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Has the Quality of Consumer Electronics Declined? 890

NewtonsLaw asks: "With Christmas coming up I dare say that lots of people are going to spend big bucks on consumer electronics in the next few weeks. This column asks an interesting question -- are consumer electronics manufacturers sacrificing quality and reliability for an endless list of features? If you're like me, you've probably got a TV, VCR or other appliance you bought over 5 years ago which is still going strong -- but much of the stuff you've bought in the past 2-3 years is already giving trouble. What's more, it seems to be the big-name manufacturers such as Sony who are most affected by this decline in standards. I'd love to hear the experiences of other Slashdot readers in an effort to get as many data-points as possible. Are you better off buying a $49 DVD player on the expectation that it will only last a year or so -- or do lay out two or three times that amount something made by a big-name manufacturer in the (possibly vain) hope it will provide superior performance and last longer?"
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Has the Quality of Consumer Electronics Declined?

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  • Economy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlkPanther ( 515751 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:05PM (#4866672) Homepage
    In America at least, I think the struggling economy is mostly to blame. Manufacturers are just trying to cut costs to bring their profit margins up, and one of the easiest ways of cutting costs is cutting quality.

    This seems to be a disturbing and all to common trend, but hopefully they (manufacturers) will get bit in the ass by customer support and replacement costs, causing them to rethink their strategy!
    • Re:Economy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <> on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:21PM (#4866871) Journal
      "In America at least, I think the struggling economy is mostly to blame. Manufacturers are just trying to cut costs to bring their profit margins up, and one of the easiest ways of cutting costs is cutting quality."

      I disagree. I think that the problem is caused by the popularisation of the consumer electronics market. The average joe can't discern quality in electronics. He will look to see if a DVD has the basic features he wants and then check the price. If there's another with the same features but a lower price, he will get the cheaper one. The more expensive, quality unit will not sell and the company making it may go out of business.

      It is in this way that 'natural selection' in the marketplace drives away quality products. It's the same thing for hard drives -- one of the main reasons that prices and quality get lower and lower is because aside from speed and capacity, the average person has no reason to buy the more expensive product.

      Quality products are being eliminated from the marketplace because average people can't recognise quality.

      • Re:Economy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CommieOverlord ( 234015 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:37PM (#4867064)
        Quality products are being eliminated from the marketplace because average people can't recognise quality.

        I think people can full well recognise quality. However, I think the average consumer is too stingy to pay for quality.

        • Re:Economy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

          by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @09:12PM (#4867342) Homepage Journal
          I think people can full well recognise quality.

          Want to bet? Most people do not know how to interpret even the most basic specifications. When I started out in stereo equipment in the 1970's, you could go to any dealer and get handouts with product specifications on just about any product sold. You could compare transient intermodulation distortion, total harmonic distortion, FM sensitivity, wow & flutter, etc. Now you go into some place like Best Buy or Circuit City and there is nothing but a tag on the shelf. You're lucky if it shows even the most basic specs (e.g., watts per channel, number of discs the changer holds, etc.) and God help you if you ask the salesman for anything more. He'll look at you like you have three heads.

          Consumers are stupid. They don't understand the concept of quality and, instead, concentrate on easily understood features. They don't understand that MOSFETs produce psycho-acoustically benign even-order harmonics when they distort and that conventional transistors product annoying odd-order harmonics. They think that a heavier amplifier is worse becaue it's harder to move around for cleaning. They are oblivious to the fact that speakers that are 3db more efficient take half the power to drive them to a given SPL. Talk to them about output impedence or signal to noise ratio and their eyes glaze over.

          The original poster was 100% correct. The popularisation of consumer electronics has lead to lower quality in order to appease consumers who purchase receivers based on watts-per-dollar. Want high quality goods? Stop letting ignorant people make purchase decisions.
          • Re:Economy Issues (Score:5, Interesting)

            by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @09:48PM (#4867625)
            Well, people are stupid, sure.

            There have always been stupid people though. And there *is* a market for high-end audio today, perhaps even more so than in "the 70's", which I remember very clearly; I was a record collector in those days!

            The thing is, the consumer does make a fairly safe bet -- at a certain price level, the difference usually IS features. We have all these little cheesy digital playback devices, nothing in the consumer arena that records worth a damn (maybe some of the video stuff can record decent audio? nah.) We reached an equilibrium for the consumer's ear as 16 bit audio became the norm. Hell, remember when talking toys had little phonographs in them? Now those things have a 16 bit DAC.

            Consumers didn't care back then either. They wanted whatever was cheaper. Remeber credenza stereos? People selected those for their wood grains, not their quality. (Some of those things were kickass though).

          • Re:Economy Issues (Score:4, Interesting)

            by inode_buddha ( 576844 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @10:54PM (#4868055) Journal
            I totally agree. People cannot distinguish quality properly - they seem to confuse it with features, and I don't see how "quality" and "features" are related in any way.

            Example: Less than 3 feet (1 metre) from me is a good-working GE table radio - built in 1960. Across from it is a fully calibrated oscilloscope and a signal generator - both built in the early 1950's, and working perfectly. (A 30-mHz range is plenty for audio and some radio work). My theory is that while individual component quality has gone up (resistors, capacitors, etc.) the overall ruggedness of design and construction has declined.

            I used to do hi-fi repair for local shops; nowdays I prefer to deal in computers.

            I fully agree that the technical literacy rate sucks; I have a manager who once told me that he wants a new computer with a 2 gigabyte chip...

            and I kept a straight face.

            I guess anything with scientific prefixes or suffixes attatched to its name triggers an odd sort of mental avoidance mechanism, similar to spastics. It's frustrating; the technical language and terminology is *not* that hard to figure out, if only people could pull themselves away from their cheap TV's for a few minutes with a dictionary.
          • Re:Economy Issues (Score:3, Informative)

            by Wanker ( 17907 )
            When I started out in stereo equipment in the 1970's, you could go to any dealer and get handouts with product specifications on just about any product sold. You could compare transient intermodulation distortion, total harmonic distortion, FM sensitivity, wow & flutter, etc. Now you go into some place like Best Buy or Circuit City and there is nothing but a tag on the shelf. You're lucky if it shows even the most basic specs (e.g., watts per channel, number of discs the changer holds, etc.) and God help you if you ask the salesman for anything more. He'll look at you like you have three heads.

            Nowadays we shouldn't have to depend on salespeople to know every detail about every product. They have hundreds/thousands of products in their stores-- even a Slashdot geek would have problems keeping current on the detailed specs on all those items.

            Consumers have a huge advantage over salespeople. We can actually research the items we want in depth since we have the advantage of focussing on at most a handful of items. Thanks to how easy it is these days to exchange information it's trivial to get in-depth specifications on whatever we want.

            Remember the Bad Old Days before most major vendors had their product info online? People were lucky to find any information anywhere. Brand, faith, and luck were pretty much all we had.

            Now, however we can pop right on over to the various manufacturers' websites and get all the information we could want about the product. No info available? Hmmm, maybe that product drops off the list right there.

            As if that wasn't enought, we can go to Consumer Reports' website [] and see what they think of a product. We can go to Epinions [] and see if a bunch of people we don't know are griping about it. We can check Reseller Ratings [] to see if an online store is screwing people over, or really trying to do business.

            This kind of information flow has the potential to really improve quality and reward quality as word of crappy products/merchants gets out. In addition, we get a better statistical sampling since we have more people commenting than just the one or two we might know who bought the same thing.

