The Problem with TV
January 27th, 2012

By which I mean actual television sets, not TV programming.

It used to be that you could buy a TV set confident that, over time, obsolescence would only eat your purchase in terms of size and price. A 36″ HD set which sold for $1,100 would be displaced by a 42″ set at the same price point, while the 36″ unit would drop in price. There were mild technical innovations–deeper black levels, for instance–but the essential substance of the units stayed about the same.

Not no more.

I’m in the preliminary phases of scouting out a new television and the market is absolutely terrifying right now. There is a serious tech/aesthetic war over refresh rates. (Have you what a 120 ghz LED set does to 1080p programming? It makes everything look like it was shot with a super-high-def steady cam.) 3D may, or may not, be happening. There is no internet TV standard, so if you want web content on your big screen, you need a bunch of peripherals to get everything. There may be a new screen ratio standard displacing 16:9. And, to add to the uncertainty, Apple may (or may not) jump into the TV space in the next 18 months. Which could be either a flop, so disruptive that it re-orders the entire market.

In short, we’re at a moment where you’d have to be crazy to drop $1,500 on a new primary screen for yourself. Because you could wind up with a device that, in just 2 years, is totally obsolete.

Now, if this happens to be just a peculiar moment that’s the product of a weird confluence of events, then so be it. But I’m a little worried that this could be the general direction of the TV market in the future: That instead of being a household device which is a piece of stable capital–like a washing machine or a hot-water heater–it’s becoming a gadget. And the rule of gadgets is The are designed with very finite life-cycles so that consumers must purchase them in serial.

I really hope we’re not going to a place where we’re expected to replace our TVs every 24 to 36 months.

  1. Galley Wife January 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Um, yeah, me too.

    Wait, we need a TV?

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  3. ChrisinTampa January 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I noticed that the TV’s are changing so quick even my techie friends are hesitant to buy.
    We actually dropped cable service about 8 months ago and upgraded our internet speed in the process…best decision we ever made! No more constant “noise” in the background, everyone is reading more, my daughters practice their instruments more and with hulu and netflix, my wife and I still get our occassional Downton Abbey (among very few other shows) fix. Don’t know if you could do that in your line of work, but I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking for some peace…try it!

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  5. Galley Friend J.E. January 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Here comes Apple. New rules.

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  7. SkinsFanPG January 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Want me to really depress everyone: Apple TV, much like the 1st gen iPhone (iPad, iBook, iPod, just about everything the company makes) will only be awesome enough to make people wait for the Apple TV2 (see the iPhone 3G, iPad 2, 2nd gen iBook, etc….). It won’t incorporate enough new features to completely change the TV industry, but it will be just tantalizing enough to make you wait for the 2nd Gen device, which will be totally awesome. So you’re looking at waiting another 2-3 years before the truly revolutionary TV is available. Now for my prediction of what that TV will incorporate:

    42″ 1080p LCD
    120hz refresh rate
    full itunes app store connectivity
    full integration with iTunes
    iPad/iPhone remote capability
    Integrated HD cam w/ FaceTime
    full streaming service (except netflix) capability
    250GB SSHD (though it is possible they toss in a much larger standard hard drive, perhaps 1 or 2 TB)
    pricetag: $1500-$2000

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  9. Nedward January 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

    You left out that the broadcasters are trying to get a new digital ATSC standard out (the one ratified in mid-decade uses fairly old compression technology). Remember Pelosi’s coupons?

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  11. SB January 28, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I cannot stand the way the new LED/LCD TVs handle motion. Everything looks…..fake. I dunno how to explain it. I’m keeping my Panasonic Plasma until the damn thing burns out.

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  13. Galley Friend L.B. January 31, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    So JVL, it sounds like our family will be keeping the (c. 1990) 19″ Panasonic that currently serves as our sole TV for now, until all this shakes out. Every time I consider bringing our family into the 21st century by getting a modestly sized/priced HDTV, I get so confused by all of today’s TV features that I give up.

    Anyway, I will second ChrisinTampa’s recommendation to drop cable TV — we did it two years ago and haven’t looked back. Realized we just watched it too little to keep forking over $70 to Comcast every month. The only time I remotely miss it is for live sporting events on the cable channels, but usually has the college football games I want, and otherwise I make do.

    If you haven’t already, dump cable and put the extra $60-70 a month into the kids’ college fund — or, just buy more comic books. 😉

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  15. Galley Wife February 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

    LB–I think you might have overlooked something: Apparently the comic books are the college fund. Or maybe I’m confusing them with savings bonds. Something like that. Anyway, I’m told their future is secure.

    (See also:

    And JVL, regarding this…”I really hope we’re not going to a place where we’re expected to replace our TVs every 24 to 36 months.”

    …to borrow from Michael Bluth, “Who is the we in that sentence? : )