I've written before about the agonizing process of buying an HDTV and how I get a steady stream of e-mail from readers clamoring for nuggets of advice as they try to decide between two, three, or even four flat-panel models that have similar price tags. Sometimes the choice is between competing technologies (a 42-inch plasma vs. a 40-inch LCD TV, for example), and sometimes readers want explanations of connectivity options or picture-enhancement features with slick marketing names such as digital reality creation
and virtual 1080p processing.
To make matters worse, certain manufacturers are coming out with up to three different lines of TVs within the same technology class, with step-up features that few people understand and funky model numbers that fewer still remember. Buyers long for simplicity--or at least a simple choice--while manufacturers have no alternative but to tack on new features and slightly refreshed designs in an attempt to differentiate their wares from the competition. We're not quite at the point of commoditization that the PC market has hit within recent years, but we're certainly closing in on it fast. So isn't it just a matter of time before some company steps up to the plate and starts offering built-to-order TVs with a series of simple and easily explainable add-on options that you can specifiy right from a manufacturer's Web site?
Panasonic's "professional" plasmas are semicustomizable.
In some sense, Panasonic, with its industrial or "professional
" plasmas, has already created the rudimentary beginnings of a build-to-order service. We're fans of these "professional" sets because they're essentially bare-bones plasmas that offer excellent picture quality along with the ability to customize your input options by adding your choice of jack packs (HDMI, DVI, component, and S-Video jack packs are available at around $150 a pop). The only problem is you're dealing with a limited number of input bays, the price for the jack packs should be cheaper, and we'd like to see more customizable features.
In my ideal build-to-order scenario, here's what I'd be able to play around with:
- Size of the display. This is a no-brainer but sorry, had to mention it. The configurator could be tied to seating distance, room size, and/or the type of material you plan to watch most (DVD vs. HDTV, for example).
- Two simple options for the panel itself. You should be able to choose between a "casual use" panel and a higher-end home-theater panel. This would apply to both plasma and LCD and cover such complex concepts as native resolution, picture-processing options, and level of picture customization.
- At least two choices of finishes/colors.
- Speakers or no speakers, with choice of placement on the bottom or sides of the TV.
- Configurable connectivity with slots for up to seven inputs; one S-Video, one PC, two component, and three HDMI would be the top-of-the-line option.
- Choice between a basic stand, a swiveling stand, or a wall-mounting bracket.
- Built-in HDTV tuner or none at all.
- Built-in CableCard or none at all.
- Built-in memory card reader or none at all.
There you have it. Throw in a streamlined quick-shop solution, with prebuilt good, better, and best options for HDTV novices, and you have the makings of a nice little operation that competes on price yet differentiates itself from the competition.
Would you like a built-to-order HDTV? Click the TalkBack button to get your two cents in.
Why didn't Dell, the king of the configurable PC, do this when it hit the flat-panel TV market a few years ago? We're not sure, but it seemed determined to avoid its PC strategy of competing on price and, instead, wanted folks to see Dell as more of a premium brand when it came to TVs. Call it Sony envy, but the strategy was probably shortsighted. Today, no matter who you are, you have to compete on price, and even the Sonys and Sharps of the world, which used to fetch a premium for their flat-panels, have had to come down hard to compete with the Maxents, Vizios, and various other off-brand upstarts.
So is build-to-order the future of HDTV, or is it just too blah, too gray box, too utilitarian for an industry that seems drawn to sexier technology/marketing solutions to somehow escape its seemingly inevitable drive toward commoditization?
Let me know what you think and what customizable features you'd like to see in a build-to-order TV.