Like most debt-riddled working middle-class Americans, I get a kick out of buying “cool” stuff. Right before my son Ryan was born in June 2005, I swore that I would make sacrifices for my new family and cut down on frivolous spending. I promised my wife the Treo 650 smartphone that I bought prior to his birth was going to be my last self-indulgent purchase, but some things are much easier said than done. Four months later, the spending itch (or as my sister likes to call it, a "bee in my bonnet") had returned.
When I was nine-years old, I pouted for weeks until my parents bought me a Voltron toy. When I was 16, I couldn’t sleep until I scrapped up enough dough to purchase four extremely rare Golgo 13 graphic novels that miraculously appeared out of the blue in the comic book store. Now on the cusp of my 30th birthday, I wanted to own a large 16:9 widescreen format TV. I’ve always had a passion for movies, but the catalyst was the debut of the HD (high-definition) geared Xbox 360 console in November. I thought perhaps now was an ideal time to upgrade my television and jump on the HD band-wagon. A mind is a terrible thing to waste unless it’s the one doing all the wasting.
There was still one major obstacle. Despite news reports of record drops, the prices were still out of my budget--routinely costing anywhere from $2000 to $5000. However, like most Americans, I wouldn’t let a little minor detail like money stop me from getting what I wanted and I did what kids from the ghetto do: hustle. My goal was to purchase the best bang-for-the-buck widescreen HDTV and not put my family out on the curb in the process of doing so.
I started my TV quest by researching on the Web all the pros and cons of latest technologies (DLP, LCD, Plasma, etc) and visiting Best Buy and Circuit City showroom floors. I ruled out LCDs due to weaker black color tones and higher costs. I wasn’t impressed with the overall picture quality of DLPs. I had it narrowed between old-school CRT tubes and new fangled plasmas.
While being yesteryear’s soon-to-be-phased-out technology, CRTs still had a picture quality and black levels that were arguably superior to any contemporary flat-panel display for only around $1000. The downsides of CRTs were the screen sizes did not exceed 34-inches for widescreen, and the 160 pound weight and the two feet deep foot print were major issues to contend with in terms of moving and space. Plasma TVs on the other hand were awe-inspiring for their sleek size (typically around 60 pounds and just a couple of inches deep), impressive black levels and vibrant colors.
After racking my brains for days going back and forth between the two options, I nearly pulled the trigger on a 37-inch Panasonic plasma. After successfully haggling for a free 3-year extended warranty from the salesman at PC Richards and after my wife relented, I couldn’t get around the $2500 price tag. It just didn’t feel right. It was at that point that the pendulum swung back in favor of CRTs. I convinced myself I could deal with the massive weight and smaller screen size due to the brilliant picture quality and price. Then my journey took yet another unexpected turn.
On route to purchasing the CRT, I stopped by a local Best Buy and noticed a 37-inch Westinghouse LCD TV on the showroom floor purely by chance while browsing. I had previously ruled out any LCDs, but the low $1800 price tag and incredibly detailed and stunning picture quality made me immediately reconsider. The Westinghouse looked on par if not superior to all the surrounding big brand competitors (plasma or otherwise) and the black levels seemed above average by my eye.
My wife agreed that my eyes weren’t deceiving me, but rather than make a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to do some additional research. Customer reviews on the web for the Westinghouse were extremely positive, but what was more intriguing was another similarly priced “no-name” brand model, sold exclusively at Costco.com, consistently praised alongside the Westinghouse: a Sceptre 37-inch LCD TV. Many customers claimed the picture quality of the Sceptre was either equal or superior to the Westinghouse.
The feature set and price became the deciding factors between the two new candidates. While both TVs supported the newer 1080p resolution and a multitude of inputs, the Sceptre boasted the two things the Westinghouse didn’t offer: an HDMI multimedia port and a TV tuner. In terms of costs, the Westinghouse after taxes, delivery costs and the default 4-year extended warranty would drive the final price up to $2200. With the Sceptre, I wouldn’t have to worry about any extended warranty because continued membership to Costco’s price club is effectively a lifetime return policy. After shipping and taxes, the final cost of the Sceptre was only $1800. I hadn’t seen the TV in-person, but since the Costco return policy was so flexible, I had to take a chance on the Sceptre. To help cover the final expense, rather than receive any Christmas gifts from my friends and family this year, I asked them to donate to my HDTV fund instead.
It’s now been a little over month since the TV arrived at our doorstep. There have been a few problems. Some DVDs and older games look “bleh” on the TV. The HDMI port occasionally craps out and doesn’t pickup the signal from the cable box. I wasn’t able to get the Xbox 360 to function properly with the VGA port as I had hoped. I needed to purchase a Joytech AV Control Center to plug in the Xbox 360 and all my other systems via the one available component input. I was able to resolve most issues with work-arounds and by upgrading the cables.
The rewards have also been great. Seeing an Xbox 360 game in full HD glory is just mesmerizing and graphically, it does take games to the ”next level.” The HD cable broadcasts were jaw-dropping gorgeous as I had hoped. Patrick Swayze’s Road House still sucks, but it never looked so good! My wife loves watching Law & Order in HD all day. Overall, we’re ecstatic and happy with the purchase.
Looking back, was it worth all the hassle? Probably not, but that’s the thing about wanting things. The net result doesn’t always matter. Once I want something bad enough, I’ll go to the ends of earth to satisfy that desire. Why am I like that? As much as I’d like to blame capitalism, society and the Xbox 360 for making me want things, the fact is I only have myself to blame. I am responsible for my own desires and actions and that’s something I have to live with unless somebody makes a nicotine patch that cures materialism. I’d buy that.
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