Tens of thousands of people made the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas last week to get a glimpse of the latest in gear and gadgetry at the Consumer Electronics Show. Some of the shiny new equipment debuting there could very well make it onto your shopping lists in the months to come.
If you do find yourself shopping for the latest electronics — whether that be home theater components or mobile phones — you should know some rules that will help you get the most bang for your buck. After all, you’ll want to make sure that the electronics you buy include the features you need and not a bunch of costly features you don’t need: You wouldn’t want to have to buy another unit next year.
- Look into plasma TVs. When you compare plasmas and LED-lit LCD TVs — with equivalent features and performance sets — it’s dramatically cheaper to buy a plasma than an LCD.While the LCD is a slightly lighter, slightly thinner device, and is brighter than a plasma, the picture isn’t always as good. LCDs still suffer from a contrast issue, thoughthose with LED-lighting have improved on the contrast quite a bit. Plus, when you’re viewing off to one side of the TV, the colors wash out and the contrast just goes away.
- Consider a sound bar as an alternative to a 5.1 surround sound system. The biggest reason would be if you live in a house where the layout doesn’t work for surround sound. Sound bars solve that problem by putting the entire speaker array right under the TV and just projecting surround to the best of their ability. You’re not going to be fooled in a blind listening test necessarily, but you’ll find it’s far more convenient.
- Buy a new phone every two years. When you buy a phone under contract, every month you’re paying, say $20, toward that overall cost of the phone. When your two years are up, does your monthly fee go down $20? No. So if you don’t go to the store and buy a new phone, your wireless carrier is just making pure profit off you.
- Check out pre-paid mobile phone plans, especially if you don’t have smartphone data needs. Everything now is built around data plans. But some people still haveâ¦what they call “basic phones” — that just have the tiny screens and texting and basic stuff. If you’re intimidated by wildly expensive smartphone-based data plans, look to the pre-paid section.
- Buy expensive HDMI cables from the big box retailers. They’re selling you a TV at a loss and making up for that loss by selling you cables at an enormous profit. Go online to monoprice.com or Amazon, type in “6-foot HDMI” and look at the options. The signal is digital: It either gets through or doesn’t get through. 1080p video can pass through the cheapest HDMI cable, no problem.
- Buy a Blu-ray Disc player if you already have a cable box with Video on Demand, a smart set-top device (like an Apple TV) or a Smart TV — you’d be adding redundant services. Sure, some videophiles will say Blu-ray has a precision and that the colors, the resolution, the compression — everything just looks better. I don’t deny that at all. But we’re moving past shiny silver discs altogether. Why do we still have DVDs and Blu-rays when we can just watch whatever’s on Netflix, Comcast or iTunes?
- Don’t buy a Smart TV if you already have a smart game console or Blu-ray — you may be buying redundant technology. A Smart TV is a TV with an Internet connection and services like streaming video, such as Netflix. It’s actually becoming hard not to buy one right now. So while it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually buy a Smart TV, some people should not seek one out.
- Buy a cellular tablet unless you’re on the road a lot and never know when you’ll have Wi-Fi connectivity. If you’re at work or at home most of the time — or if you’re traveling and you can load up movies, books, music and games — go with a Wi-Fi-only tablet. A cellular iPad, for instance, costs $130 more than a Wi-Fi-only iPad.
How do you make sure you’re getting the most for your money when buying electronics? Which consumer electronics deliver the best value?