Reality Bytes: Flat Is Phat

Someday you'll tell the grandkids about the old days when TV sets were thick. There was something called a "cathode-ray tube," and it stuck out from the wall and had a tiny screen. Then, along about 2008 or so, people pretty much stopped buying CRTs.

In any electronics showroom, you'll see scads of flat screens - and maybe one or two CRTs, usually sitting in a corner. Dusty. Turned off. Unloved. Within 3 years, according to estimates, CRT sales will decline to a miniscule 5% of the TV market - even though CRTs are bargains now, averaging a mere $223, while LCD sets average $1,007 and plasmas $2,335.

A few companies have tried to soldier on, introducing "thin" CRTs that are only a foot thick. Still, there are few takers. Everyone wants a 60-inch flat screen that can be hung on the wall like a Picasso, whereas a CRT seems more like a velvet Elvis. The fact is that CRTs are necessarily smaller than flat screens - but big high-def pictures are more impressive than small high-def pictures and thus favored, even though high-end CRTs can have a more accurate picture than anything flat.

I accept that. And I'm sincerely happy for everyone who has a giant flat TV. What bothers me, however, is a perverse inverse relationship. As TVs are getting flatter and bigger, speakers are getting smaller and smaller - preferably, for some buyers, down to the size of a grapefruit. But the laws of physics dictate that bass reproduction will suffer, and sound quality overall will be compromised.

Here's the dilemma. People don't want a mere A/V system in their house; they want a home theater. Even better, they wouldn't mind if their friends referred to it as a screening room. And a fashionable screening room is defined by two things: a giant screen and the visual absence of speakers. But with all due respect to built-ins and teeny-tiny sats, their audio firepower can never approach the sound emanating from sturdy, manly speakers.

If the trend continues, someday you'll tell the grandkids about the old days when speakers actually came in enclosures. They'll have no idea what you're talking about. In fact, they won't even notice you, because they'll be marveling at their 80-foot screen.

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