I've been wanting to do this column for a while,
but I finally got that little extra impetus I needed to put pen to paper--or fingers to keyboard, as it were--when I was researching a portable DVD player I was reviewing. The player in question is the RCA DRC618N
, a tablet-style unit that's easy to mount on the back of a car-seat headrest. I thought the whole tablet concept was pretty nifty, but before I used such adjectives as "unique" to describe the RCA's design, I typed tablet-style DVD player
into Google. Lo and behold, I found that the DRC618N was not unique at all. What appeared to be the same player was being sold under a few other brand names, including quintessentially low-end Coby
--and for close to $50 less at J&R Music World.
I wasn't shocked. This happens a lot in today's consumer electronics world, where well-known companies select products from OEM suppliers (original equipment manufacturers) in China and Taiwan, sometimes alter the cosmetics slightly, slap their brands on them, and call it a day. Gateway, before reassessing
its foray into consumer electronics products, was as guilty as anybody, spitting out generic, bargain-priced digital cameras that, if you did a little de-tech-tive work, were also being marketed by Concord Camera and Toshiba.
Aside from cloning shenanigans, there's also the whole business-vs.-home phenomenon. This is a little trick that some manufacturers, particularly those specializing in video displays and projectors, like to pull. They'll market virtually the same product in the consumer and business channels, but give the consumer product a nice price bump. Mind you, manufacturers may claim that the consumer product is "tweaked" for home use, but in many cases, we'll find minor or no differences between the two projectors.
|Panasonic's "consumer" TH-42PX20UP...
||...and its "industrial" TH-42PHD6UY
Similarly, if you're willing to buy the "industrial" rather than the consumer version of a plasma TV, you can also save yourself some cash. One of our freelancers, Stewart Wolpin, did this recently with a Panasonic model, the TH-42PHD6UY
, a stripped-down version of the TH-42PX20UP
. Wolpin purchased the TH-42PHD6UY for just over $5,000, tax and a stand included (a wall-mounting bracket is also an option). It doesn't come with speakers or a built-in TV tuner, which was just fine with him because he already had an HD satellite set-top box and home-theater speakers. (In fact, now that a few months have gone by, there are even better deals available on both products.)
*Comparison of lowest online prices of new (nonrefurbished) products available via CNET as of late July, 2004; prices were rounded to the nearest dollar and do not include mail-in rebates, tax, or shipping or handling charges.
I don't have the space to print all "clone deals" out there. But here are few samples to get you going. If you know about any others, feel free to e-mail me.
David Carnoy is an executive editor for CNET Reviews. Have a question for him? Let us know!