The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 19, 2009

It Always Gets Cheaper AFTER You Buy One

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:13 am

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?

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February 21, 2008

Why Try to Be Everything to Everyone?

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 10:23 pm

WARNING:  This post contains gratuitous video game nerd content, and will probably bore some of my regular readers.  The standard fluff you’ve come to expect of this Blog will return shortly.

It’s been quite a while now since I’ve done much writing about anything video game related here.  This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been playing any video games lately, (for the last little bit, most of that time has been spent on Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness for the PSP, which is the type of game that will make insane completist RPG fans and MMOG spreadsheet junkies forget to eat for three days in a row if they let it,) just that I haven’t found a lot to write about on the subject lately.  After the deluge of high-quality games that showed up over the course of the last couple of months in 2007, there’s been a bit of a lull for the past couple of months as gamers digest the pile of late 2007 offerings.  With this week’s Game Developer’s Conference this week comes an early glance into what gamers can expect in the coming months, and the strategies that the companies are pursuing in that time.

By all accounts, Sony has the most to gain from 2008 at this point.  With an apparent end to the high definition movie format war falling in Blu-Ray’s favor (at what cost this was accomplished remains to be seen)  and the shipment of system-selling games they ordered back in ’06 set to at least partially arrive this year, they will most likely improve over last year.  Over the course of the past year, Sony also seems to have toned down their rhetoric and worked toward getting past the ill-advised hyperbole of Kaz Hirai and Ken Kutaragi into a more customer-friendly public image.  With games like LittleBigPlanet and Echochrome on the PS3 and Patapon on the PSP coming up in the near future, they also seem to be moving in directions that would have been unheard of at the height of the PS2’s popularity.  Part of this is the result of an industry-wide move toward more casual-friendly games fueled mainly by the success of the Wii, but it does also to some extent indicate a greater willingness to cater to niches in gaming than they have previously shown.

It is because of this that a comment (via Kotaku) made by Phil Harrison about third-party games on the Wii at a GDC lunch earlier today seems a bit puzzling:

“Due to competition with Nintendo’s unstoppable games…Your addressable market is only 40% of the installed base.”

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December 22, 2007

A Modern Marvel of Miniaturization

Filed under: Random Stuff, Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:36 am

 Say you’ve got a bit of space on your bookshelf, and you’re looking for a small stereo system that you can use to fill in the space.  While you’re out doing your shopping, you come across one of these: 

Sure, the pricetag might be a tad expensive, but it’s a Sony, so you’ve got to expect a bit of a price premium.  Just as long as the thing fits snugly onto your bookshelf, you should be OK.  That shouldn’t be a problem for a “mini shelf system”…  Or would it?

 

Um…  You brought the truck to haul that home with, right?  Oh, and by the way, it looks like you’re going to need a bigger shelf while you’re at it.

As a rule of thumb,  modern technology allows us to make things smaller all the time.  Unfortunately, someone along the way missed the memo, and as a result, this behemoth has somehow been labelled as a “Mini Hi-Fi Component System.”  At first, I would have guessed that whoever made this particular decision was  wearing a blue shirt at the time, but it looks like the competition is using a very similar description for this particular system.  I think each speaker in this system is by itself the same size or larger than some of the other complete mini bookshelf stereo systems I’ve seen.   If this thing is what passes for a mini system these days, I’d hate to see what a full size one looks like…

July 16, 2007

Console Check-Up: Sony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:49 am

Note:  This is the last of three posts that take a look at some predictions I made for the current generation of video game consoles last October prior to the PS3 and Wii launches.  In this post, I will take a look at the predictions I made for Sony.  If you haven’t seen the two posts before this one, I would suggest reading the first one (or at least the introduction to that post) to give a bit of background on this.

Back when I made the predictions I am basing this on, I stated that whether they intended to do so or not, Sony has found themselves betting the proverbial farm on the Playstation 3.  I also stated that I believed that if the PS3 had been designed as a reasonable incremental upgrade over the previous generation which could be sold at a lower price point than the $599 it was launched at, there would have been a lot less people questioning their strategy with regards to the PS3.  I questioned the decision to include Blu-Ray with the system, as it was one of the major contributing factors to the high price tag, and wondered if Sony was ever going to stop making PR blunders on a regular basis and get their act together.

Nine months later, a lot of the questions about the PS3 still have not been answered, but it is clear that the system is not on the path to duplicate the success of the PS2.  In spite of initial shortages that resulted in people camping out for days to get a system at launch (a lot of those to resell for significant profits on eBay) the intitial demand quickly faded, and within weeks of launch PS3s were readily available on the shelf (while Jack Tretton offered $1,200 for any PS3 that was found on the shelf for more than five mniutes in an interview,) and people who camped in line for days for their launch day PS3s ended up returning them to the store after being unable to sell them on eBay.  This was just one in a lengthy series of PR and marketing blunders committed by Sony over the course of the last year, dating back to the trainwreck that was their 2006 E3 press briefing.  Notable incidents included multiple instances of using screenshots of Xbox 360 exclusive Project Gotham Racing 3 to promote Gran Turismo HD, the use of racist themes in advertising to promote the PSP in Europe, and one of the most inept attempts at astroturfing to date.  And that was just the Playstation division (it seems that the rest of the company wasn’t exactly having a good year on the PR front either.)  Although the PS3 does appear to be selling reasonably well in the PAL territories (Europe and Australia,) sales in the US and Japan remain sluggish, with the PS3 not only outsold by Nintendo products, but the PS2 as well, and the Xbox 360 in the US.

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