Our long-suffering 12-year-old RCA 27-inch television began to crap out a couple of weeks ago. This was the sign my wife and I had been waiting for: the justification, however small, to get a New Television. And Christmas presented a perfect opportunity to do so, as we could, with a straight face, tell ourselves that it was our gift to each other, thereby killing a couple of birds with a single piece of electronics.

I should explain that, as a general philosophy, the wife and I will hold off on upgrading an electronic device until it is unusable, either because it is broken, or because the technology involved has developed so much that it has become hopelessly outmoded. Then, we will pony up and buy the nicest, most advanced replacement that we can afford. It’s a pretty good system. Of course, this is also the reason that I am using an antique iMac. No matter how slow it is, it still works.

For example, when our original 21-inch TV had died, and went shopping to replace it, I was looking at some nice flatscreen 21-inch models. My wife pulls me over to this ginormous 27-inch high-end beast. “Why would we get something that big?” I asked. “It’s just the two of us.” She explained that her family had always had a big TV in the family room, and it just seemed like that’s the way it should be, and that we would grow into it.

So we trucked the beast home, and have watched it for 12 years. It has survived two toddlers, a handful of cats, and two moves. But it doesn’t seem so big anymore. The wife and I typically watch DVD’s in widescreen mode, and sometimes the actual picture is just a band across the middle of the screen. You can’t see any detail at all. The technology has advanced.

So, since the TV was developing picture problems, we embraced our yuppie tendencies and got a brand new plasma flatscreen TV, HDTV-ready. We had been routing TV sound through an old pair of Polk Audio bookshelf speakers, but we decided to go ahead and get home theater sound as well.

Bottom line, it looks GREAT, and it sounds GREAT. And even though we still just get basic cable, there are a bunch of channels that our TV picks up even though we don’t subscribe to them. Including, apparently, a set of channels up in the 114-116 range that were showing premium content. Sometimes they would be showing a recent movie, or an HBO program. And it was the damndest thing, as soon as the movie was over, the channel would be GONE. No signal at all. And we noticed that sometimes you would be watching one of these channels, and it would start going in reverse, then forward, then reverse. Or it would just stop, mid-movie. I began to suspect we were watching someone else’s movie-on-demand: watching them fastforward through the boring parts, or rewind and watch the interesting bits.

One evening I scanned up into the ‘on-demand’ channels, and found a program that featured a bunch of naked people engaged in, well, engaged in exactly what you would expect. That’s a pretty impressive sight on a 42-inch plasma television. Let’s just say it gives you pause. The wife was somewhat speechless.

Over the next couple of nights we caught a variety of R- and X-rated content. Speaking as a parent, no matter what your philosophical stance on censorship, it’s amazing how fast you become a fan of the V-chip the first time you’re flipping channels, and flip to a couple in the doggie position, moaning and making the bed rock.

The cable people have assured us that we should not be able to see this stuff, and that we “must have one of those fancy new televisions” if we are able to see it at all.

Now I think it’s kind of funny, and (once the kids are safely in bed) we surf through the on-demand channels to see what people are watching. Sometimes it’s just a movie that plays through normally. Sometimes the show stops and starts, goes forwards and backwards. Last night there was a really, really bad horror film on, and it was obvious that it was being watched by a man. The entire movie was viewed in fast forward, except when it looked like there was a chance one of the girls was going to take her shirt off. Then it would play at normal speed, but only until it became clear that nothing was going to happen. Then, back to fast forward. It cracked me up.

I have assembled and set up the new altar…uh, TV stand. Once the cable guy hooks us up with digital cable, I’ll finish hooking up all the components and setting up the satellite speakers. If all goes well, we will then be able to control the whole system with one remote. And I’ll believe THAT when it actually happens.