All Too Soon, Back in the Breach

My HDTV is dead. Actually, it’s more half-dead. Most of the time when you turn it on, it flashes its picture for about a second, and then gives up. Instead of 50 inches of HD splendor, you get a feeble blinking red light. Once in a while it turns on for good, and it works fine for as long as you need it to. Since the TV is out of warrantee it will cost about 25% as much as a new TV just for the guy to show up and start to see what’s wrong with it. To actually fix it would probably cost 40-50% as much as a new TV and more importantly, would take about 4 times as long as just buying a new TV. The problem, of course, is that you have to shop for a new TV. You only have to do this for about 15 minutes to again realize why television has completely failed as a consumer electronics product.

As an illustrative example, let’s mosey on over to the Panasonic web site. If you look at their page of available flat screen TV sets you will notice what I am talking about. On this page there are no less than fifteen separate lines of televisions. The model numbers mostly differ only in one or two alphanumeric characters. The only way you can figure out how the televisions differ from one another is to click through at least 4 pages of information in each of the different areas and carefully read dozens of different lines of meaningless specifications. Also, what does Viera mean? Also, why do I want a god damned Internet connection in my television? Didn’t Microsoft try that to great failure in the 90s?

Just about every major manufacturer of television equipment has a web site just like the one at Panasonic. Sony has 5 lines of LCD TVs: LX, HX, BX, NX, and EX. As with the Panasonic, the reasons for the differentiation are hard to fathom from the information on the web site.

For some reason, the TV people think that we want to buy a TV the way we might buy a Dell computer. Here is the page you get when you are after a Dell laptop: it looks very similar.

What’s even worse is that if you go a major retailer of television equipment, the organization is no better. You end up with pages and pages of lists of TVs, all of which look essentially identical. Sometimes, they even are identical but have different model numbers. Sometimes, they are almost identical, but actually you are looking at last year’s model on closeout, but you can’t tell what changed from last year to this year. In this environment it is basically impossible to compare the different sets in any rational way. It’s almost as if the goal of both the manufacturer and the retailer is to completely obfuscate what is actually available, so the consumer will just throw up his hands and buy whatever is most expensive.

I think that perhaps these people should consider that people might want more straightforward choices. That they might do more business if there were fewer product categories with clear differentiation. That consumers might be more willing to part with their hard-earned cash if it was clear what it was that cash was buying.

I have a modest example. Say you want a new iMac. You go to this web page. Then you pick which machine you want based on screen size, memory and disk. Very simple. Very straightforward. Even better, the page that describes the computers presents the relevant information in a straightfoward and easy to digest fashion. The web address is even easy to remember, you only have to know that you are after an Apple iMac.

Everything in life should be that easy to buy. I’m going to go see if my Sony will turn on again now that I’ve given it some time to think.

But, I do have to say one last thing to the TV people: nobody gives a shit about 3-d TV. Just give up now please.