I'm willing to put up with commercials...

What do you remember most about you used to watch TV and movies? What do you think we'll be saying about the technology advancements in yet another decade?


Kenneth H. Lee said...

I remember the console TV we had when I was growing up. It had a black and white television on the right side and a record player with stacking changer on the left.

When the TV went on the fritz, I remember my Dad taking the tubes out of the TV and going to the neighborhood pharmacy or the Radio Shack to test them and get replaecement tubes. When it became difficult to replace the tubes, they replaced it with another black and white set.

I remember that on Sunday nights our family would put on NBC to watch "The Wonderful World of Disney" ... in living color.. Of course we didn't see any color. :(

Movies were something we watched on TV as we never went out to see a movie in a theater. I can not recall what the first movie I saw in a movie theater was. It may have been The Lord of the Rings or another science fiction or fantasy film since I was into SF and fantasy reading at the time.

We did have a color TV, but it was "on loan" from my uncle when he moved out of the state. It was in my parents room.

I do not recall when my parents finally upgraded to a color TV for the home. All I can remember is black and white for the "main" TV up until I went to college.

It's hard for me to say what we will be saying about tech advancements (video, audio, etc.) in the next decade.

Back in the 80s we had the laserdisc, which was revolutionary for its time. It never caught on. The same can be said Sony's Beta format. It was superior to the VHS format, but because of how Sony marketed it along with how they tried to control the standard, it never gained traction and basically died. How about 8-track tape versus cassette?

Fast forward to the dawn of the personal computer. Radio Shack TRS-80, CPM OS based systems, IBM PC, generic PCs, the various Apple systems.

Wordstar vs WordPerfect vs Microsoft Word.

Then we go to the DVD format war. Blu-ray verus HD DVD.

I could go on and on.. I'd better get off the soapbox before I end up hurting myself.

Today is not a good day as it is my last day as a contractor with the three letter company identified with a primary color.

Dave E said...

When the volume knob on our old b&w TV broke, my dad 'fixed' it by replacing the knob with one from and old gas stove. I nearly died laughing when I saw the TV with a gas stove knob on it. It worked though.
I think we finally gave up when the bottom half of the picture decided to take up about one inch on the screen with the result that everyone looked like hippos.
These days, technology is not meant to be repaired. Which is probably why it costs almost as much to get an iPhone repaired as it does to buy a new one. In spite of such advances though people still flock to old time craftsman (and women) fairs. I often wonder how much of today's 'throw away' technology will be around as antiques in a hundred years.

Steve in POK said...

Aaahh yes, LaserDisc. I think IBM had a piece of that action principally inventor/supplier of the media. Well, we now know what a brilliant decision that was.
As for the future, judging by what has been achieved, and what was predicted but has not yet been fulfilled ie jetpacks, only the Steve Jobs's of the world can tell us that.

Kenneth H. Lee said...

Dave, You are so on the mark regarding the throw away technology that we live with these days.

My Dad tried repair everything that he could, even if he had no idea how to repair it. He still does.

For some items, if you can repair it yourself, it might be worth the money and effort... especially if you already have the part and tools needed to effect the repair.

But for most other items, it's not worth the time, money and effort as it will cost more to try to fix it than to just buy something new.

Speaking of odd looking knobs. I had a small black and white TV set that was given to me post college which had a broken volume know. I think I used a wooden dowel to control the volume on it.

And speaking of antiques. It's amazing at the broken electronics people insist on keeping around in their garages or attics in the hopes that it will become an antique down the road. If it's broken and can't be repaired, it has no value no and will have no value 100 years from now.

Anon_e_mouse said...

Color TV... that was something my grandparents got in the '60s, and my parents in late 1973. But until we got my grandparents' hand-me-down 15" Zenith we had an old TV with a round screen, maybe 8" in diameter, in a big huge box full of tubes that failed regularly (naturally, right in the middle of Captain Kangaroo, not during the French lessons that my mother insisted I watch on PBS). I headed off to grad school with that old Zenith; my wife and I didn't get a color set until the day of the final episode of M*A*S*H (28 February 1983).

Liza said...

Oh gosh. Until analog tv/cable was phased out recently, we actually still had a black and white tv in our husband watched it when he exercised...

Steve in POK said...

On the subject of disposablity, every summer for the past 5 years I volunteer to take unused electronics to the local county resource recovery facility on behalf of my TH development - 120 units. Every year I literally filled my Subaru wagon with CRT TVs (big, heavy) desktop computers, monitors, printers, scanners etc - Last year I had to borrow my neighbor's pickup, there was so much stuff. One neighbor had a console TV he wanted to dump but I took a pass on that one.

Colette said...

Thank you all for sharing your stories and memories! especially the fix-it-yourself stories. I agree -- today, if it's broken it's more likely to need to be replaced than repaired. Where do they all go?

Kenneth, sorry to hear about the end of your assignment. Stay positive.

Liz Fichera said...

Yep, like you, we had one TV. Today, people have a TV in every room in the house, although not sure why because there's so little worth watching.

Technology has given us almost unlimited choices--we can watch what we want, where we want--for a price. The same now is with books, newspapers, and magazines. Anything is downloadable, wherever, whenever--for a price.

I think the next step is implanting everybody with a chip and connecting us to the Borg. ;-)