            Unfortunately, the bitter portion of me has to concede that most people just don't have the motivation to do any research. To them, I say you deserve what you get. ;-)
            • Re:Economy Issues (Score:4, Interesting)

              by Black Copter Control ( 464012 ) <> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @01:27AM (#4868474) Homepage Journal
              When I started out in stereo equipment in the 1970's, you could go to any dealer and get handouts with product specifications on just about any product sold.
              Nowadays we shouldn't have to depend on salespeople to know every detail about every product I agree that they shouldn't, but a consumer should have access to a stats sheet on the quality of the product.

              That having, been said, that was when you were paying $200-400 (1980 dollars) for a cheap component amp. If you go into a store where they charge you $400-$800 for a component amp (plus another $200-300 for the tuner), then I'd expect that they'd be happy to give you a full stats sheet.

              Back when you were paying $700 for a CD player, they were happy to make them bullet proof, because they knew that, if they broke, you would bring them back for warranty repair and complain to everybody on the net (all 7000 of them) that the company was making garbage.

              For my part, I still have my 14" Sony Color TV that I bought in 1986 as a computer monitor (for a Dragon 65 (COCO clone)). I paid $120 in 1999 to get the tuner fixed and it's still working just fine, thank you. The VCR got stolen in '93. Dunno what the lifespan for today's TVs are.

            • Re:Economy Issues (Score:3, Interesting)

              by fmaxwell ( 249001 )
              Consumers have a huge advantage over salespeople. We can actually research the items we want in depth since we have the advantage of focussing on at most a handful of items.

              An interesting theory, but actually flawed. Manufacturers have actually started to not publish specifications. I remember considering a Sony cassette deck about three or four years ago. Even basic specs were not published in the Sony catalog. It took a bit of hunting to find it.

              Remember the Bad Old Days before most major vendors had their product info online? People were lucky to find any information anywhere.

              What I remember was being able to get a one-page sheet for each and every component that I was considering the purchase of. The sheet had a big glossy photo of the product, rundown of the features, and VERY complete specifications. Try getting that now.

          • Re:Economy Issues (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Shanep ( 68243 )
            Want to bet? Most people do not know how to interpret even the most basic specifications. When I started out in stereo equipment in the 1970's, you could go to any dealer and get handouts with product specifications on just about any product sold.

            I agree 100%.

            I remember seeing a $50,000 Meridian CD player that had specs nowhere near as good as a $150 Marantz.

            But, people usually falling into the catagory of IGNORANT and often arrogant, buy products that are complete crap and then think they got a good deal.

            I find often that if a company is selling a particular item and they suck in a particular spec or are otherwise uncompetitive in that area, they just won't advertise that spec.

            The popularisation of consumer electronics has lead to lower quality in order to appease consumers who purchase receivers based on watts-per-dollar.

            I've got four letters, that I'm sure you'll enjoy... P M P O. ; )

            They kind of sum the situation up nicely, don't you think!

            People are, essentially, stupid. Even many of the high IQ types. Because the low IQ types are stupid for obvious reasons, and the high IQ types tend to be arrogant and not fully use their IQ and are thus the worst kind of stupid. Manufacturers don't give a crap about delivering quality to consumers because consumers have a. money and b. no vision of true quality.

            192kHz sounds so much better than 44.1kHz hey!?

            I can understand the usage of bit depths beyond 16bit and sampling rates beyond 44.1kHz being used in digital mixing decks, where the avoidance of compounded lower significance bit errors can become apparent in the end product without those higher rates and depths, but bringing 24bit 192kHz to the typical end user is nothing more than a marketing gimick.

            The situation sucks. I want a return to the days where HP made ultra high quality technical instruments, computing devices and awesome printers.

            To sum up a sad situation, my recently purchased HP 48GX... was made in Indonesia.

          • Re:Economy Issues (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Ed Avis ( 5917 )
            Why on earth should consumers be expected to know about harmonics or transistors or any other technical detail? Surely you should just listen to the output and pick the unit that sounds best. If consumers did _that_ then amplifiers really would sell on quality, rather than on meaningless gimmicks like graphic equalizers (at the low end) or long lists of arcane facts and statistics (at the high end).
      • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @01:17AM (#4868423) Journal
        First off, DVD players aren't a fair "measuring stick" when you're trying to gauge quality for your dollar.

        They're in a rather unique position - because the more technical buyers want a product that allows playing infringing works (EG. downloaded VCD and SVCD movies burnt to CDR disc). The major U.S. manufacturers are generally fearful of offering players with said capabilities, since Hollywood can crack down on them hard.

        This leaves the cheap imported Chinese players to fill the gap. Therefore, you have the rather unnatural situation where the "good stuff" is also the "cheaply made stuff".
  • more an more , the model seems to be make it cheap so that the consumer will keep buying more.
    Build in expiration so we can rely on future purchaces.

    It should be build it solid to last and make money off of acessories etc.
  • Um... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zildy ( 32593 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:05PM (#4866680)
    ...decline in standards...

    Madonna's signature on an iPod.

  • A1. Yes.

    A2. D'uh.
  • by ProtonMotiveForce ( 267027 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:06PM (#4866692)
    I have not noticed this at all, so I can't really comment too much on the rest of the post.

    If the point is "do I spend extra for a name brand over a cheap brand" the answer is the same now as it was 5 years ago - are you willing to pay for the extra features and name brand?
    • Interestingly enough. When it comes to things like DVD players, a lot of times cheap tends to be better in the way of fetures.

      I have a crappy Mintek DVD player, but with replacement firmware (installed from CD) I can turn off Macrovision and change the region code. Plus it plays CD, MP3 CD, SVCD, VCD, DVD, JPG CD and will attempt to read anything you put in and let you navigate through directories, and attempt to play any file you tell it to. And it will do it all off CDR, CDRW or DVD+/-RW
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:06PM (#4866694)

    I have a house fan made in the early 80s. It has been running continuously for about 10 years, and is still quiet and perfectly functional. I have a fan bought in the late 90s. It is loud, obnoxious, and requires CONSTANT attention.

    A decision was made in the early 90s that consumers would rather replace items than pay a little more for soemthing that is better made. Welcome to the consumer culture.

    All I want is another fan that'll last 15 years without a hitch.

    • by Wraithlyn ( 133796 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:25PM (#4866915)
      "A decision was made in the early 90s that consumers would rather replace items than pay a little more for soemthing that is better made."

      There is a small typo in this sentance. I'm sure you meant "A decision was made in the early 90s that MANUFACTURERS would rather sell replacement items than provide something that is better made."
    • The decision wasn't made by the manufcturers, it was made by the consumers.

      When there are two fans on the shelf at Wal-Mart, one is 12.95 and one is 18.95 but better made. Which one do you think sells better? Then the makers of the 18.95 fan sit down and say "How can we make this product cost less and be more competetive?".

      Now repeat this cycle several times. You end up with the cheapest, flimsiest possible product.

      • When there are two fans on the shelf at Wal-Mart, one is 12.95 and one is 18.95 but better made. Which one do you think sells better?
        When my cousin built his house, we installed a ceiling fan in every room. The bedrooms have $25 specials, but I bought them a $140 Hunter for the living room. The ones in their rooms are so noisy the kids often sleep in the living room, so they can get some sleep.

        Saving money by buying a crappy product is a mistake people tend only to make once---for that type of product. But if all you have is $25, you're either getting the $25 fan or no fan at all. You gotta bear that in mind, folks. If all a given economic class can afford is junk, there's gotta be junk for them to buy.

    • by DoctorHibbert ( 610548 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @09:31PM (#4867493)
      What about all the stuff you bought in the 80's that doesn't still work? Do you keep it around, letting it remind you how it broke? I doubt it.

      Its like people saying that houses built 30-50-100 years ago are better than ones built today. They'll point out some poorly constructed house built a couple of years ago that has a leaky roof and doors that get stuck in the jambs. Then they point to some 100 year old beauty of a house that still stands and looks great. Well lots of houses were built really poorly a long ago, but you don't see them cause they're torn down already.

