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18-November 2013

Seeing double:

The $10,000 TV that lets you watch one show - while your wife watches another

My wife and I are happily snuggled on the sofa watching television, large glasses of red wine in hand. The children, Phoebe, nine, and Charlie, six, are finally tucked up in bed.

It's a typical evening in the Hatch household, except for one thing, there have been no fights over what to watch, despite the fact that I'm immersed in a documentary about the Nazis on the Yesterday channel, a programme which would usually send my wife Dinah mad with boredom.

The sound of Stukas dive-bombing echoes in my ears without her usual refrain: 'It's black and white and you know who won the war. Why is this interesting?'

Then, over the roar of battle, Janet Street-Porter's unmistakeable voice rings out, opining on David Dimbleby's tattoo. It is unnerving, but not as unnerving as seeing ghostly goose-stepping Germans behind Street-Porter's bright red hair when I take off my special spectacles.

We are trialling the revolutionary new $10,999 Samsung S9C OLED TV, which can show two programmes at once. It promises to defuse the classic marital arguments over whether to watch Downton Abbey or the football.

The so-called smart TV is the biggest I've ever seen, with a beautifully curved 55in screen. It can also dim or brighten its screen automatically according to the room ambience. You can change channels by talking to it or scroll through them with a flick of your hand.

It can recommend programmes, allow you to email, tweet, store photos and music and probably put your kids to bed for you, too.

Now, I love telly, even our knackered $200 Tesco one. So does my wife. It's our hobby.

We even have a saying: a couple that watches telly together, stays together. If the arguments over what to watch don't split us up, of course. As we've grown older (we're both 42), it seems what's good for the goggle-eyed goose is rarely good for the gander. So it is little wonder that, waiting for the arrival of our super-telly, our excitement grew.

At last, no more wasteful hours listening to my wife sob, Look at that dear little baby! on One Born Every Minute, or sensing her schadenfreude at a collapsed Victoria sponge on The Great British Bake Off.

Instead, I'd be able to watch my programmes, shows that tap into the fact that men are still, on the whole, genetically wired as caveman.

Instead of standing guard over lit fires with a wooden club in our mammoth pelts, we now monitor wider threats to our tribe by watching programmes about asteroids plummeting through space towards us. Or we learn how to hone our physiques, vital for our family's safety, by watching sportsmen.

Yet first, my wife must set up the telly, wisely asking me to leave the room 'as you’ll only end up shouting at it'.

Technology: The television blurs the two programmes together. Viewers wear 3D glasses - with in-built earphones - that separate the images so two can watch different shows at the same time

Two hours later, she was shouting at it. Specifically, she was shouting: 'It's one step removed in complexity from a particle accelerator and yet it's come with less instructions than I got with Phoebe's Hello Kitty watch!'

A mysterious 'input source' needed to be located. Four hours on, my wife had found her own input source, two glasses of Merlot.

Thanks to this calming influence, and no thanks to me ('Don't get involved now after I have been working on this for hours'), we were sourced and our Smart Hub was sorted.

On screen, the two programmes blur together. Then, if you put on the 3D glasses with inbuilt earphones, the images separate, so that I can see one show and Dinah can see another.

Plugged in like this, we look like characters from a less suspenseful version of The Matrix Reloaded. Or 'total nerds' as our children call us.

So, the verdict? Well, the voice recognition was hopeless. We'd issue seemingly idiot-proof commands, 'Beeeebeeeceeee 2', and a robotic Americanised voice would intone: 'Hang in there a little longer please,' or: 'I couldn't find the content you requested.'

I choose El Alamein: The Soldier's Story on the Yesterday channel, while Dinah opts for a re-run of ITV's This Morning. It is utterly blissful. I could enjoy watching TV with my beloved wife without having to watch any of her unbeloved dross.

But after a while I feel lonely sitting there with earphones on. Dinah is shouting: 'You idiot!' at her programme. 'Who's an idiot?' I ask.

Unsure: Despite enjoying looking like characters from The Matrix - the couple both felt a bit lonely, and left out, watching their own programmes

'Stop bellowing,' she bellows back, thanks to the earphones.

Feeling left out, I switch a button on my glasses to allow me to watch her choice of TV, making the occasional snidey remark about how that woman looked a bit like Goose from the movie Top Gun, which, thanks to an attached microphone you can turn on when you want, she can hear in her headset. I am being an idiot and she is putting up with me. Things are back to normal.

Later that night in bed, vowing to return immediately to our $200 Tesco telly, we repeat our Homer Simpson-like mantra: couples that watch telly together, stay together.


While I think my husband usually has impeccable taste, he married me, for one thing, I must take issue with his TV programmes of choice, which revolve around two themes: sport and war.

I haven't seen a period drama since 1998 because Ben hates them, and I have to put up with him complaining relentlessly through the reality shows which I love (Gypsy Weddings/Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners/Embarrassing Bodies).

I was delighted to be treated to some frothy nonsense for once, courtesy of our shiny new TV, and cheerfully tucked into a re-run of This Morning. (The last time I saw Phillip Schofield on TV he was sporting a scarily spiky hair style and presenting Going Live!)

At first, both of us revelled in our new-found TV independence. I looked over at Ben on the sofa, his face deadly serious as he absorbed the horrors of World War II, and felt pleased we had avoided the usual channel wrangle. Meanwhile, I was amazed to see agony aunt Denise Robertson was still administering softly spoken Geordie words of wisdom on This Morning. She was doing this the last time I watched the show, when Fred Talbot was still jumping about on a floating weather map in the Albert Dock.

But, after an hour, I started feeling a bit lonely. There was an unnerving silence in the living room as we sat with our earpieces corked in.

Every now and then Ben would shout: 'Why are you shaking your head in disgust? or 'What are you laughing at?' and quickly switch his headset to my channel, by which time the joke had passed, Phillip had stopped giggling and the person talking about their piles on a phone-in had hung up.

My earpiece (which must be frequently recharged) cut in and out, so I missed a crucial piece of information about how I could win $50,000.

Sometimes, when you switch between programmes, it takes a minute or so for the sound to catch up, so I also had a very unnerving moment when commentary about Rommel's Afrika Korps advancing on the Allies provided the soundtrack to an item about whether it was ever right to abort a disabled baby.

Losing concentration, I started looking over the top of my glasses, with the result that hundreds of German troops were running through Denise's carefully-teased curls.

Overall, this experience is not great for our relationship. I noticed that Ben and I were sitting further apart on the sofa than normal.

What's more, sometimes I can persuade him to massage my feet in exchange for agreeing to watch Match Of The Day, and this brave new telly world is threatening that.

Secretly, we love the argy-bargy that comes with channel-choosing. Favours are traded ('You uncork the Pinot and I'll find an old Peep Show on the Dave channel'), questions are posed ('How come the Spooks always manage to smash a terrorist cell in exactly one hour?') and games are played (our personal favourite being Spot The Art Thief in the Antiques Roadshow crowd).

Would I like a Samsung S9C OLED TV? Well, the picture is crisp and fabulous, the smart apps fun and the voice recognition a hoot ('Put Countdown on now!').

But if having one means losing the shared jokes and the crafty sofa hugs, I'll keep my old-fashioned gogglebox for now.

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