Nearly two years ago on this Blog, I made a post that discussed in some length the tendency for technology to get cheaper as time goes on. I noted in particular how quickly it seems that things get cheaper AFTER you finally get sick of waiting around and make a purchase. At that time, I cited the 32″ 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 post,) but to make a long story short, back in January of 2008 when I wrote that post I was discussing (or, some might say, complaining) about how the 32″ LCD television that I had gotten a screaming bargain on when I paid $800 for it in early 2006 had become so much cheaper in the ensuing two years that it was starting to look like something of a ripoff in comparison. At that point, if you looked hard enough, a 32″ LCD television could be had for as little as $500 (although $600 was more likely,) and at the time I also noted that even the brand name models like Sony and Samsung, even though they still carried a distinct price premium over the lesser-known brands, were also becoming a lot more affordable. Of course, none of this really did me much good after I had jumped in already and paid a fair bit more money for the one I had. As someone who tends to spend way too much time messing with technology of one sort or another, I knew that this was nothing new, and that no matter when you buy, there will always be something bigger and cheaper, usually within weeks of when you buy.
Of course, this trend is nothing new. Over at tvhistory.tv, I found an RCA advertisement from 1960 on this very subject. From the ad copy, we find out that in 1955, a 15″ color TV (which was very much in its infancy at this time) was selling for $1,000 (a whopping $8,072 in 2009 dollars, according to this inflation calculator,) and just five years later, a “big screen” 21-inch color television could be had for $495 (which is “only” $3,617.68 in 2009 dollars.) These prices were, of course, out of the reach of many people, but a much more reasonable 19″ black and white Zenith television could be had for $259.95 in 1961 (still $1,881 in 2009 dollars, but at least we’re in the ballpark for what a typical American family might be able to save up for.) There a lot more information on the relative sizes and prices of televisions over the years at this page. One thing that’s interesting to note is that even back then, Sony products commanded a significant price premium over other brands, as a 19″ Sony color TV from 1974 is listed with a price of $590 (equivalent to $2,589 now,) while an 18″ Emerson color TV from 1972 is listed for $359 ($1.858 in 2009 dollars.) Sure, you had the occasional Madman Muntz severely undercutting the competition by basically cutting every single corner he could possibly get away with (a practice which ultimately came to be known as Muntzing,) but in general, televisions were very expensive items for quite a long time. Needless to say, things have gotten a bit cheaper since then.
The fact that we are currently well into a major shift in the television industry as a whole is also helping to bring prices down significantly. Just a decade ago, the vast majority of TVs being sold were still CRT-based, and unless you were messing around with projection systems, 32 inches was considered to be a big screen. HDTV was still a curiosity, and most people thought that plasma displays would become the dominant technology when HDTV did catch on. Now that we’re there (mostly, there’s still a distressingly large quantity of standard definition only channels in my cable lineup) LCDs have basically taken over the majority of the TV market, relegating plasma displays to a rather small niche. In the process not only have the displays gotten progressively larger, but they just keep getting cheaper and cheaper.
Which brings me to this. Although for the most part I’ve found that my 32″ LCD worked just fine for its purpose, there have always been a number of issues with it that have annoyed me. For one thing, it’s a little bit short in the input department. It only has one HDMI port (although I only have one device using HDMI right now, that could easily become three,) One of the two component inputs will display only in 480i resolution for some unknown reason (which makes it, well, pretty much useless for 99% of the devices out there that would use a component input in the first place, although fortunately a Wii does fit into the 1%) and it just barely missed the point where they started making digital tuners a standard feature in TVs (around here, Comcast seems to be doing their part to make sure THOSE are completely useless too, but that’s a rant I’ll leave for someone else.) The input problems I could deal with since I could manage to get everything to work (and even sneak in an old Sega Genesis for some completely inexplicable reason) on the inputs I had, but there was another issue that caused even more problems: I could not find a single universal remote that would work with the TV. Although ViewSonic is a reasonably reputable brand when it comes to PC monitors, their efforts in televisions have been minimal at best, and even though some of the universal remotes out there have the ability to control televisions from brands that haven’t existed since the Eighties, but none of them (with the possible exception of the hideously expensive Logitech Harmony remotes) seem to have any idea what a ViewSonic TV is. This meant it generally took two remotes to do anything.
While all of these things were basically minor nuisances, for some time now I have been watching as bigger TVs keep getting cheaper, until I finally decided to see if could come up with something good at one of the Black Friday sales this year. It turned out I didn’t even need to wait that long. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, thanks to a number of stores that had decided to start some of their Black Friday sales early, I managed to come up with this 40″ 1080p Sony TV at Best Buy for a mere $600 and tax out the door. It wasn’t really all that long ago that people would think you were as crazy as that Muntz guy if you said you could get any 40″ LCD for that price, much less a Sony. Granted, this is an abnormally low price for this particular set (which sells somewhere in the range of $700-900 normally,) and this is pretty much the base model 40″ TV Sony sells right now (a high-end 40″ Bravia XBR set can go for as much as $1,500 right now,) but compared to my old TV it’s so much of an upgrade that I could care less if there are better models out there. In addition to the obvious increase in size and pixels, there’s the fact that this one has more inputs (3 HDMI, 2 component inputs that actually display proper resolutions for component input, composite/S-video and VGA,) it switches resolutions and inputs without annoying 5-second delays in between and menus that won’t disappear from the screen until you change the volume to get them to go away (in fact, the user interface is so much nicer than the one on my old TV it’s ridiculous,) and I can actually get the TiVo’s remote to control this one too. Of course, with all that technology come a few inevitable hitches, and a little bit of reading after I made my purchase revealed one of them:
It turns out this particular set has some issues with unwanted screen dimming as a result of a feature which automatically adjusts the backlighting based on the lighting of the room, but those could be fixed by updating the TV’s firmware. This actually turned out not to be too much of a pain (the fact that I had a compatible flash drive on hand already helped, I’m sure) but when you think about it, you probably wouldn’t have to go back too far to find a time when someone would have thought you were speaking gibberish if you told them you needed to update the firmware on your television. With just about everything loaded with electronics these days (even the freakin’ toaster has a cancel button on it now)I suppose such things have become inevitable, but it’s still a little bit odd to see tasks that used to require a team of trained programmers to execute showing up in everyday household electronics. Even so, it only took a few minutes to do this, and so far I’ve found the new TV to work quite well. There’s just one little problem left: What the heck am I supposed to do with the old one?
I suppose it’s all relative, but even for being an LCD television, the old one’s a bit of a beast. Compared to a CRT of similar size it’s practically nothing (I’ve helped move some of those big-screen CRTs out of second-floor apartments with exceedingly narrow staircases, and I have to say that’s an experience I’d prefer NOT to repeat if I can help it,) but this one still has to weigh a good fifty pounds. I could put it in the bedroom where sets like this end up, but that would require getting another cable box, and the cable outlet in the bedroom is in just about the most inaccessible part of the room for that anyway. Besides, I don’t need to be watching TV in bed anyway. Aside from that, there isn’t much else I can think of besides possibly hooking it up to my PC and using it as a second monitor…
On second thought, maybe I better rethink that one. Oh well. Anyone want to buy a slightly used television?