      And even a really good house built long ago isn't that great. I'm currently renovating my victorian built in 1892 and trust me, the construction techniques used don't hold a candle to modern techniques.

      Anyway, same thing holds with electronics. Think about what kind of CD boombox $200 bought 10 years ago. Now purchase a $200 boombox today with the same features. Assuming you find such a thing, the quality would be much much higher.
    • Brave New World (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ke4roh ( 590577 )
      A decision was made in the early 90s that consumers would rather replace items than pay a little more for soemthing that is better made. Welcome to the consumer culture.

      Your regular safety razor is an example of the same problem. Steel can be manufactured to be much more durable than it is in today's razors, but when one manufacturer tried that, and made their razors last 10 times longer than the other brand, the accountants quickly set them straight.

      Electronics manufacturers are figuring out that they can increase sales by decreasing quality - because you only need so many CD players, but when one breaks, the next one isn't so expensive.

      I'm friends with a person suffering from the consumer attitude - let's call him "Bob." Bob likes new things. A new laptop is great. A new house is great. A new (or at least newer than the one he already has) car is great. New, new, new. Sometimes the newer things are better than the older things. The newer DVD player can play DVD-R discs whereas the old one can't. (To say nothing of the quality of reproduction from either device.)

      I'm reminded of Aldus Huxley's Brave New World [].

  • Annoying (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:07PM (#4866703)
    People always make claims like this but they can't back it up with actually proof. Too often people claim personal experience as fact.

    "A friend of a friend of mine said his Western Digital Harddrive died out of the box".

    Before you make claims like this think about %s of total owners who have had failed devices not just you. This doesn't mean the MTBR either.
  • Sort of... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by craenor ( 623901 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:08PM (#4866706) Homepage
    The quality has declined across the board, but high quality parts are still available. As demand from retailers like M$, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and others increases for discounted electronics, the supply likewise increases.

    However, as more and more people become "Tech Savvy" there are more manufacturers willing to produce the high quality, awesome electronics that modern geeks will shell out the cash to buy.

    So has overall quality declined, maybe...but the good stuff is still there to be had. Just don't go cheap on everything you buy.
  • Sony (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ciryon ( 218518 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:08PM (#4866710) Journal
    For some reason most of my home electronic equipment comes from Sony. I have a stereo, a surround receiver and stuff like that. And, oh yeah, a Sony Ericsson phone. They've never caused me any problems ever. Just plain works. Not the best gear out there, but good value for money. Perhaps other brands are worse, I don't know.

    • My Sony Experience (Score:5, Informative)

      by SteveM ( 11242 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @08:59PM (#4867235)

      Executive Summary: I don't buy Sony anymore.

      For a while Sony was my first choice. I bought a Sony SDR 2010 receiver in 1990, that lasted close to ten years. Two channel stereo, 165 watts per channel, digital inputs, Dolby surround. In the end the unit started acting erratically, sound levels varying randomly, the display exhibiting interesting if unintelligible optical effects. (Since replaced by a Denon 3801). I was very pleased with this unit and thus with Sony.

      I then bought a Sony TC-WR565 cassette deck, which still provides good, if infrequent, service.

      I also have a Sony answering machine which works fine.

      But ...

      I have a Sony CDP-C265 five disk CD player. It is the third unit because I had to return the first two. Both DOA. Even the third unit didn't always recognize all five CDs in the tray. And the shuffle feature would only work with four CDs, ignoring the fifth after playing one song. After a few years the audio out started to go with one or both channels dropping out. (Since replaced with a formerly beige now black PowerMac G3 as a dedicated MP3 player.)

      Next I bought a Sony DVP-S550D DVD player. I wasn't sure about going with Sony, but the unit was getting very good reviews. This too had to be returned twice because of audio problems. Once for DVD playback and once for CD playback. My original unit was replaced with a refurbished one when the orginal was lost by either Sony or FedEx. Since getting the second unit I've had no problems.

      I have a Sony cordless phone. After about a year the buttons started failing intermittently.

      I'm on my second Sony portable CD player. The first just stopped recognizing CDs. (Since replaced by an iPod.)

      I also have a pair of Sony noice cancelling head phones, purchased because they were $100+ cheaper than the overpriced Bose set. Most of the time they work fine but on some flights there is a continuous clicking that renders them unusable.

      The only Sony product I've purchased in the past three years was an open box STR-DE525 receiver for less than $50. So they may have gotten their quality control problems fixed. But I doubt it.

      Steve M

  • Sony vs. The World (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Computer! ( 412422 )
    I would say that overall, Sony equipment is made to last. It's not the most feature-rich for the dollar, but it tends to work for a long time. I had a Sony boombox during the entire 80s. Never missed a note. Their car audio is ugly and underpowered, but also works forever. Samsung is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Sure I can play Nuon [] games on my DVD player, but what good is that if it freezes right before the $$$-shot in my favorite pr0n?

    • by RzUpAnmsCwrds ( 262647 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:14PM (#4866793)
      I have never had a Samsung product fail on me. I have two HDDs (they are one of the few companies with a 3 year warranty), two CRT monitors, an LCD, a 32" HDTV, and a DVD player. None have ever given me trouble.

      To be fair, neither has my Sony reciever, Discman, or CD changer.

      YMMV, but I have found Samsung products to be of excellent quality and durability.

      Please do provide some evidence before bad-mouthing a manufacturer. At least say what products you have and what has happened to them - one vague reference to a DVD player is not exactly evidence (BTW: Samsung didn't even program your DVD player; )
      • I personally love Samsung. I had bought a 19" flatscreen monitor about a year ago. Roughly three months ago, the picture started "vibrating", then died altogether within a week. I had lost the receipt in a move, but the tech in their RMA department took the initiative to realize that if my monitor had a manufacturing date of November 2001, and it was September 2002, and the monitor had a one-year warranty, then it was obviously still fully covered. One call to Samsung had a replacement (newer, nicer model) on the way - cross-shipped at no charge.

        Anyone who takes their warranty service that seriously has to make a decent product, or their RMA department would drive them bankrupt.

        I've bought 3 monitors since then for other systems, and they were all Samsung. They've bought a loyal customer.
  • Two examples (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:09PM (#4866722)
    Example one []. 2mm steel plate, drain holes for liquid spills, removable key caps, removable cord. I have personally witnessed this keyboard withstanding a sledgehammer blow without breaking in half.

    Example two [] Useless, gimmicky 'features' that are software defined. Not very durable. No clicky feel, due to cheapness of rubber dome caps. Will most likely last until you spill Coke all over it.

  • Solid State (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:09PM (#4866725)
    Actually, I'm a big fan of 20 year old hardware, where it can be used. I find solid state electronics from the 1970's to be absoutely reliable. But I tend to agree, consumer level electronics, by and large, are garbage unless you're willing to shop somewhere other than Circuit Shitty or Worst Buy.

    As far as computer components go, they've been garbage for years. Everything past the old IBM XT's have been plastic disposable junk, btu for good reason. Most people upgrade so quickly, there's no reason to make good, lasting components. As far as computer stuff, I buy the cheapest I can find, and just throw it out every so often.
    • Re:Solid State (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ragnar ( 3268 )
      Not to nitpick, but by definition if you are able to use something built 20 years ago it is built to last. I'm sure in 2020 someone will be raving about some peice of equipment they bought this year, but until that point we won't know the winners from the losers. Such a person may wax poetically about the good old days in 2002 when stuff worked. ;)
  • Quality! (Score:5, Informative)

    by m_1072 ( 607792 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:09PM (#4866728)
    I have found again and again that you get what you pay for...both in terms of functionality and life-expectancy.
    • I beg to differ. Sometimes, you pay disproportionally more since the manufacturer has decided that by making a great market reputation for exclusiveness, they can skimp on quality. Look at Bang & Olufssen. Great looking product, possibly good lifetime (don't know), but the performance you are getting for your money is terrible.

