At Least Five Reasons Not to Buy a New Television

All right, I will start by admitting that our current television is a 28-inch Panasonic that is at least eight years old. We bought it when HD televisions were first coming out but they were still a little too expensive for us. That’s right, we are still a standard definition family.

We are currently thinking about upgrading, but, I should add, we will probably not upgrade our television service — a lovely fiber-to-the-home setup from LUS Fiber — because, in all honesty, we don’t watch enough television that really drives us to want HD. Yes, I watch every episode of _Deadliest Catch_, but do I really need to see those guys in high def?

We want an HD television because we want to get an Apple TV so we can watch Netflix as a family, and not really all hunkered around an iPad. And you can only hook up the latest gizmos via HDMI. Our Panasonic has never even heard of HDMI — I don’t think it was a standard yet when we bought the thing. (HDCP was underway, but I don’t think HDMI had been settled upon.)

And so, being a good consumer, I dug out our issue of _Consumer Reports_ (March 2012) which lists “Best TVs: Dazzling LCD and plasma sets plus get the perfect picture” on the cover. And the first thing I realize is that I have no idea what size television to look for. HD television sets are based on a different geometry than our old SD set, and so I do a little bit of math and come up with a number of .85 by which to multiply an HD screen size to arrive at an approximate value for its physical width. (I’m not worrying about bezels because those are now so thin.) Our maximum television screen size? 42 inches.

I scan down the CR Ratings page to the 40- to 42-inch televisions, and I see that Samsung, Panasonic, and LG have the top four rated televisions:

* Samsung LN40D630
* Panasonic Viera TC-L42D30
* LG 42LK520
* LG 42LV3700

Hmmm. Those are some complicated model numbers. I think I’ll just took a quick look on a site like Amazon to see what the street prices are for these here 42-inch televisions. Oh, look, there are some LG televisions listed! Wait, these are all 42-inch televisions made by LG and they have all these different price points:

* The LG 42LS3400 is $575.
* The LG 42LE5400 is something like $700 (one of those “add to the cart to see the price” items).
* There’s also the LG 42LK450, but, oh, wait, it’s been replaced by the LG 42CS560. Well, of course it has!

And that’s just a sampling of the model madness from one manufacturer. Never mind that I am holding a copy of a magazine which is only a few months old and I can’t find these model numbers readily. If I type in one of the LG models, the 42LK520, it re-driects to the newer model, the the 42CS570, which, thankfully, is only $549 for the time being.

Nowhere is it made clear to me, a reasonably curious consumer, what the difference is between these models.

Now, to be fair, let’s compare this to computers or cars, where there is also often an astonishing array of choices. Typically, however, these choices are layered upon an essentially straightforward decision-tree model where these is a base version, or model, upon which various features or functions are added. Often within such product matrices, as they are sometimes called, there is a certain amount of bundling, which sometimes forces consumers to pay for more features than they want in order to get the one feature they do want.

At least, however, there is an ability for the consumer to distinguish between one model and another, or between one variant of a model and another variant. I don’t see any such straightforward distinction in these televisions, and, frankly, I have come across similar obfuscation chiefly in the appliance industry. Have you ever tried to track down a spare part for an appliance, only to troop continually back to the thing because you had no idea that all those numbers and letters could actually be the model number? I have, and it’s maddening.

And so my five or more reasons for being put off from buying a new television are these: LS3400, LE5400, LK520, CS570. For all I know, that’s some sort of cryptogram for “suck it, bozo.”

I rather like Patagonia’s [Common Threads Initiative][1]. They want to be a part of the four Rs of reduce, repair, reuse, recycle. Their commitment is to make clothing that lasts a long time and to repair it when it breaks. I recognize that their clothing is costly, compared to others, but if they can get their consumers to re-think the nature of consumption, perhaps the idea can spread up and down the tiers of the marketplace. I could almost imagine not despising the fashion world if it’s cycles were longer.

I did say *almost*.