TV or not TV

Lately I’ve been seriously considering dropping my cable TV subscription. The impetus of this is my Schedules Direct subscription — the service providing TV listings to my MythTV box — coming up for renewal.

It’s hardly as though the $20 for another year is going to break the bank or anything (the banks seem to be doing a good enough job doing that themselves these days), but it does highlight the fact that my TV viewing habits of late have decreased from their already fairly low levels. (Judging from the date of my last post here, so have my blogging habits, but I digress.)

The “dump it” argument is pretty straightforward. The only two shows I really wouldn’t want to do without are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and both of those are available on Hulu for free. There are a few other shows I also have my MythTV box set to record, but it’s only a handful. Is it really worth the $56/month charge on my cable bill for what I get out of it? With the savings, I could easily bump up my Netflix subscription (current queue length: 148) and watch most of the shows once they come out on DVD that way. As an added bonus, being able to power down the MythTV box for good would also probably take a chunk out of my electricity bill.

The counterargument, however, is that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are the only two shows I regularly watch that are readily available online. (Excluding BitTorrent, of course.) While it’s obvious to me that the broadcast model of TV is inherently doomed, we’re still a ways away from the everything-available-online-on-demand world that will inevitably replace it. Not everything shows up on DVD, and even then there’s a fairly significant delay before they’re released. Plus, I’d pretty much lose the ability to watch something live, in the rare event I want to do that.

Besides, for the time being, “online streaming video” is de facto synonymous with “Flash”, and performance of Flash on non-Windows platforms is notoriously awful. As in, unable to play videos off of Hulu full-screen without skipping even on a recently-acquired laptop, when even my five-year-old former laptop could play non-Flash videos full-screen without having to step up the CPU speed. (YouTube videos might play fine, as long as you don’t do anything else while it’s playing. Like move the mouse at all. Seriously.) That’s assuming, of course, that the Flash plugin doesn’t crash in the first place. You know how Firefox these days runs plugins in a separate process? Yeah, you can thank the Flash plugin’s stability for that.

On top of all that, I just know that if I call the cable company to cancel my TV service, they’re going to jack up the charge for Internet service with the excuse that the rate I have now is part of a package deal.

What I’ll probably end up doing is renewing Schedules Direct and keep doing what I’m doing now, but keeping an eye out for any changes that might shift my decision the other way. Unless someone can come up with a convincing argument in the comments to do otherwise.

Don’t Panic

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: TV Series opening

I recently discovered by a lucky accident that Netflix has the old (i.e., from 1981) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series available. It was obvious what had to be done.

Unfortunately, the disc Netflix shipped to me at first was, in topological terms, a sphere rather than a torus. I almost panicked, due to the lack of any instructions in large friendly letters on the packaging to the contrary, but instead of throwing in the towel, I reported the problem and got a structurally intact disc.

The six-episode series follows the plot of the books a lot more faithfully than the movie. (Yes, I know the TV series is based on the original radio play, which the books were also based on. Sheesh, it says so right there in the title graphic. Quit being so pedantic.) The storyline runs from the demolition of the Earth by the Vogons through to Magrathea and Milliways and up to Arthur and Ford being stranded with the Golgafrinchans on prehistoric Earth.

Without a doubt, the best part of the series are the sequences narrated by The Guide, with accompanying fake “computer” animations. Of course, this is hardly surprising, since Douglas Adams’s narrative style is a large part of what makes the books so great, and The Guide’s scenes allow that to come through with full force. The animations also supply some nice supplementary material, such as examples of the first and second worst forms of poetry in the universe that put Vogon poetry to shame.

Zaphod Beeblebrox

It goes without saying that if you’re a fan of the books (and who isn’t?), you’ll like the series too. There’s only a few things to quibble with. One of them is Zaphod‘s second head. Can you tell which one is the fake one? It’s supposed to be animatronic, but you hardly ever see it move at all, except for bouncing around on the actor’s shoulder as he moves around due to inertia. I know, I know, there’s really no good way to do the whole two-heads-side-by-side thing in live action, especially with 1980s special effects. And to be fair, at least they tried; the movie punted by making the heads one on top of the other, with the second head conveniently hidden from view most of the time, and even then they contrived a way to get rid of it entirely in very not-at-all-in-the-book subplot. So they did do about as well as anyone could expect with Zaphod. But still, it looks goofy.

There’s also one other thing. When the Heart of Gold enters orbit around Magrathea and the planet’s nuclear missiles launch, the Guide is careful to point out in advance that everyone is going to survive the attack and that no one will get hurt aside from one of them getting bruised on the upper arm (but won’t say who it is in order to preserve some level of suspense). Given that warning, why oh why does the Guide not warn the viewer about the scene where you see Douglas Adams’s man-ass on display? I mean, seriously.

(No, I’m not going to tell you when that happens in the series. Be glad you’re at least getting a heads-up.)

But needless to say, the series is worth watching, especially if you’re one of those people who thought the movie was OK but wished it didn’t diverge from the books so much. You know who you are.