      The fundamental problem is actually that it is unprofitable to create high-quality products. That way, you would only sell new hardware when a new standard arises. By creating a lower quality product, they've ensured that some consumers are on their fifth cd player since they bought their first one in the late 80s.

      Really. In statistics class, there was a lot of focus on tuning quality so that the products would be _just_ reliable enough. Being pseudo-buddhist, I prefer to think that things come back at you.
  • by bravehamster ( 44836 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:09PM (#4866730) Homepage Journal
    Higher price does not always equal higher quality. Sometimes all you're paying for is a name. Case in point. At our shop we've sold a ton of CDRW's made by BenQ (formerly Acer). Most customers have never heard of this brand, and sometimes they act suspicious because the price is so good. We sold 10 computers to a certain client, who insisted that all the components be name brand. For CDRW's, they demanded Sony, even though they were quite a bit more expensive, and Sony isn't exactly well known for it's CDRW-making acumen. Half those drives failed over the next 6 months. This is not a bash against Sony, sometimes you just get a bad batch. My point is that paying more for a brand you've heard of isn't always such a good idea.

    • by cperciva ( 102828 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:18PM (#4866842) Homepage
      Sometimes all you're paying for is a name.

      Another example of this: IBM's low-end laptops were (and probably still are) made by Acer. Curiously, laptops sold under the "Acer" brand tended to have exactly the same specs as the low-end IBM laptops, and cost about $500 less.
      • While the cheaper IBM laptops may have the same computing spec for less money, there are real differnces from the more expensive ones. The most glaring difference is the lid is plastic with a cheap hinge instead of metal with a solid hinge. The lid on an R-Series becomes floppy and is prone to cracking. OTOH, my 3 year old T-Series is still as solid as new, despite being pounded on 12 hours a day. Second, and this is the biggest difference, is that the cheaper ones come with a 1 year warranty vs. 3 years. So if you really depend on your computer, the more expensive one is probably a better buy. Basically, what you're paying for is that IBM will "keep you in computer" for 3 years instead of one.
    • Sometimes buying a name brand is not just buying a name. What you're really paying for with all that extra money is quality insurance. While a recognizable brand name can charge higher margin, it lso must spend extra to make sure that every unit is a quality product -- or else people who get burned will stop buying all of the brand's range of products.

      Look what happened to Aiwa. They used to be a great brand in the 80's, then they started making junk electronics that was cheap but invariably broke between 3 and 6 months after purchase. What happened? They're gone.

      Computer books used to suck on average. O'Reilly found an opportunity to start a quality, recognizable brand. Now I almost exclusively but O'Reilly's books because I know that almost every one of them is thoughtful, careful, thorough, and well-written. That's the value of branding -- they can charge a little extra, I don't have to worry that the book I need is going to careless and full of mistakes.

  • by mgs1000 ( 583340 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:10PM (#4866734) Journal
    We, as consumers, by buying the cheapest, lowest-quality stuff out there, are responsible for this. The old adage is true: You get what you pay for. As more and more companies keep cutting costs to satisfy out demands for cheap products by using low-cost parts and low-cost labor(China), this is just going to get worse and worse.
    • by littleRedFriend ( 456491 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:25PM (#4866921)
      We, as consumers, by buying the cheapest, lowest-quality stuff out there, are responsible for this.

      Sjeesh, can you /. guys please make up your mind? Now I will have to bring back my $199 walmart PC.
    • by scotch ( 102596 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:33PM (#4867014) Homepage
      Don't put too much stock in that old addage. After all, you can get some things for free (certain software comes to mind) that clearly has more value than the $0 paid (slashdot trolls and MS astroturfers notwithstanding). On the flip side, you can buy shirts and shoes and other crap 10-20 more expensive than mainstream stuff that is clearly not providing 20 times the shirt or shoe or whatever.

      "You get what you pay for" is one of those meaningless phrases that people generally agree with just because they've heard it so many times. If you say "the best things in life in free", many of those same people will agree wholeheartedly.

      Another examples is these two conflicting adages:
      "absense make the heart grow fonder"
      "out of sight, out of mind"
      They clearly mean opposite things, but people will agree with whichever one they happen to here. Behold, the power of the adage.

      Or take the example of 2 people that pay different amounts for the same model new car. How can you resolve common scenario with your adage?

      • Or take the example of 2 people that pay different amounts for the same model new car. How can you resolve common scenario with your adage?

        That one's easy! The value that people put on things tends to equal whatever they paid for it. While there are exceptions ("I got a great deal!" & "I was burnt!") they are based around the value that was expected (and paid for). If it fits reasonably the specs expected, then people tend to value things at what they cost.

        Exceptions include, e.g., if something takes a lot of work (e.g., to master), then this counts as a part of the "value". Also things that are intrinsically pleasurable are valued even if they are "free" (e.g., a massage), though one needs to be careful in the use of that term "free". There are often hidden costs (e.g., remembering her birthday, flowers, presents, and time).

        This brings up an interesting point in the value of Linux. The value of linux, as it becomes easier to use, approaches closer and closer to the intrinsic value of the things you can do with it. Windows, OTOH, simply by being sold, has a higher perceived intrinsic-to-the-software value. Now I use software sufficiently, that the debits of the software far outweigh the cost, but this may explain why some bosses only value things that they buy. Fortunately, Red Hat is now selling a version of Linux for approx. $2,000 :-).
  • Floppy Disks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0x00 ( 224127 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:10PM (#4866735)
    I swear the quality of these has declined over the past 10 years. There used to be a time when I could reliably transfer a file between machines on these. Now I open a new packet and 4/10 won't work.


  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:10PM (#4866740)
    I wonder what role, if any, those play into this? Would manufacturers, as a whole, be more inclined to produce lower quality goods with the justification that consumer protection plans are out there? Or would retailers balk at this... or push up the price on those... or use quality as a major selling point for these plans?

    I think though, in almost all goods, there is the perception that older is more reliable. This isn't anything new, but is it really becoming true right now?
  • Umbrella repair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:10PM (#4866742)
    Long, long ago, there used to be umbrella repair shops. Eventually umbrellas became so cheap that you just throw them away when they break (which happens pretty fast) and just buy new ones.

    It's much the same with consumer electronics. For example, VCR/TV repair places in my town are either struggling or have already gone out of business. Things are so cheap these days that you might as well buy a new one when the old one breaks.

    So, basically quality has indeed gone down, but prices have dropped accordingly.

    We live in a disposable society. Disposable cell phones seem like a huge waste to me, but they're cheap [].
  • by ( 591224 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:10PM (#4866743) Homepage
    Let's see on the front page of /. right now is: Has the Quality of Consumer Electronics Declined?" which is followed immediately by: "Apple Hawks Madonna iPods"...

    Hrm... seems like /. answered its own question.

  • by jgerry ( 14280 ) <> on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:12PM (#4866759) Homepage
    Quality of new items seems to be lower than it used to be. I own tons of consumer electronics devices, way more than the average person, I'm sure. The things I buy now don't last as long. I've been through 3 dvd players in 4 years, and they were all over $150. Yet I have a set of speakers that are 12 years old (!) and still work perfectly.

    There's also no point in fixing any of these items, everything is soldered onto one PCB board. If one trace comes loose... Time for a new unit.

    Check out a Technics turntable...

