CE on the Cheap: Are You Really Saving?


Yes, it is probably too good to be true.

On second thought, maybe that Costco TV wasn't such a good idea after all.

Apr. 23, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Resourceful consumers think they’re saving a lot of money when they discover cheap alternatives to traditional CE products and services.

But are they really getting a good deal?

Here are some presumed money savers that might not be such good ideas after all:

Costco TVs
Ooh, it’s so tempting to pick up one of those Mitsubishi, Panasonic or Samsung bigscreens on the cheap. But look closely. Despite the name brands, many of these TVs have limited functionality for control.

For instance, they may lack discrete IR codes. That means you’ll have a very tough time operating them with a universal remote control. The controller won’t know if a TV is on or off, so it could get messy.

CE Online
A couple of caveats on the online buying thing. There certainly are some reputable resellers, but others are not authorized by the manufacture to sell their TVs, loudspeakers and other electronics online.

That means your products are not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and just try getting tech support. When in doubt, check the vendor’s Web site for authorized resellers.

When you see “new” products being sold at a huge discount, there’s a good chance that the seller is not authorized.

The other hidden expense involves shipping and handling. What some of these folks don’t tell you up front is that your big screen may be delivered by one guy who is told to leave the box at your door.

If you want to bribe the delivery guy to help you carry the behemoth into your house, you better make sure someone is at home to help. Cha-ching: a lost day at the office.

And don’t forget the cost and hassle of returning a defective product. It’s on your dime.

Who Needs Prewiring Anyway?
You’re building a house, and the low-voltage guy wants to charge you $5,000 or $10,000 to run a lot of Cat 5 cables for audio, video, automation and other purposes.

But noooooo, you don’t need no stinkin’ cables. Everything’s wireless, right? Just try to get WiFi to penetrate a giant mirror, steel beams, equipment racks or other obstacles between your PC and the router.

And that’s before you turn on the microwave oven. (Read: The Microwave Ate my Caller ID.)

Interested in HDMI? You’ll have to fork out about $1,000 for a wireless connection (for each TV).

And let’s just say that everything is going wireless. That’s all the more reason to hardwire your home because all those wireless signals are going to clobber each other. (Read: Wiring for a Wireless World)

El Cheapo HDMI Cables
You think a $2.99 HDMI cable is a real bargain? In the case of very short runs – one or two meters, maybe – you might not encounter too many issues. But the longer the cable, the less the tolerance, and the more likely you are to suffer from bad video or no video at all.

Steven Hill of Straight Wire says that otherwise reputable cable manufacturers sometimes produce serious surpluses at their factories. “They just have to dump them, so they don’t go through licensing or testing,” he says.

Some of the second-rate products might not even be able to pass HDCP (security) and CEC (control) signals between connected gear, rendering them highly ineffective or completely useless.

HDMI’s Consumer Electronics Control – which enables users to control their A/V gear via the TV, among other things – is starting to gain traction, so you might not want to miss out on it.

In any case, if you must purchase cheap HDMI cables, make sure to have at least one quality cable on hand for troubleshooting. Chances are, when your video doesn’t work, the fault belongs to a crummy cable.

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