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« Guest Posting -- Nate Davis | Main | Policy Break: 5 Year Anniversary of the Tobacco Settlement »

October 01, 2003

Electronics Agonies

Friedrich --

Do you have any knack for buying electronics? I seem to have an anti-knack myself. A typical experience: two weeks ago I bought a GameCube for $150. Seems to work fine, a little cheaper than the other videogame systems, patting myself on the back (in some relief) for a purchase well done, etc ... A week later, Nintendo reduced the price by $50. I could have used those 50 bucks.

Another example: the home Imac. Nice little machine, very happy with it, even if the miniature-dentistís-drill sound the hard drive has been making for the last year does hike the computing anxiety up a notch or two. But my timing ... The week during which I signed the credit-card slip for the purchase was the one and only week during which high-end Imacs like mine were manufactured without the ability to play DVDs. "Oh yeah," a computer-store guy once said to me, very slowly. "I remember that. There was like five minutes when that was happening." Yup: the five minutes during which I bought.

Complicating matters is the fact that I rather enjoy doing the research -- arranging consultations with friends and acquaintances, riffling through consumer magazines, chatting with the guys at the store, making lists, endlessly websurfing. Especially endlessly websurfing ... My usual, and probably wise, pattern is to research an item exhaustively for several weeks, and then decide to put its purchase off for a couple of years. I do this (and announce it to The Wife) feeling as though Iíve really accomplished something.

Itís only when I commit to an actual purchase that I get into trouble. Our TV, for instance. The Wife and I sprang a few years ago for a flat-screen Sony Wega. In the store it seemed to be a dazzling creature: that flat screen, those squared-off corners ... To swoon for. But our Wega turned out to be an unwieldy, temperamental beast. The picture is usually gorgeous but has some annoying flukes. And the sound quality is crap: optimized for thunderstorms and car crashes, and terrible at delivering simple dialog. When you watch an older, dialog-heavy movie you feel like you're failing a hearing exam.

What to do? Rallying to the challenge, I bought some self-powered speakers. They helped a little, but not much. Evidently the problem isn't in the TV's speakers, it's (wouldn't you know it?) in the thing's wiring or circuitry -- its very nature, apparently.

So we make do for a few more years, muffled dialog and all. And finally I just can't take it anymore -- something's got to be done. But there's the matter of timing: in five years, I keep reading, we're going to be living in a flat-screen, reasonably-priced, HDTV paradise. Which means that the question for now becomes: How to get, TV-wise, from here to there? Buying a new TV seems absurd. (The guys at Circuit City talk about this as buying a "transitional TV.") So it looks like a "home-theater" is going to be what's sprung for -- thereby taking responsibility for the sound entirely out of the Wega's hands. Decision made.

I turn to the research. Gonna need a new TV table to support all the pieces and the weight. Bought: and, hey, assembly doesn't go too badly! We're on our way. But the home theater itself ... Hmm. All those boxes and wires and speakers ... Sheesh. I learn that "home theater in a box," while relatively convenient to hook up, doesn't take well to modifications or additions. So how about individual, standalone components? A challenge to set up, perhaps, but adaptable -- we'll be able to use 'em forever as part of our digital-TV future. More research, as well as solemn consultations with The Wife, who in truth couldn't care less about the whole topic. Finally, I click the Amazon "buy" button for this here and these here, a highly-recommended tuner-amp and a highly-recommended speaker set. OK, so the bill comes to a bit more -- well, a lot more -- than I'd planned to spend. But what the hell, why not: it's an investment in our entertainment future.

The boxes arrive. These are huge boxes. I take the components out of the boxes, and ... Good lord. The subwoofer is the size of an ottoman -- the bedroom may have to be rearranged. Feeling apprehensive, I turn the tuner/amp around and look at its business end. "Hey sweetie, look at this," I call out, pointing at dozens and dozens of obscurely-labeled inputs and outputs. "They can't imagine that anyone without a PhD in electrical engineering could wire all this together, can they?" No sympathy, of course. She just rolls her eyes, annoyed that it'll be another while yet before she can get back to watching "American Justice." More research, and I finally connect with a guy who makes house calls to string together systems like mine.

So, let's see: the TV table. The speakers. The amp. $130 for cables -- lordy, who knew cables could cost so much? And Iíll probably wind up paying $150 to the guy whoís going to wire it all up ...

"You know," The Wife said, "We could have bought a brand-new HDTV for the money you just laid out."

And then, and only then, surfing disconsolately late one night, did I find this here -- exactly what I should have bought in the first place.

Best, if eating out of cans for the next couple of months,


posted by Michael at October 1, 2003


You have my deepest sympathies, as I, too am afflicted. $500 phone in December going for $49 in March. $500 Toshiba wireless PDA in January obsoleted (completely - "no upgrades for you, toad!") in May.

Me, I'm going back to pay-phones and a yellow legal pad. And I'll learn to love my $100 Wal-Mart 27" teevee.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on October 1, 2003 9:43 PM

*grin* You know, there's an early adopters email list at ;)

Posted by: Courtney on October 1, 2003 10:54 PM

I don't know, the receiver you got has more digital inputs and outputs, whereas the other system you mention later only has one of each.

So you WILL go farther into the future digital nirvana with what you bought, so take heart! :-)

Posted by: David Mercer on October 2, 2003 12:25 AM

Fortunately, my work takes me to research labs once in a while, where the really desirable goodies are made. So, after having tried eye glasses that actes as TV or computer monitors when desired, the stuff regular shops have on offer don't have any appeal to me anymore.

I'm a stereotypical buyer of goods that aren't manufactured anymore, and therfore are on sale. Though I have built my stereo myself fifteen years ago, and still haven't heard anything with a better sound quality [it's adjusted to the lay-out of my living room].

Posted by: ijsbrand on October 2, 2003 7:56 AM

Aha! I knew I was holding on to my 19" TV and my five-year-old computer for a reason!

'Course, I've been eating out of cans for a while now ...

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on October 2, 2003 9:07 AM

Scott -- Wow, you make me doubly glad I haven't yet joined the cell-phone universe. Obsolescence seems to happen there very fast.

Courtney -- You're cruel (but funny).

David -- So you think my amp-thing may actually turn out to be a good purchase? Amazing.

IJSbrand -- That's interesting, the way that seeing zippy forthcoming tech seems to leave you not needing to buy any current tech at all. It's like it inoculates you against the temptation. Maybe we should all take a tour of these labs from time to time.

Tim -- The sad thing is that even after all this fuss and expense, my "system" (love the word) isn't going to be that impressive. My wiring guy made a point of telling me not to buy the really good wires -- "If your system was really good, sure, go for it," he said. "But because yours is just pretty good ..."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 2, 2003 11:08 AM

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