An American Tragedy


I’m an American and Americans consume. We consume better than anybody in the world. The thing we consume the MOST best is television. And after 9/11, it’s our patriotic duty to consume like we’ve never consumed before, else the terrorists win. So when my 15 year old RCA tv went dead as a hammer last week, I, being known for my patriotism, began looking into replacing it.

Have any of you bought — or tried to buy — a tv, recently? It’s nigh impossible.

See, they got this HDTV thing on. It’s the coming thing, they say. In fact, they’re so sure of it, the government has mandated that all television signals be HD by 2009. They’ve mandated dates for this before, only to push them back. So 2009 might not be the year, either. But it evidently is the case that at some point in the not too distant future, a tv that doesn’t accept, process, and render digital signals will be fully as useful as an 8-track tape deck.

I’ve been stalling, waiting for all that to sort itself out. The sound on my old RCA went out about 8 years ago, and it’s been showing other signs of decline, recently. But no, by gum, I wasn’t going to replace it. If the fates allowed, I wasn’t going to buy a new tv until all this HD nonsense was settled and a man could buy a decent, normal-sized tv for a decent, normal-sized price.

But do the fates allow? No. Not that I can complain. Fifteen years is well above the average lifespan for a tv. But still, the timing is unfortunate. Not only has the HD broadcast/cable/sattelite thing not settled out, not only are there 4 competing tv picture technologies (plasma, LCD, DLP, and LCoS) and 2 more soon to come (SED and laser) offering almost as many “HD” resolution levels (480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p), not only is there a whole new Beta vs. VHS war being fought for the future of DVDs (HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray), not only are all of these tvs hideously expensive, not only do all of the manufacturers have horribly high “lemon” rates, but said manufacturers can’t even settle on a single standard for hooking their hideously expensive tvs and dvds together (composite, component, and S-video all work with everything, but they don’t do HD; DVI and HDMI do HD, but are so complicated, one company’s DVI or HDMI implementation might not talk to others).

Here’s the Patriotic Consumer’s situation. In order to get a tv that won’t be obsolete in a few years, a body cannot spend less than $1,000, and that’s for the bottom-feeder sets. More likely, it’s going to be $1,500 to $2,000. Tack on $150 for a minimally HD dvd player (because your old dvd player, which still works just fine, doesn’t do HD at all, althought the DVDs themselves do), an HDMI cable, etc., and lets call it an even 2 grand. So you’ve just dropped 2 grand so you can continue watching your movies and The Daily Show. (And that’s not counting the up-charge for digital cable or sattelite, if you decide to spring for that.) You get your new stuff home. Hook up the tv and turn it on. It sucks. Not just the suckiness you expected, but, like, everybody’s face is green and their movements look like Max Headroom. You’ve gotten a lemon. Take it back and get another new tv. There is, believe it or not, a decent chance that one will be a lemon, too. So you’ll take it back and get another, or maybe try a different one.

You finally get home with a tv that works. You hook up your new dvd player and pop in your trusty dvd of Casablanca or American Pie 8: Wacky Defecations, and find out your player and tv don’t speak the same HDMI. Take the player back. Try a different one. Repeat as needed.

For $2,000, this is what you get.

How badly does that suck? Can you imagine any other consumer market in which that would be tolerated? Can you imagine getting a fancy new dishwasher home and discovering it won’t connect to your plumbing? Buying an expensive new cd player and having to take it back and back and back before you get one that works? People would go apey.

What’s the problem here?

I think it’s that tvs are like breasts, guns, and cars: Americans, by and large, like them big. In fact, big is almost all we care about. So the market responds. In the race to give us the biggest possible screen size without herniating every disc in America, the manufacturers have gotten ahead of themselves. The tvs they make are big, alright, but they stink. Plasma? Stinks. LCD? Stinks. DLP? Stinks. LCoS? Stinks. Why? Because all the R&D has been going into making these new-tech tvs bigger, not better; and to the degree they’ve developed the technology to make the things look decent, they only put that technology on the biggest models (50″ and up). They invest nothing in quality control. And the marketing people are running the whole show, which is why you have a “New and Improved!” connection format coming out every third Wednesday.

What’s a Patriotic Consumer to do?

7 Responses to “An American Tragedy”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, now you’ve got me alternating between big laughs and deep depression.

    So thanks.

    And I hate you.


    Oh, and are the competing picture technologies being named after word verifications? Or is that just coincidence?

  2. Terry Austin Says:

    What happens if you just buy a real nice computer monitor and a TV tuner card for your PC?

  3. Mystique Free Says:

    Do what I did – pick up a TV off the street that some other consumer threw out after buying a plasma.

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    What happens if you just buy a real nice computer monitor and a TV tuner card for your PC?

    The nice, flat-panel computer monitors are LCDs. LCDs are great at still graphics, but they don’t do movement well. So watching, say, a football game on one is pretty wretched. The other problem is that all LCD displays have “dead pixels.” And by “all” I mean ALL: like, right out of the box. And most of them develop more over time. As long as there aren’t several of them right together, it’s usually not noticeable, but still. I’m not inclined to pay that kind of money for something that’s guaranteed never to work at 100%.

    That’s another fun thing about the different display technologies. None of them is really a complete package. LCDs are brighter and less expensive than, say, plasmas, but they don’t do motion well. Plasmas are terrific with motion, but they burn-in like crazy. DLPs do motion well and don’t burn in, but you sometimes get what’s self-descriptively called “the rainbow effect.” LCoS does motion well and doesn’t burn in, but its colors are often uneven across the screen, and it’s an unproven technology.

  5. DocWatson Says:

    I bought a rear projection HDTV a little over two years ago. Not the best picture available but pretty good. I use Dish Network for some of my HD viewing but for the most part I watch over the air channels. I have an antenna in my attic and I use it to get the network channels out of Memphis. I love my HDTV.

    By the way, I still use my old DVD player, I just hooked to to my tv with hi-resolution component cables.

  6. Terry Austin Says:

    C’mon, fellas. It’s all ball bearings these days.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Here’s a bit of better news:

    “Consumer Reports’ latest product reliability survey shows no repair issues during the first year or two of use for LCD TVs from JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba. Dell LCD sets have had higher than average repairs. In plasma, there have been no repair issues for Fujitsu, Hitachi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony or Toshiba. The repair rate for Philips and Vizio plasma sets has been higher than average. Long-term reliability for flat-panel sets is not known, and cannot be estimated, at this time.”

    I notice they don’t say anything about DLP or LCoS, which were the ones I researched the most. A caveat for the LCDs is that dead pixels are not considered repairs.

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