That wall of big flat screen HDTVs hanging on your local electronics store wall are beckoning to you, with their perfect high-definition images at delicious holiday sale prices – not to mention all your neighbors taunting you with their own big screens hanging on their walls, exacerbating your already gnawing HDTV envy.
But buying a new TV creates a long-term relationship. Buy a set now and that'll be your TV for years to come. So, unless your current TV is techno-metaphorically coughing up blood, or you've put a bullet or your foot through it after the failure of your favorite football team or reality TV contestant, resist the temptation.
Here are five reasons why you should wait at least until the week before the Super Bowl or until the first crocuses crack the permafrost before choosing a new HDTV.
- The HDTV Product Cycle: Next month is the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at which all the major HDTV manufacturers will unveil new HDTVs, which will go on sale in the spring. Once back from the show, retailers will enter their annual panic mode to clear their stores of what HDTVs they have left in stock. They figure men will really crave a new HDTV for the Super Bowl. So, go HDTV shopping either the last week of January or the first week of February to get the best deals on what will then be last year's models.
- Watch What Happens: Buying a priced-to-go HDTV pre-Super Bowl will save you money (especially if you buy an even lower-priced floor sample, with full warranty, of course), but may leave you with a bad case of buyer's remorse. If you wait until after CES, you'll know what wondrous new gimmicks and capabilities the new TVs of 2011 include - perhaps a Web camera and mic array built-in for Skype TV HD video telephony, more Google TV-enabled or other even smarter Web-connected models, maybe more models equipped with Netflix or Hulu Plus included – and avoid looking at the TV you foolishly bought during this holiday season while self-recriminatingly muttering "Why didn't I wait?" under your breath.
- 3D Not Ready For Prime Time, Part I: There's Nothing On: Literally. But before we get to what's wrong with 3D HDTV, here's what's right with 3D HDTV. You may think 3D is stupid, but the increased capabilities necessary to produce the HD 3D images make 3D HDTVs the best 2D HDTVs available. And now, back to the 3D negatives. Unless you're a DirecTV subscriber, which offers three channels of 3D content, there's nothing on. A few cable systems are adding ESPN 3D for a monthly fee (around $10), and there are periodic special 3D events, mostly high-profile sporting events – but that's about it. There are maybe a dozen or so 3D Blu-ray titles, but Avatar is available only with the purchase of a Panasonic 3D set. There is 3D gaming, of course, but only if you have a Sony PS3. Even combined, these hardly constitute a reason to buy a 3D HDTV now.
- 3D Not Ready For Prime Time, Part II: It's the Glasses Stupid: Say you buy a Samsung 3D HDTV. A buddy with a Panasonic 3D HDTV invites you over to his place for a 3D Super Bowl Party. He'd better have a lot of 3D glasses to pass around because your Samsung 3D glasses won't work with his Panasonic 3D HDTV. Right now, this isn't a major problem; industry projections say only around 3.2 million 3D HDTV sets will be sold this year, so you literally have a one-in-a-million shot of encountering someone who owns one. But, as noted, more and more cheaper and cheaper 3D HDTVs will be available, drastically increasing the odds of a neighbor having one as time goes on. Not establishing a standard before everyone rushed to jump on the 3D HDTV bandwagon was, well, stupid. The 3D hardware powers that be recognize this stupidity. My sources tell me a universal 3D glasses standard will be announced at CES. But if I were a betting man (and I am), it's unlikely 3D HDTV makers will suddenly abandon their own proprietary glasses formats, at least not immediately. In the meantime, if you are invited to a 3D Super Bowl XLV party – or if you're throwing one – consider the new XpanD X103 universal 3D glasses ($130) which, in my few tests at local Best Buys, do a better job than the manufacturer's proprietary models.
- The Ethernet Conundrum: All of a sudden, all the A/V devices in your stack – your HDTV, your Blu-ray player, your video game console, your media streamer – want to be connected to the internet. You finally replaced your spaghetti mess of A/V cables with single HDMI connectors, now you've got a rat's nest of Ethernet cables tangled behind your gear – assuming you've figured out how get an Ethernet connection in your living room to begin with (we'll deal with that in a future post). This Ethernet cable tangle is supposed to be solved with the latest HDMI standard, 1.4a. All high-def products that went on sale in the last six months or so should have HDMI 1.4a connectors (you can still use your regular HDMI cables – the changes in the spec are in the connecting jacks and your A/V gear). Part of the HDMI 1.4a specification is something called HEC – HDMI Ethernet Channel – which enables the HDMI cable to double as an Ethernet cable. Once one HDMI 1.4a device in your stack is connected to the internet, all other HDMI 1.4a devices also are connected, to the internet eliminating all additional Ethernet cables. Except, manufacturers rushed their 1.4a products to market without HEC (the 1.4a standard had just been adopted). I'm expecting new HDMI 1.4a-equipped gear announced at CES to include HEC. But caveat emptor – specs may or may not list HEC as a feature (none do now since it isn't available), and pimply sales people won't even know what you're talking about. Frighteningly, most TV execs I speak to aren't even aware of this OCD HDMI feature.
Bottom line: there's simply too much potential for even lower prices on HDTVs pre-Super Bowl and for major HDTV improvements later in 2011 to give in to your current HDTV jones now. There also are tantalizing clues that Apple may introduce its own HDTV in the next year or so (Steve Jobs recently made a deal with the foremost electronic program guide company, a useless deal without a TV to use it on).
My advice: avoid a future attack of buyer's remorse by exercising a little self-control and patience now.