Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 

 

 

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?

AskAvi replies:

Yeah, there's always something new coming out.  Sigh.  We all like progress, we just wish it would slow down a little!

Your choices:

  1. Wait for something better. The problem with this approach: there will always be something better tomorrow.  

  2. Buy now and enjoy.  The problem with this approach: how can you fully enjoy your purchase when something better and cheaper comes out a month later?

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:

If your performance needs are for a small, easy to install/live-with front projector with DVD resolution, low-to-no eyestrain, good black levels, and good brightness... and your price needs are under $20,000... your needs should be met with 848x480 resolution projectors based on Texas Instruments’ “HD1” DLP chips.  PLUS and InFocus sell them today for $3-5,000.  On a personal note: these were my needs, my budget was ~$4,000, so I bought a PLUS Piano for $3,000.

Up your needs to 720p HDTV resolution (with 1080i HDTV scaled down to fit), and you're all set today with 1280x720 resolution projectors based on TI’s “HD1” chips. Sharp and Marantz have excellent models in the $9-13,000 price range.

Up your needs from "good" to "very good" black levels, and the wait for TI’s next generation of DLP chips (“HD2,” expected later this year) becomes a foregone conclusion.  For those of us with smaller budgets: if PLUS or InFocus deliver “HD2” 1280x720 units later this year – and both companies have suggested they will - the price for 720p HDTV resolution may come down by $3-5,000 at this time, too.

Up your needs to full, native 1080i HDTV resolution (1920x1080i, which requires a 1920x1080 progressive-capable device), you have a much longer wait, as I know of nothing coming on the short term horizon.

I should also point out that having a larger budget (say, $20,000) could enable you to have something nice now while you wait for “HD2” or 1080p projectors some time down the road. If you don't plan to watch much/any HDTV, you could quite reasonably buy an InFocus ScreenPlay 110 or PLUS HE-3100 Piano today and still have the budget for a top of the line projector when the technology catches up to your full performance needs. Another option with a larger budget is to go the CRT route (a used model or a new model employing 8" CRT tubes) and simply budget for a professional to install and calibrate it, and then come back to touch things up every 3 - 6 months.

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!

-avi

AskAvi Columns on TVs & Projectors

bulletColumn 28 (4/16/02) The PLUS HE-3100 Piano Six Months Later (Follow-up review)
bulletColumn 27 (4/9/02) Projector/TV Connection Dilemma: One Set Of Components; More Than One Display
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Column 24 (3/5/02) 1. Help With DVD Hookup, 2. Can You Wring the Resolution Out of HDTV?

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Column 17 (1/3/02): Attention Shoppers -- Special on DLP in Aisle 6: What would it take to make home theater projectors mainstream?

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Column 16 (12/10/01): Review of the Plus HE-3100 "Piano" Home Theater Projector

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Column 15 (12/3/01): PowerPoint or Peckinpath: Business Projectors For Home Theater

bulletColumn 10 (10/29/01): Why HDTV Doesn't Matter
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Column 9 (10/22/01): Big Choices: Big Screen TVs

Glossary

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.

Please note: All submissions to AskAvi@Greengart.com become the property of Greengart.com, and Greengart.com retains all copyrights of both questions and answers. (Don't send us anything you intend to copyright or patent.) Not all submissions will be answered.

 

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