    Technics SL-1200 MK2 []

    You'll find a pair of these in pretty much any club in the entire world. The design hasn't changed at all in over 20 years. It's a beautiful piece to behold, it's built like a tank. It weighs 26 pounds. And every single component, motors, tonearm, etc -- can all be replaced. These things are built to last.

    This is how things used to be built. I can't think of anything new that I own that has the build quality of my turntables. And that's sad.

    We've turned into a disposable society.
  • The endless lightbulb - the myth of the bulb that would never go out and stay strong forever.

    Can this be done? I do not know, but I do know that nobody would make them because of being predisposed to a declining market.

    The same is about electronics.
  • by pvera ( 250260 ) <> on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:13PM (#4866772) Homepage Journal
    The "good" stuff is still good. We just got more "cheap" stuff that does the basic stuff only the "good" stuff used to do.

    The best example is the stand-alone $49 DVD player. To somebody that is not a total video freak, the $49 does the same job as a $200 unit. My first DVD player cost me $300, a Toshiba that worked for over 2 yrs without any problem. My second DVD player was for my PC and cost me $80. My third one was a stand alone that came as part of a Teac receiver combo and cost $150 with 5.1 speakers plus FM radio (no, they don't sound like Bose, but dammit, that's $150 for a 5.1 home theater). I bought another combo like that one for $130. My wife buys $49 DVD players for my little kid so if they break out of warranty we are out of just $50 (a cheap VCR costs more).

    Each and every DVD player I have bought looks exactly the same on my piece of crap TV. Every one. The original Toshiba was the only one with a decent remote, that is the only thing I have to say on its defense. Each of the $49 DVD players we have bought can read VCD and MP3 CDRs and CDRWs. The last one she got is smaller than our digital cable box, and weights maybe 1/3rd of what my xbox does.

    Notice I said this only applies if you are not a video freak. To us normal Joes, a DVD plays the same regardless, and the only thing you can do to make it better is to get a better TV.

    There are many more examples like this, but to me the most obvious is the cheapo DVD players.
  • I never bought into the whole "if it's a big name product, it much be far superior in quality" when buying simple home electronics (excluding Radio Shack hardware, of course). I have owned plenty of no-name TVs, an Apex DVD player, a few old no-name VCRs, "universal" remotes that I can't recall if they even had a brand name on the packaging, etc. None of it ever went bad, and many, like the Apex DVD player, actually offerred a ton more features then $200 Toshiba or Sony gear.

    Alot of the electronics in a $75 DVD player is just as reliable as the components found in a $250, shiny silver deal with a great big animated LCD on it and a million buttons. The same goes for most electronics, be it the controller for a laser printer or some random PCB in a VCR.

  • Quality is declining (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geek ( 5680 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:14PM (#4866784)
    I refuse to buy most big brand names now. I've been burnt by just about everyone, mostly recently Microsoft and my xbox that died 3 weeks after the warranty was up.

    My dad has a Mitsubishi 36 inch TV that he bought close to 14 years ago. It still works like a champ, no problems at all. I've got a 3 year old 36 inch Sony that I'm already seeing problems with.

    I can't say exactly why this is happening, but I can venture some guesses. The quick buck is killing our economy. Everyone wants that easy money. No one takes pride in their products and builds them to last.

    I recently looked at the feature lists of some home stereo equipment and was shocked. Most of the stuff on your average home stereo will never be used but you can't find simpler equipment. Additionally we are still using some pretty ugly wiring schemes for home audio. The back of my home theatre setup is insane! I have wires everywhere and while I'm usually good at labeling them, it's still a nightmare to work with.

    No one is making these things better. They are making them cheaper and more complex. This goes against what people actually want. Features are nice, yes, but not at the expense of quality and ease of use.
  • by FreedOhm ( 325284 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:14PM (#4866785) Homepage
    A lotta times, you can find out who actually does manufacturing-- and this means you can get the same product under a different name at less cost. I dig sony, but they mass produce a lot of electronics, and a lot of the time you're just buying the name... They outsource manufacturing for business reasons. I think this is especially true in say, computer monitors- a lot of manufacturing is done by manufacturers, and the same hardware gets released under a whole host of names. Sometimes the packaging is different tho- so if you're buying the sony for the sleek look, this might not work out. When I go to buy something like a DVD player or TV or monitor, I find out who manufactures the one I want if if there are any hardware clones out there... or I take my EE degree and build my own ;-)
  • I'm not really sure how to answer that question. What I've seen lately is bolder, riskier products coming out.

    You all remember that voice activated R2D2 toy that Slashdot reported a month or two ago? I bought one of those. I have to say, I'm rather impressed with what it can do. It's voice recognition is pretty good, and it's a fun little toy to play with. Is it going to survive a drop off the bed? Probably not. I'm not terribly concerned with that, though. Thing is, I like when products are released that do stranger and stranger things. It seems to me that if they were to ruggedize Mr. D2, it'd cost me some of the things I really like about it.

    Sometimes you get what you pay for, but consider that we live in a digital world. You'd be hard pressed to buy a gadget that doesn't have a microchip in it. As long as that keeps happening, products will advance every year to the point that you develop interest in replacing it. I am wiling to bet that in a year or two, they'll release a new R2D2 toy with a USB 2.0 port and flash memory. Chances are good that I'd buy one too because it's a significant upgrade over the original which has no upgradability options.

    These products don't need to survive very long because the companies pushing them are going to find new ingenius ways for you to buy the latest one. And you wanna know what? That's good for the economy. Nobody's interested in building a fridge that'll last 25 years anymore. Your business dries up real fast.

  • I think quality has declined, and it's not just electronics. My mom has a fourty-year-old Frigidaire refrigerator in the garage that still works fine, but she's had to replace two newer units that were purchased more recently. The most recently-replaced one failed after only 6 years of service.
  • by bovilexics ( 572096 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:14PM (#4866792) Homepage

    Last January I purchased a Mitsubishi Platinum HDTV unit from a big-name electronics store. Just a few weeks ago (less than 11 months after purchase) the TV went out. Ugh, what a bummer!

    The television repair person came out to diagnose the problem but couldn't figure it out - of course. So he took the guts out of the TV for diagnosing back at the shop. On his way out he mentioned that Mitisubishi has been having problems recently with the reliablilty of their picutre tubes so he thought that may be the problem. (hint #1 that these can be unreliable)

    Come to find out that it was not the picture tube but the power supply of all things - my goodness, how hard is it to put a good quality power supply into a piece of electronic equipment that cost over $3k. (hint #2 that these can be unreliable)

    Well at least I will be getting my TV put back together tomorrow and all it really cost me was time away from the big screen and my Tivo - which isn't really a bad thing. Luckily the extended service warranty paid off for once, didn't pay a cent.

    Just as an aside I don't usually buy those extended warranties but it was less than %10 of the cost of the item and I don't consider this type of item a throw-away item - the author of the article considers his DVD player tossable after a year - this TV is a little different I think.

    Just my $.02 - I had heard that Mitsubishi was pretty good in the realiability department on their TVs but personal experience has proven otherwise for me. We'll see how long until the next issue arises - hopefully long into the future.

  • "... i know a genuine panaphonic when i see it! ..."
  • Are you better off buying a $49 DVD player on the expectation that it will only last a year or so?

    I wouldn't knock the cheap equitpment. Personally, I think that $69 is a really good deal for []
    this, especially when combined with this feature [].

    Lets see a $500 dollar Sony player do that!
  • by theirpuppet ( 133526 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:17PM (#4866829)
    I won't go into it too much, but this topic is dealt with very well from an Anthropological perspective. The book is called Why Nothing Works, by Marvin Harris.

