The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 28, 2008

The Perpetual March of Technology and Buyer’s Remorse

Filed under: Entertainment, Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:52 am

About two years ago,  I purchased the HDTV which I currently have in my living room.  It is a Viewsonic N3250w 32″ LCD with 720p resolution, and aside from the fact that doesn’t have a digital tuner and that it doesn’t seem to be compatible with any remote I have but its own, it has worked reasonably well for me.  At the time I purchased it, there was a coupon book deal at Costco Home* for $200 off the standard $1,000 price (which, if I recall correctly, was itself about $200 less than most places in town were selling a similar model for,) and the final price ended up being $800 plus tax.  This was a significant bargain for a TV of this size, and when I went to pick it up, it turned out that a few other people had the same idea, to the point that the initial shipment of 90 units was gone in less than an hour, and by the time I got there I ended up at position #250 on the waiting list they had created for future shipments of this model. 

At this point I assumed that I had roughly zero chance of ever getting one of these things, so I started looking for a Plan B.  I figured that I had managed to live for six months without having a TV in my apartment, so I could probably last a little while longer.  It was somewhat of a surprise when I got a call several weeks later that my turn had come up on the waiting list, and a TV was waiting for me at the store.  Not wanting to have them sell off my TV to the next guy to show up, I dropped everything and rushed over to the store, and  must admit that I may have exceeded the posted speed limit along the way a time or two.  After all,  a deal like that didn’t come up just every day.  Thanks to a somewhat inaccurate estimate of the size of the TV in relation to the size of the backseat of my car (if you recall, this was back when I was still driving my beater Camry with a non-openable trunk) they were somehow able to cram the TV into the backseat of the car, but there was no way the box was ever going to come back out in one piece.  Ultimately it was necessary to rip the box to shreds and extract the contents that way, but not before adding a number of additional rips to the upholstery in my car’s backseat, and breaking off one of the grab handles.  I can’t recall the last time anyone rode in the backseat of that car anyway, so this was no big deal.  After all, the TV was worth more than the car it was being transported in at the time.

Fast forward a couple of years, and suddenly that screaming deal doesn’t look quite so hot anymore. The 32″ LCD TVs that cost roughly $1,200 two years ago have come down in price by at least a third, and there are even 32″ models that can be found for $500 or less if you know where to look.  The $800 I paid for my TV will easily buy a 37″ model, and 42″ and 47″ 1080P models don’t cost a whole lot more than that.  Even Sony TVs are starting to get to the point of being almost affordable, although they continue to command a price premium of several hundred dollars over the competition.  Far be it from me to sound ungrateful, but at times it can be just a little hard to walk into a store and look at the ever shrinking pricetags on ever growing expanses of glowing pixels and wonder how I could have paid a whole eight freakni’ hundred bucks two years ago for what I could have gotten for $600 or less now, or noting that for not too much more than that $800 I could be the proud owner of a shiny new 47″ 1080P LCD. 

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past century or so is well aware of the steady pace with which technology advances, which not only bring us ever faster computers at lower prices, but also churns out a steady stream of shiny new toys.  Over the past several years HDTV has finally caught on with the general public in a big way after years of false starts and delays, and the big screen TVs which once carried huge pricetags and required a team of weightlifters to move anywhere now come in much more convenient form factors with much more consumer-friendly prices.  Along with this comes a generational change in TV technology (hastened along by the impending shutoff of analog TV next year) that will most likely see the majority of TV users switching to new models over the course of the next several years.  This has created a highly competitive market for TV manufacturers looking to ride the wave of HDTV.

Having been involved with technology for as long as I have, I should be well aware by now that waiting for a better time to buy something often means that you’ll be waiting forever.  My prior track record has also shown that I am perfectly willing to pay an early adopter tax on items that I have an interest in, although by the time I bought my TV I thought that the early adopter phase for HDTV should have been done with.   To be honest, I’m not sure that even two years down the road we’re past that yet, as the availability of HD channels beyond the local network channels remains spotty, and even after an upgrade back in December, Comcast’s HD channel offerings here still leave much to be desired, as does their HD DVR with its convoluted interface and annoying behavior while recording.  Even though HD broadcasting continues to go through growing pains, the hardware side of things has fared much better as outlined above, and continues to provide larger TVs for less money.  This does sometimes make it tempting to just grab the next model, but even though the 32″ model I have doesn’t look like nearly the bargain it was at the time that I bought it, it still works just fine, and is perfectly adequate for my needs, even if I do have to squint at the text every once in a while when I’m playing Xbox from across the room.

The same goes for my computer, which is another example of this phenomenon.  For quite a while, I was constantly trying to keep up with the leading edge of PC technology, adding upgrades to my computer several times a year, and probably building a new box from the ground up every eighteen months or so.  At the time that I am writing this, the computer that I am using has been in its current configuration for roughly three years now, with the only significant change in that time being the replacement of one failed hard drive.  The main problem with the system is that I picked pretty much the exact wrong time to build it, and ended up with a single core processor just before the dual core processors started to appear, and I also ended up with an AGP video card just before PCI Express caught on.  This means that I have little option but to build from scratch when the time comes to upgrade.  On the other hand, this system may just be the most stable one that I have ever built, and aside from the aforementioned hard drive failure it has given me three years of virtually trouble-free usage.  It is really starting to  show its age though, and a new computer is definitely on the agenda for sometime within the next few months. 

The rule of thumb that I used to follow was that if I ever had a better computer at work than I do at home it’s time to upgrade, but if I was still following that, I probably would have upgraded at least a year ago.  As is, they’ve got me on some pretty slick boxes at work right now, with Core 2 Duo processors, 4GB of RAM (even three years ago when I built this system with 1GB of RAM, 4GB was still an unimaginably huge amount of memory to be putting in a desktop system) and dual 20″ Samsung monitors.  It’s clear that I haven’t been keeping up with technology, because just from the sound of that I can tell that I’m way behind the curve right now, and I’m trying to figure out how I’m supposed to catch up.  On the plus side, the age of my existing hardware means that I could probably buy pretty much anything now and blow my current system out of the proverbial water.  Either way, I’m definitely going to have to do my homework in order to figure this out.  In the fast-paced world of technology three years isn’t quite an eternity, but it might as well be with all that has happened between then and now. 

On the other hand, if what I have now works just fine, why mess with it?  Because the grass is always greener on the other side of the firewall, of course.

 *For those people who aren’t familiar with Costco Home, it is a warehouse-sized store operated by Costco with merchandise consisting primarily of furniture and other home furnishings, although they also have a significant selection of HDTVs and a lesser selection of other home entertainment gear.  Currently, only two of these stores exist; one in Kirkland Washington, and one in Tempe Arizona.  As is the case with the regular Costco stores, you can get some good prices on the stuff they carry, but selection can be rather hit-or-miss.

1 Comment »

  1. […] LCD TV that I had in my living room as my primary example of this.  The original post can be found here (egregious spelling errors and all, one of these days I’ll learn to spellcheck before I […]

    Pingback by It’s Always Cheaper After You Buy One « The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0 — December 19, 2009 @ 1:13 am

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