You Own This


In a 2019 article for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Sharon George and Dierdre McKay wrote, “If you only listen to a track a couple of times, then streaming is the best option. If you listen repeatedly, a physical copy is best . . . ” They were referring to the comparative environmental costs of listening to music either over the internet or reproduced on an electronic device. They could just as well have been giving excellent advice on the best strategy for enjoying all types of entertainment media in the digital age.


Owning physical copies only of favorite movies, television shows, books, and music, while streaming more transitory entertainments, is not only better for the environment, but better in all sorts of other ways. Buying an entertainment you may enjoy only once or twice is expensive and takes up shelf space in the home. Streaming choices are often limited to the most popular or the newest entertainments, leaving outright purchase from a vendor or borrowing from a library as the only options for enjoying more obscure, less widely popular works.

Cinerama historians John Harvey and Willem Bouwmeester 1987
Cinerama historians John Harvey and Willem Bouwmeester photographed in 1987 examining the back covers of vinyl record albums devoted to music used in Cinerama productions. After many years years researching all things Cinerama, they eventually collaborated on the Cinerama installation in Bradford, England, in 1993. Photo by LarryNitrate2Cinerama.

There are indeed thousands of movies and television shows available on the streaming services, but a close examination reveals that the majority of those on the advertisement supported services are public domain properties that will be familiar to anyone who has rooted through the bargain DVD and Blu-ray bins at big box stores. The subscription streaming services are meanwhile moving toward a vertical integration model reminiscent of the Hollywood studios in the days when they owned production and distribution from top to bottom.

If you want to watch the latest Star Wars franchise release and you missed it during it’s brief theatrical release, then you must subscribe to Disney’s streaming service or go without. Some films these days don’t get a theatrical release at all. Another option is to buy the physical media if and when it becomes available. But in that case you would still want to watch the movie first to be sure it’s worth buying. It’s likely there will be always be a hardware means of playing back most electronic media, the trick is in guessing correctly which ones will stand the test of time.


30 years ago, many people thought vinyl record albums were all but dead. Only a tiny niche market of record collectors and audiophiles would continue to have need of record players and record player parts. Few people in 1991 would have guessed that by 2021 sales and production of vinyl records would have reemerged from the dustbin, while compact discs and players, for a brief period the predominant music delivery system on the market, would be overtaken first by digital downloads, and then by streaming music services.

A similar dynamic appears to be at play in the visual media market of movies and television shows. Despite the close resemblance of DVDs and Blu-ray discs to music compact discs, they are more comparable to vinyl records in quality of reproduction and in the way consumers use them. Blu-ray discs in particular are attractive items for ownership by collectors and cinephiles due to the outstanding quality of their video and audio reproduction, which can often outstrip what’s available for the same title on a streaming service.

Despite big manufacturers like Samsung discontinuing Blu-ray player production a few years ago because they noted the decline in the market to niche status, and similarly Warner Brothers recently moving toward ceasing production of discs, there will always be a demand for new Blu-ray players and new Blu-ray discs, however much the market shrinks for now. Just ask the manufacturers of vinyl records and the turntables needed to play them.

— Techly


What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?


It’s fair to say subscribers to cable and satellite television services dislike their providers in large numbers due to high prices and poor customer service. With the option of internet streaming television service becoming more popular every year, cable and satellite subscribers are increasingly resorting to getting their television service the newest way and dropping the old service, though ironically they can sometimes still be tied to the cable company because it provides their internet service. For some people, particularly those with a low bandwidth limit on their internet service, the oldest way of getting television service can be the best, which is to say receiving broadcast television with an antenna.


Family watching television 1958
Family watching television, 1958; photo by Evert F. Baumgardner.
What, no rabbit ears? They must have had a rooftop antenna.


There is no such thing as an HDTV (High Definition Television) antenna except in the minds of marketers and confused consumers. An antenna is an antenna is an antenna. Standard definition and high definition digital signals are merely the format of the content that TV stations broadcast, not the method. The method is the same as it was when the format content was analog, and that is electromagnetic frequencies in the MegaHertz (MHz) band of the spectrum, in Very High Frequency (VHF) or Ultra High Frequency (UHF). Any antenna can pick up analog and digital signals as long as it is optimally configured to pull in those frequencies. That is known as the antenna’s “gain.”


It is the tuner in the television set that needs the capability of properly displaying the digital signal. That is why older analog television sets needed a digital converter box when the the digital television transition occurred in 2009. No one needed to go out and buy a different antenna then, but that didn’t stop unscrupulous or ignorant salespeople from selling plenty of “HDTV” antennas to confused consumers.


Because many of the new antennas being marketed as “HDTV” have a mod, futuristic profile, looking much different than the old rabbit ears indoor antennas and the old coat hanger outdoor antennas, consumers can come to believe they are not like those antennas, and marketers are happy to let them believe that. In truth, much of the new antenna designs are due to making them omnidirectional or UHF-only, both of which are not necessarily improvements over the old designs.


Log periodic VHF TV antenna 1963
VHF TV antenna, 1963; photo by Edward Finkel.
VHF-only antennas were used when few UHF stations were on air.


Omnidirectional antennas pick up signals over 360 degrees, but that also means they pick up a lot of interference and are weaker at picking up a strong signal from one direction. The old design, a large coat hanger antenna on the rooftop is still best at picking up a distant signal from one direction and tuning out interference from other directions. The UHF-only design allows an antenna to have a low profile because of the characteristics of the UHF signal, but at the obvious cost of not being able to pick up VHF signals. Manufacturers did this in the belief that after the digital transition there would be far fewer TV stations broadcasting over VHF because the digital signal is more efficient over UHF, and because they felt consumers would prefer the smaller profile.


Consumers prefer small profile antennas for some settings in particular, such as apartments and in neighborhoods with a homeowners association, where landlords and homeowners association boards would like to have them believe they are not allowed to put up a high gain antenna outdoors. Section 207 of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 says landlords and association boards cannot get away with blanket prohibitions. This is especially worth noting because clear reception of a digital signal requires a higher gain antenna than is necessary for receiving an analog signal. A preamplifier on the antenna can help, but because a preamplifier increases signal noise as well, it is best used for boosting the signal as it travels down a long cable run to the television set, rather than as a stopgap to make up for low gain from the antenna. A strong over-the-air signal is worth the trouble it can require, however, since the resulting television picture is much sharper than an equivalent cable or satellite derived picture. In order to carry hundreds of channels, cable and satellite companies need to compress their signal data, losing definition. Broadcast signals are not compressed.


Antena de TV - TV antenna (3149926874)
Modern UHF-only TV antenna; photo by Flickr user shaorang,
from Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, España.
UHF elements in front are backed by corner reflector elements.


Whatever you do when you cut the cable or satellite TV cord, think twice before falling for the “HDTV” antenna ads currently airing. Like all con games, they rely heavily on the greed of the mark in believing he or she can get something for nothing. To that end, the TV huckster does not say directly that the mark can get all the same channels cable and satellite services provide, but through clever wording he allows the unsophisticated mark to infer that and jump to conclusions. The wreckage can be found in online forums. Tempting as it can be to jeer at these consumers for getting what they deserved, they are more deserving sympathy in the recognition that it has taken only one generation to pass for them to forget or never realize there once was a way to watch television without paying for it. These people often are purchasing the product because they are too poor to continue paying high cable and satellite bills. The marks more deserving contempt are some of the better educated high rollers who, ignoring reality, willed themselves to believe Bernie Madoff really was getting them something for nothing. They might have been better off cutting out the middle man and investing directly in the booming market for “HDTV” antennas.
― Techly