I wrote an article many moons ago about getting a new flatscreen. Upon reviewing that post, looks like I stayed within my original criteria. I have to say, this was one of the least pleasant purchasing decisions I’ve made in quite some time – harder that buying a new computer (easy choice: anything but a Vaio!) or a car. It made me really look into some major flaws in the process of learning about consumer electronics products, which I will discuss in a moment.
First, I was about ready to drop the budget down to about $1500 to pick up a 46-47″ LCD from either Sharp or Samsung. My friend Ryan Block is a big fan of the Sharps, and the reviews were pretty solid across the board. Also, after sharing my CES flight with Bob O’Donnell (the displays analyst from IDC), I had given up on requiring 1080p in my set of needs, mostly because my room isn’t big enough for me to visibly tell the difference.
I researched across Amazon and CNET for reviews. I even made a little spreadsheet with candidate models to compare prices, reviews, etc. A Toshiba Regza floated into the mix, and after a chat with EngadgetHD’s Ben Drawbaugh, the Pioneer Kuro popped in as well. This was a new one, as I had basically ruled out plasmas due to potential sun-brightness. He has one himself, and after some more research, it seemed to be a winner virtually everywhere I looked (including this very interesting contrast article at Gizmodo).
I put the Kuro (5080HD) in my Amazon cart, updated my Facebook profile, then went to sleep ready to finalize the order. Guess what I found out? It got discontinued. Yesterday! Augh! While on the phone with one online vendor (who confirmed the Kuro’s discontinuance), I was recommended the Panasonic unit (although he tried to upsell me some random stuff, so I went back to Amazon). I chatted with Dave Zatz about it too, as he has a similar unit, and he also felt it was a no-lose option. Order placed, thank you everybody who helped out!
In doing this research I realized (again) how terribly difficult this must be for random consumers. I search across dot-coms like Amazon and shopping 2.0 sites like Wize and Retrevo, and all had similar flaws. No site let me make a perfectly custom search (46-52″ screens, $1500-$2100 budget, etc), which was very disappointing. No site has perfect data on release dates (Amazon lists the Panny as coming out in 2005, which seems more than a little odd). No site has good crossindexing for customer support or services information, although Amazon does display an advertisement with a local installer (since I’m going to wall-mount it).
At least when you buy a car you can go to Edmunds, get the right price, have all the info, and know when the new models are coming. Why is this so hard to duplicate in the consumer electronics world? Seems like quite an opportunity…