Screen distanceYoung people get it so easy. These days you have to be really, really unlucky to go blind whereas when we were kids there were dozens and dozens of things that sent us blind, quite apart from that one the pope kept harping on.

Reading comic books would send us blind, as would reading a book by torchlight under the blankets after lights out. For some kids I once read about, reading something other than the bible sent them blind. Going outdoors on sunny days without sunglasses was another cause, and kids’ sunglasses back then were about as cool as trainer wheels. Staring at girls on the swings, watching an eclipse, drinking any type of cola, deep fried food at the annual show, loud music, feeding our broccoli to the dog, not turning our backs on a nuclear blast, it all resulted in total and permanent blindness and a future of navigating the eternal darkness with a white stick to find the cardboard box on the railway platform from which we begged for pennies from passing, more disciplined folk who had not thrown their sight away cheaply. It was scary being a kid back then.

But the principal, number one and fastest cause of irretrievable blindness was to sit too close to the telly. Especially during that commercial in which Sabrina drove her open-topped MGA into the Caltex servo to ask about Marfak grease. Oh, it was just fine to nose up to the blackboard and we had to watch everything very closely in the workshop and the kitchen, but try that with the telly… oh boy.

And it’s only now when medical science has become brave enough to pick an argument with our mums that we discover just how skilfully mums used such misinformation to scare us into behaving well. Or slightly better anyway. Comic books have become di rigueur and these days are called graphic novels. Reading books of any description is something to be boasted about, even if we hold them a centimetre from our nose. But most of all, it’s okay to sit close to the telly.

Mind you, the technology has changed.

For roughly the first 50 years of television the technology was predominantly cathode ray tube. Essentially the picture was painted line-by-line 50 times a second by electrons being directed by magnets to hit the phosphor on the backside of the screen. 50 Hertz was slow enough that the screen, especially from the distance we kids were allowed to watch it (the next postcode was good) appeared to flicker slightly. Then came 100-Hertz televisions that did it at twice the speed, great for watching rugby league, still not fast enough for Australian rules. (Aside: Back in the days before colour, some of the team jumpers looked so similar in monochrome that the television stations insisted one team wear white shorts and the other black so viewers who were still in possession of their sight could tell the good guys from the bad. I’m told Collingwood always wore black shorts.)

Then along came plasma, LCD, LED and OLED. Pictures were no longer composed of continuously updated lines, they were made up of lots of little pixels that lit up in different colours to form a great big picture.

And then, ladies and gentlemen, 4K. Ultra high definition. The duck’s guts. You can put your nose against the screen and still see beautiful definition and if you don’t believe me, try it. And coming to a store near you, 8K. Mega Super Ultra high definition, and just as audio files now deliver sound quality that exceeds the ability of the ear to hear, so 8K is likely to test our ability to see all the extra detail it offers. Especially if you fed your broccoli to the dog.

The old rule of thumb among the guys who installed projection systems was that the viewer had to sit at least twice the distance from the screen as the screen was wide. If it was a two-metre screen you had to be four metres back, and four metres is a long way when you live in a cute inner-city terrace or an apartment out in the burbs. But with 4K the only thing limiting the size of your telly is the amount of wall you have available to affix it to.

Mind you it pays to do a quick scan of such big screens from time to time. My brother in law, sorely confused, asked my sister how come Hanna managed to shoot the evil Cate Blanchet with an arrow when she didn’t have a bow to shoot it with, and my sister accused him of being asleep.

“Didn’t you see her pick up the ocky strap when she was running?” my sister demanded. To which he could only reply that he wasn’t looking at that part of the screen at the time.

(Editorial note: My highly esteemed editor read somewhere that, because the scanning of cathode ray televisions is not visible to them, cats and dogs have only been able to watch television since flat panel screens became popular. However they still pay no attention to it. Does this mean they’re smarter than us?)

First published in Australian Hi Fi magazine July 2018


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