    Basically the premise is larger coporations eating smaller corporations, drive for profit leading to lack of quality standards and appreciation, more features to keep selling (who can survive if your product is only bought every 10-20 years)... There's more, but that's what the book is for, including giving a possible explanation as to why this came about in the first place, and why we let it continue to get worse.

    FYI: Marvin Harris is not only probably one of the most influential Anthropologists of our time, but also writes many books (including this one) in a very easy to follow and understandable way.

  • Ex-Computer Salesman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Inexile2002 ( 540368 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:17PM (#4866835) Homepage Journal
    Oh yes, how they have declined. Or at least I think so... they suck now and for some reason I assume that wasn't always the case.

    I used to sell computers at Future Shop (a shitty Canadian retailer ala Best Buy in the US) and we would get shipments where head office would tell us to expect 1 in 10 to 1 in 6 be be defective right out of the box. At least twice, we got shipments where every other machine was defective. I started tracking returns and warrantee issues that would come back to the store and I would honestly estimate that some manufacturers (who rhyme with Bompaq and Baych-pee and eBachines) would hit over 25% defective units in the first year on some models.

    Manufactures need to cut costs everywhere they can and quality just doesn't seem to matter. When I would get a serious geek (who was some how clueless enough to be in a Future Shop) I would quietly refer them to a local clone dealer with a rep for quality work and using good components
  • by kin_korn_karn ( 466864 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:17PM (#4866836) Homepage
    Samsung. I've never had bad luck with ANYTHING made under the Samsung name, from hard drives to TVs.

    here come the hordes to say I'm just lucky....
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:18PM (#4866845) Homepage Journal
    Unquestionably, everything is crap. My VCR took a dump was a semi-pro machine and was bought by a major cartoon studio in 1993. My husband and I wound up with it in 1996 or so. It had served us well up until a few weeks ago, when it ate a tape, belched, and wouldn't play anything anymore.

    Trouble is, you can't really replace something like that anymore. Most VCRs are made in China, Malaysia, Indonesia or Korea, and are trash quality. I didn't have the heart to buy a piece of crap VCR and possibly risk the demise of more irreplaceable tapes.

    I'm waiting for reasonable DVD recorders. Then I will get on the stick and dub all my tapes to DVD-R. (or +R if that shakes out as being the winner) Right now they are way too expensive.

    BTW you can't guarantee getting something good if you buy Sony. Sony gets things made for them in China like everyone else does. And worst of all: they belong to the RIAA and MPAA.

    I still can control quality on my computers by home-building, but I wonder how long that will last. Everything roll the dice, you take the chance.
    • "Trouble is, you can't really replace something like that anymore"

      Of course you can, you think they don't make professional quality VHS and S-VHS untis anymore? They aren't hard to find, I mean you won't see then in Wal-Mart or something but if you are looking, you can find one. For example JVC makes a couple of pro lines of VCRs starting with the prefix of SR (for the more basic) and BR (for the best). They are excellent quality and built to take the rigors of professional use. One little problem though: price. You can expect to pay around $300 for the most basic SR-V10U which is basically just a high quality VHS/SVHS unit with some simple eiditng controls all the way up to over $5500 for the awesome BR-S822DXU which is suitable for master tape production and is a full out editing unit.

      The thing is that cheap consumer electronics today are, well, CHEAP. They don't cost much. Fine, great, but wheny ou have a low cost unit, it isn't going to be all that well built, goes with the territory. If you want something that is better quality, you can be accomadated, but you need to be ready to pay for it.

      It used to be that the technology to build some of these things was so much and they were produced in such small numbers that they are inherantly expensive. Well, when the unit is going to be super expensive anyhow, it is worth it (and required if you want it to sell) to make it high quality as well. If it costs $50 extra to make a high quality unit that will have a base cost of $1000 anyhow, it's worth it. However that same $50 will not be spent on a unit that will have a RETAIL price of less than that.

      If you want quality products, break out the pocketbook and buy them.
  • by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:21PM (#4866883) Homepage
    You will often see higher quality at the inital introduction of a class of product to support early adopters. These higher quality products often include more features. Of course, the early cost is higher. For example, if you go back and look at when a given TV size first hits the shelves it will tend to have more and better I/O, but as the product class matures I/O tends to drop to just the basics.

    Look at the back of most current 25" TVs. Today you are lucky to see even an audio out on them. Of course, they are a fraction of the price at introduction.

    Ultimately, the mfg has to optimize (reduce) everything to keep in the market place. That includes the features, mfg fall-out and even quality.

    If you want quality, don't expect to get it at bargin basement prices. And don't expect to see a selection of quality at Wackmart. They care about price, not quality.

  • 2 words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:22PM (#4866884) Homepage Journal
    Planned Obsolesce.. that pretty much sums up the general decline in ALL products, not just consumer electronics.

    They have realized that if people are happy with what they have, they are less inclined to buy the same product every year *just* beacuse its new and shiny..

  • by heroine ( 1220 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:27PM (#4866948) Homepage
    Consumer electronics are what they've always been: for consumers. Reliability has always been the domain of professional products. There was never a time when Sony walkmans lasted more than a few months but no-one expected that reliability from a consumer product in the first place back in 1992. Consumer electronics are degraded in quality to reach the price point that consumers can attain. Recently, there has been such a demand for consumer electronics that people have begun to notice all the quality traits that differentiate consumer electronics from professional electronics. The price to get professional quality isn't 2 - 3 times but 10 times. If you want a reliable DVD player, consider a professional $1000 DVD player.

  • by littleRedFriend ( 456491 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:31PM (#4866991)
    Check out []
    epinions. They review a sony video recorder and come up with this list:

    Brands are listed starting from the most reliable (best) to least reliable (worst):

    1. Panasonic - produced by Matsushita Electric
    2. Quasar - also produced by Matsushita Electric
    3. Samsung
    4. Sanyo
    5. Toshiba
    6. Sharp
    7. ProScan
    8. GE
    9. Hitachi
    10. Philips
    11. RCA
    12. JVC
    13. Symphonic
    14. Emerson
    15. SONY - isn't it too low for a "leader"?
    16. Optimus (Radio Shack)
    17. Mitsubishi
    18. Zenith
    19. Series LXI (Sears)
    20. Fisher
  • Products and Service (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:31PM (#4866993)

    Of course products aren't built to last. I assume an MTBF of 2 years on all consumer products, and budget for replacement, because repair will be impossible or uneconomic. Yes, they're disposable. There is no money in making things that last.

    If things last too long the manufacturers will come up with some new "standard" that renders the present installed base obsolete, thus forcing people to spend money. I have heard suggestions that this was part of the push for both CD audio and DVD video.

    I have been pleasantly surprised, but only a few times. One particularly good result was a cheap piece of crap VCR from Zellers that I finally retired, still going strong, when it proved to have 4 Y2K bugs.

    ...laura, wondering how they would handle VCRs with Y2K bugs in Soviet Russia

  • by cjsnell ( 5825 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:36PM (#4867044) Journal
    Back in the late 80's, I bought an inexpensive (corded) phone at Radio Shack. I was going to gut it to make my own lineman's handset []. I pried the thing open with a pair of pliers and discovered, much to my surprise, a sizeable peice of metal attached to the inside of this phone. The was put in there to add weight to this peice of crap. Apparently, people would never buy the phone if it felt like the cheap peice of 3"x2" circuit board that really was!

    It seems that this is quite common. Open up most any cheap handheld electronic gadget and you're likely to find a weight inside.
  • by MarcoAtWork ( 28889 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @07:46PM (#4867144)
    has the quality of high end consumer electronics declined?

    cheap crap has always been available within a few months or at most a year of the wide availability of any new technology (the first year CD players costed an arm and a leg, but they probably are still working fine now, my first generation cheap CD player stopped reading CDs within a year and a half) but I find that some years back, if you bought the top of the line (or close to) model of a decent brand, odds were it would go strong for years and years and years.

