Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column #31 (05/22/02)
When to Buy: Dealing with the Rapid Pace of Technology Change
Question: Avi, I've been reading your columns about home theater products, and I'm salivating at the thought of a big screen in my home. But there's always something new coming out. And we all know that the price comes down if you wait. What should I do, buy something now, or wait?
Yeah, there's always something new coming out. Sigh. We all like progress, we just wish it would slow down a little!
What's missing here is an approach for dealing with technological change based on an understanding that technology doesn't change in a linear fashion.
Technology is rapidly changing, but it does reach certain plateaus over time. If you have a reasonable understanding of where the plateaus are, you pick the plateau that meets your price/performance "happy place," and you should be pleased with your purchase decision, despite any technological change afterwards.
And that’s where I hope this column can help – by spreading an understanding of the technology lifecycle, and where we are in it for various consumer electronics products. AskAvi is a big "YOU ARE HERE" sign for the digital age. OK, maybe that's overdoing it a little.
Since you asked about a "big screen," and I've recently written several columns about home theater projectors, let's use that as an example:
Obviously, other products will have different parameters - PDAs, home theater receivers, and wireless networking products are all quite different. But the basic rule applies: figure out what you need the product to do, determine your budget, pick a plateau where the two meet, buy, and enjoy!
AskAvi Columns on TVs & Projectors
720p HDTV resolution - 720 = 720 by 1,280 pixels; p = progressive scan, meaning the image is made up of lines displayed one after the other, like a computer screen. 720p is the HDTV format used by ABC for their HDTV broadcasts.
1080i - 1080 = 1080 by 1,920 pixels; i = interlaced, meaning the image is made up by first drawing even lines and then going back to add the odd lines, like a regular television. 1080i is the HDTV format used by CBS, NBC, PBS, HBO, HDNet, and Showtime.
Scaled to fit - your display uses a sophisticated computer chip to throw away the image information that won't fit on the 720p panel, and sequence the image progressively by guessing at what image information stays the same frame-to-frame, and what changes. 1080i HDTV looks very good to excellent on 720p devices.
CRT - CRT = Cathode Ray Tube, the good old electron guns used for televisions for decades. It's a mature technology, and still can provide the richest images, and deepest blacks of any display device. Most rear projection televisions use 7" tubes. Front projectors may use 7" tubes, 8" tubes for higher resolution, or expensive 9" tubes for full HDTV resolution and that looking-out-a-window feeling. CRTs are also large, heavy, difficult to install and set up, not very bright (you need a pitch black room and a relatively small screen), and require touch-ups by professionals every now and then. Industrial front projectors based on CRTs are becoming obsolete, and used models can be had at bargain prices.
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© 2001, 2002 Avi Greengart