Big-Box Stores: How Not to Shop


Illustration by Shane McGowan.

Visit many of today's "super stores" and you'll find row upon row of over saturated and poorly calibrated sets. Good luck finding one that's right for you!

Aug. 22, 2007 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I don’t envy anyone shopping for a TV these days. Is there confusion? No doubt. Heck, I’m sometimes confused, and I write about this stuff. But I most pity TV buyers today because of the poor presentation in the stores.

Here I was looking for a new TV for my new home office, which will double as a guest suite. Therefore, it would be hospitable to equip it with a good HDTV, right? And I admit it: This will be the place I’ll go to watch a ballgame or a movie while the family room system is being monopolized, which is most every night.

Do I want a plasma? No loud, hot flat panels for me, thanks. In fact, I had ruled out flat panels altogether because I also have not been a fan of LCD. I could always see the “screen-door effect” of the pixels and some image smear during fast sports scenes. But recently I remembered that the highest-resolution 1080p LCD displays and faster response times eliminated these artifacts for my discerning eye. And I said, Hmmmm, I’ll have to go down to the local electronics store and see if I can really live with LCD.

That was my mission as I entered… oh, let’s just call it Silly City, which I normally avoid like anthrax. But here I was.

And there they were: the huge bank of Nearly Every TV imaginable. A quick scan would eliminate any plasmas, microdisplays or 720p sets, because it’s 1080p or bust. Then I’d situate myself in a spot about the seating distance in my home office and see if I can learn to love LCD. Only what’s this? They’re showing an animated movie on every screen?

Oh, this dismays me—and not because I already ingest a diet heavy in Sponge Bob and The Incredibles. But how can a reasonable, sane person discern which TVs offer clearer, crisper and more responsive images if everything visible contains the highly saturated colors of computerized animation? This is impossible, unless you are an 8-year-old.

I found another row of TVs displaying live action clips and the like, but this was disappointing as well because the colors on the lone 1080p set were so bright and saturated that the nearby 720p sets actually looked better. I reasoned this had something to do with the higher resolution of the 1080p, combined the ridiculous color settings stores use to entice shoppers. Yikes.

A friendly salesman offered to answer any technical questions—they know people are confused—and I thought I should tell him that they’re setting the colors way too “warm” on the 1080p sets—and to change the channel, and to turn off the infernal animation on the other bank of sets. But I couldn’t be bothered, because I certainly was not going to buy a TV from Silly City. Besides, I was just judging if I could really live with an LCD. And I determined I could, just not this one, or any other one from this store.

On the way out I spotted the home theater demo room, which was really just a sofa in front of two 60-inch TVs and piddly speakers, all situated in the middle of the display floor—no walls, the usual 20-foot ceilings, harsh lighting. Attention shoppers: Good luck.

Return to full story: