A marketing guru friend of mine, @modernsusan who’s also a consumer advocate passed along an article from Lifehacker that demonstrates something I absolutely hate about salespeople.
By cranking up the lighting levels as much as 50 times typical home lighting conditions. According to HDGuru, “these intense levels can make the best displays with the blackest black levels and highest contrast levels look inferior to cheaper, lower performance displays.” As a result, customers may purchase cheaper sets that aren’t as good as advertised because they’re basing their decisions on brightness levels.
The comment stream under the article is awesome, because a large bulk of the comments are derailed and filled with complaints about a store’s display looking like junk. It’s nice to hear that someone messed up and people see through it, but that’s not the point, is it?
Specialized lighting and “theatre rooms” are some of the most used tools in the showman’s kit. This is sideshow trickery at its finest, and it’s ruining retail. I do this for a living, and I have to say, specializing the TVs is a bonehead move – but it’s only boneheaded if you don’t tell people!
The skinny is that, where I work there’s a wall of televisions. Plasma sets sitting beside LCDs both looking just about the same, both of them looking fairly good in our twenty-foot-ceilinged mall-retail hole in the wall, with the same amplified HDMI-fed BluRay loop move on all of them. Why? Because we played with them!
If you go into a shop – the worst for this are big box retailers – and the screens are hidden in a room aside from everything else, you’ll see one of three things. Either the room has a low ceiling with very little lighting, which makes the TVs pop out of the darkness, lending them a certain amount of mystery and wow factor; or, the room will be evenly lit, with televisions spaced well apart from each other totally eliminating side-by-side comparison; or, you’ll have a dimly lit room with spotlights directed at the televisions, usually light bars about ten feet up, making the whole set glow as if it had just been handed to you by the Gods of Hollywood.
Pop quiz time, you all set? Which of these tactics is the greater trick?
The answer is all of them. Chances are, in the first room you’re looking primarily at plasma screens. This is because plasma TVs are built of glass, so natural light or diffused lighting makes them look junky, glass reflects and the cleaner you keep your plasma screen, the worse this gets. These retailers do this to make the sets look good, mostly because if you’re buying a plasma, chances are it’s going into a basement where you can control the lighting just like they do, and you’re making a theatre or theme room. If they give you any other reason for this setup, they’re lying or they don’t know their product, and in either case, run for the hills… Or the next convenient store.
Dimly lit showrooms with eve lighting are the best for displaying both kinds of television, LCD and Plasma. Since plasma is far better at producing sharp contrast and dark colours (Remember they’re usually used as theatre TVs? This is the edge for that use, movies are usually dark) and LCD televisions are best at sharp colour and reproducing fast movement (Sports, animated movies and cable TV are their key uses) the middle ground between the usual home setup and a dark theatre room is perfect for mixed crowds. You’re likely to find the most expensive cables in these showrooms, hooked up to the best audio systems, because what these rooms do best is show you what the whole package will look like in the perfect home. If you’re not shopping for the whole package, or you don’t have the perfect home, ignore these setups, because they’re smoke and mirrors just like the first.
Lastly, the spot lit, dark caverns are probably LCD-heavy displays. LCDs are excellent with bright colours and sharp pictures, not so good at dark contrast and shadow. They’re getting better, but they’re just not there yet – and LED or OLED screens are totally expensive at the moment, five or six times more than the usual cost of a Plasma or LCD. These screens are also covered with a special plastic film which reduces glare. This means, in short, that shining a light (of certain kinds, from certain angles and at certain intensities known only to the retail gods, I guess) at an LCD TV bizarrely makes it look better! Treat this as a preview for what the set will look like in your south-facing home with the sun shining on it at noon. Useful, for some people. For the rest of us, it’s usually just an annoyance, because how often do we spotlight our TVs?
So, retail has all these tricks.
And we’ve got the internet. What good is that? Well, for early comparison, it’s like anything else – look up some stats, compare some prices, and if you still aren’t satisfied, dig into some consumer reports websites and hope for some community response. If it’s on sale, someone bought it before you, and chances are they know its ins and outs far better than most retail sales droids.
The other option is going to a service-oriented store and hoping you grab a salesperson who actually fiddles with every little thing that comes across their counter. Feel free to test these people with inane questions and ask about stats you’ve already researched. If you’re really feeling ornery, get those consumer responses you dug up earlier and ask the salespeople the questions, to see if their answers match up with what their customers actually say. It may not get you any new information, but it will certainly lend you insight into the salesperson you’re dealing with, and the kind of selling they’re trying to foist on you.
And when in doubt, buy it later. More information on a purchase is ALWAYS better than less, and don’t ever let anyone tell you differently!