    Lately it seems, like others have said, that the discriminator between high and low price of a specific product is not reliability anymore, but just features, and the reliability is the same (usually not that great) all across the board.

    Things are starting to get to the point that buying an extended 3 yrs 'no questions asked' replacement warranty is not the waste of money that it was some years ago.

    In my personal experience good products are still obtainable, but getting fewer and fewer, off the top of my head: high-end HP printers (4xxx series), denon CD players, toshiba DVD players, toyota cars, bosh/whirlpool appliances, philips razors, you get the idea.

    I really couldn't pick a TV, though, as I keep hearing horror stories about pretty much every projection TV out there, and direct view plasma HDTVs are way out of the reach of us common mortals pricewise...
  • As the saying goes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Espen ( 96293 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @08:55PM (#4867201)
    The plural of 'anecdote is not:
  • by NeuroManson ( 214835 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @09:35PM (#4867528) Homepage
    This sort of problem has been around for quite some time. Originally, solid state electronics were designed to last for anywhere up to a decade with minimal maintenance. Old timers here (eg; anyone 30 and older) can remember buying replacement vacuum tubes for old clunker TVs that, despite being older than they were, were still going strong. Similarly, older VCRs have a surprisingly long lifespan, where a bit of belt reconditioning, the occasional head cleaning, and minute bias adjustments were all that was needed to keep them operational. In fact, you can often get an old VHS toploader to run good as new with that small amount of maintenance.

    However, the industries that build these devices have learned that making a device durable and expensive is not only counterproductive, but unprofitable. Why sell a TV that lasts 20 years, and sell it for $300, when you can make a TV that lasts 5 years, sell it for $200 a pop, and make $800 from consumers who consider it a bargain? Same goes for VCRs, which aren't made for durability anymore, in fact, being priced very close to walkmans and portable CD players, they're more geared towards disposability.

    Unfortunately though, there's the electronic waste issue again, which I brought up regarding HDTV. Where will all the waste go? Once again, probably to 3rd world countries that consider a fast buck more important than turning it's towns into toxic waste dumps.

    We seriously need to review this process, and find ways of cheaply and safely disposing of these materials, or instead, go for equipment that's rated for a lengthy operational period, putting the concept of responsible consumerism to practical use.

    From personal experience, the most durable goods I've owned have been made by Sony, Hitachi, Pioneer, JVC and Toshiba. What's needed is a long term write up on equipment, rated by durability. Perhaps when some of these companies find themselves on the list for most durable (or subsequently, those least durable), then they'll focus on either building hardware that lasts longer, or improving their manufacturing techniques to improve on their records.

    Unfortunately, Consumer Reports only does this with cars, while electronics recieve a meager 6 month long term rating.
  • by kobotronic ( 240246 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @10:13PM (#4867799)
    Really. When Best Buy and Circuit City have nothing but cheap shit on the shelves in the consumer entertainment department it's because that's exactly what people are willing to pay for. There used to be a middle range of devices, usually retailing just a little above the cheap stuff.

    These mid range units could generally be relied upon to perform well, have extra useful features, and lasted longer. As an example I had a Sony Hi8 camcorder from circa 1990 - a fabulous machine : Great optics, great mechanics, great sound, manual controls for everything, audio overdub functions, nice damped zoom control, it had the works. (It got stolen after 4 years, but by then it still worked as new.)

    Sure it cost a bit more than the discount units available at the time, but in use you could certainly feel where those extra dollars went. It was also a lot cheaper than the high end pro video gear. All in all it was a nice compromise.

    Nowadays the mid range is mostly gone - how could it be any different? The consumers buy the cheapest shit they can find, with everything automatic. You can't find camcorders with manual controls unless you go to the 'prosumer level' which is a relatively new high-strata tier with prices ranging close to that of pro gear. (Sony VX2000, Canon GL-1, XL-1, etc.)

    It's my impression that the mid range market shrank in America as quality-oblivious people decided the budget units performed 'well enough', and simply picked which-ever nice-looking unit had the lowest price tag with a comparable feature set. The incentive to improve quality became less significant than the incentive to reduce price.

    A circuit board in a black box is not just a circuit board in a black box, but who's to know if the thing works okay for a couple of months before it starts to die little by little?

    There have been digital radio tuners for almost twenty years. Why do you think they still sell clock radios and boomboxes with mechanical turn-knob tuners?

    The Japanese in particular, but also Europeans have been more quality conscious than Americans, and the mid-range segment still exists there. For example, the Europeans have for many years had an affordable mid-range 16:9 widescreen TV option with digital framedobler and picture stabilization, which is available to Americans only if they go all the way and buy the high-priced High Def sets.

    For twenty years(!) Europeans have had digital ceefax teletype color text overlays on their TVs which lets users lookup program listings, news and weather information and much more from their remote controls. It's virtually indispensable even if it's low tech and looks like early 80s console game graphics, but Americans have never had anything as functional or useful of the kind until the advent of the digital cable box, Tivo, etc.

    Europeans have NICAM digital near-CD-quality stereo audio to go with the PAL (*) TV picture, which by the way has higher resolution and much better colors than the Japanese/American NTSC format. Most American mom&pop&joe sixpack consumers get their stereo audio in crap quality from an analog audio carrier in the NTSC format. The new digital cable boxes improve the situation; but many many households still use 1980s or even 1970s technology, upon which they base their quality and performance expectations.

    European electronics consumers have preferred direct two-way audio/video cables (SCART) to connect their VCRs and TVs in order to obtain the better picture afforded by not having the picture components squished together and lose quality by being re-modulated and de-modulated for the aerial connection: In the six years I stayed in the U.S., in the many different homes I visited, I saw most American home consumers connect their VCRs and even DVD players to the TV through aerial jacks.

    Where I lived (Fairfax, VA) I had a nice home entertainment system setup. 120 channels of crap on TV to choose from, but the cable system employed analog UHF multiplexing technology from the 1970s (two stiff coaxials snaking from the wall to a decoder box with, I shit you not, fake wooden sides!) - The picture always had ghosts and noise and looked awful. The colors were washed out and the effective horizontal picture resolution was maybe 200 pixels. One day the picture looked so bad that I called in a cable guy to fix it. He probably thought I was some kind of euronazi crank because he said it looked just like everyone else's signal and nobody's complaining. With performance expectations as low as these, it's no wonder American consumer electronics are all basically worth exactly what you pay for.

    Americans: If you want good stuff, smuggle some stuff home from Japan. Suffer the premium rates. They use mostly the same standards as you do, but their shit is -much- better, has more features, lasts longer.

    Also, come visit Europe sometime, check out the cool shit we got you ain't got: 100hz TV picture steady as a rock, broadcast TV over aerial looking close to DVD quality; RDS car radios which continously retunes your receiver to the closest carrier broadcasting the program you're listening to, and your CD player pausing automatically for urgent traffic announcements; Ubiquitous, standardized GSM cellphones with SMS and always-on GPRS data services...

    (*) By the way, pay no attention to the French with regards to home electronics. They're weird and speak French and use SECAM which sucks. :)

  • Two Words (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Transcendent ( 204992 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @11:24PM (#4868211)
    Planned Obsolescence. It's just a corperate plan to make shitty products, sell them at high prices, and then in a couple years, people have to come back and buy it again because the original broke!

    Take audio electronics for instance... I have an awesome radio and tape system made by Technics from a long time ago. Sure, it's big and heavy, but it's made with real nice polished metal that has stood the test of time. It gets the best radio reception out of ANYTHING in my house... better than my car's too. The knobs are big and turn nice (with nice heavy momentum too so it feels like you're actually doing something), the LED's are bright and everything is perfect on it...

    Sitting in my basement is a 2Disc CD system with 2 tape decks and a low-lit display. I feel like if i put a glass of water on top of the thing the plastic will give away and ruin it... The nobs are weightless and rough, the reception is like I'm in a cement tomb 500ft in the ground, and the CD/Tape players barely work... They spent so much time designing the thing with beveled edges and color contrasts everywhere that I can't even find any button to press to turn the damn thing on. I could barely see where to eject the CD... or even where the tray was because of the stupid "techno" and "futuristic" bull shit design they have...

    Yes, consumer electronics has gone down over the years... mainly the fault of stupid consumers, but also the fault of the greedy corperate SOBs that are runnin the company and make the decisions to sell the crap...

    Don't give me a hunk of cheap plastic crap that looks like a 3D ink blob test, just give me a simple, nice looking, reliable product and I'll be a loyal customer for the rest of my life...
  • Examples (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @01:27AM (#4868476) Homepage
    My parents have a television that is a couple years older than I am - placing it at least 21 years old. It is the only television they have ever owned. While it's not high tech, and they don't watch much TV, it has gotten (on average, I'd say) at least 3 hours of use a day, conservatively.

    On the newer side of things, I've seen televisions, monitors, LCDs, and projection units fail within a year quite a few times in the last 5 years. I'm sure everyone has. I know of people that have 3 or 4 in their house, and one tends to die on them every year.

    I still have a Nintendo Gameboy (what might be deemed the Classic now) that runs fine - even after being flung at the wall uncountable times in rage, and even being run over once by a truck by accident once. It's had fluids (not just water) spilled in it, and has been used in nearly every environment. (I'm also led to believe that my situation here isn't exactly rare.)

    I've heard several friends' children complain about their GBAs not working, or actually seeing the result of one flying down a staircase onto a hardwood floor myself. (I find it plauseable that someone could take a GBC and use it as a hammer to destroy GBA units to dust.)

    To say nothing of the plethora of old PC systems (as old as 10 years) still running strong, whereas there are many, many new systems that have a major problem within a year (mainly memory or hard drive problems, it seems). Or the items that just happen to fail just shortly after going out of warranty.
  • Solution .... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dimension6 ( 558538 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @01:52AM (#4868595)
    Here's what I like to do (well, often like to do) ... purchase the oldest possible unit that will get the job done and contains the necessary features (by saying necessary, I really mean it!). By buying older pieces of equipment, you not only save money (well, unless you buy severely antique equipment!), but you can rest assured that since it has been around X years, it will probably survive quite a few more. A fine example of this is my amplifier purchase decision. I bought an Onkyo Integrated Amplifier from the 70s. It is tiny (unlike the massive beasts that litter the shelves today), sounds spectacular (I am a music student here in NYC, and my ears are as sensitive as can be), and cost me $47 shipped. I figured that since it has worked for the past 30 years, it will last me the next few years (until I move into a larger space and need a more powerful amplifier). The unit exterior is metal including the faceplate (read=quality, not cheap plastic), and has only the things I need (power switch, a few inputs, headphone output, volume control). I have no need here for surround sound (that may change, and thus a new amplifier may become necessary unfortunately), so purchasing a huge new receiver with radio (all of the stations I need are available online) and Dolby Digital is completely unnecessary. When I consider purchasing a new product, I really take the time to decide if the features that product offers are really necessary (wouldn't everyone?), and if I can get all of the features I really need in a proven piece of equipment, then I will purchase the older model. I have done this with timepieces and telephones as well (my pocketwatch is a hundred years old, and my phone is 60 years old, and both work beautifully and flawlessly). I certainly do not use my little plan on everything. For example, I do not feel the urge to daintily transport a portable phonograph with me on the DC-3 airplane. I went ahead and purchased an iPod as soon as they came out (due to their size, speed, and storage capacity), because of simple practicality. Regarding computers, I like purchasing technology that is not absolutely cutting-edge, but just shy of cutting-edge. I'm into post-modern design, so I choose to purchase mainly new decor/furniture/etc. > Overall, it is this blend of old and new that I have found a nice balance of quality, cost, and features.
  • by ikeleib ( 125180 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @12:46PM (#4871875) Homepage
    Having worked for a semiconductor company that supplies chips for consumer electronics, I have a little insight.

    First, consumer electronics makers are cheap. They will do ANYTHING to save a buck on the bill of materials. If this means skimping on a power supply, or ommitting some protection circuits, they will do it. Their goals are 1) regulatory compliance (UL in the US) and 2) low RMA's.

    Secondly, the consumer cannot distinguish "quality." They things that the consumer can see have no real relation to the quality of the design. How would you know if they power supply is very ripply? How would you know that they left out some filter capacitors. Price or brand is no indicator, that's all driven by marketting. For the consumer to determine the quality, they would have to take apart the device and then analyze it like an engineer. Doesn't happen. Reviews don't help-- the reviewer doesn't know anything either. Think of the quality test most consumers do of a stereo: they go to the store and turn up the volume. What does that tell them?

    Also, the electronics that you buy today are considerably more complicated than that of yesteryear. Consider a stereo. Twenty years ago, it was just a collection of transistors and power supplies. Now they have micro controllers, DSP, codec's, etc. There is a lot more to go wrong. Pluse a lot more corner cutting that you can do. Besides, once you throw software into the mix, you get bugs.

    Lastly, buy the $49 APEX DVD player. The part that will fail is going to be the DVD mechanism. Do you think there is a big difference between the one APEX buys and the one Sony buys? They're probably both made by TEAC.
  • by Chris Canfield ( 548473 ) <slashdot@chrisca n f> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @03:39PM (#4873666) Homepage
    I know this thread has died, but I have to speak up.

    In college I sold bikes. Real bikes. I sold 200-2000 dollar solidly made bikes out of several stores in southern california. Countless people would go into the store, look at the cheapest bikes we had, and would leave to go to target to throw their money away on a $200 full - suspension garbage pile with the front fork on backwards, the brake levers sticking straight up, easily stripped everything, and no clause at all for maintenence. I'd say about %30 of our business was coming from people who had just thrown out a crumbled Costco / Target / KMart bike after 6 months of use. A large part of this problem is that consumers just don't have the attention span anymore. They want it, they want it now, and they don't need to know how it works. They buy from Target because it's easy, cheap, and safe... and nobody tries to explain anything to them. Who wants to know that unused cables have a breaking in period, and so to keep your bike in adjustment you have to bring it back after 3 months of use... or risk damaging it? Who cares that plastic brake handles bend instead transmitting the force of your arm? And we were in the lucky position that we could explain all of these things to the consumer, because it was all visible if you knew what was going on. The only thing you can judge DVD players on is the look of the box it comes in and the reported failure rates... the latter of which is very difficult to come by, even for employees.

    Perhaps we should have mandatory lifespan markings like the FDA markings on soup? I could tell a customer (if they asked) that I have VistaLites that are over 15 years old and have been swimming, skiing, have had the case melted, and have been dropped from the third floor and still work, and that CatEyes generally crap out in a very short period of time... but wouldn't it be easier for people if that was just on the box?

    If the Cue Cat was linked to epinions, it could have been a very empowering tool. In my case, many people learned their lesson. Sadly, a sucker is always born to replace them. And many people didn't, leading to the treadmil replacement cycle. I was nearly run over last year by someone on a brand new Target bike whose builder hadn't bothered to put the nuts on the front wheel.

    This has got to have a cost to society.


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