The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 12, 2013

Ojanpa: TV tech fatigue is setting in

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— TVs, including the so-called “smart” ones, apparently are outsmarting themselves.

Which is to say, companies’ ability to improve the technology of televisions is outpacing our desire to buy them.

Television set sales, heretofore the slam-dunk Christmas season purchase, came off more like a contested layup this time around.

Sales nationally were down 2 percent from the previous year and down 8 percent for all of 2012 despite electronics companies’ bells-and-whistles efforts to make TVs more alluring.

Flat screens begat flatter screens, LCDs begat LEDs, which begat 3D, and smart TVs — those that can ape the capabilities of your personal computer — all came to the fore the past couple of years but didn’t produce the buyer tsunamis of yore.

With large flat screen TVs now belting out high definition in every McMansion, mobile home and college-kid hovel, televisions have become a tougher sell to people who formerly “traded up” more often.

Actually, TV sales are going back to the future in the respect that consumers are now buying new televisions about as often as they buy new cars.

 In other words, that 40-inch one trick pony Sony purchased six years ago is still functional enough and bedazzling enough for a lot of people.

Moreover, TV isn’t the only kid on the personal video entertainment block anymore. The crowded field includes smartphones, tablets, even that trusty old desktop computer — all capable of delivering television programs.

That’s the landscape TV companies are up against as they keep trying new gimmicks to move the sales needle like in the “old” days of seven years ago, when big-screen TVs kept leaping out of stores.

Truth is, there’s now a little bit of desperation showing in the latest roll-out of TV technology gimmicks.

One come-on is what electronics makers call Ultra High Definition claiming four times the clarity of standard high definition. Sony has an 84-incher that will set you back $25,000, though smaller, less expensive versions are on the way.

But here’s the question: How much more high definition does one need to capture the intricate details of someone’s acne scars? The set I have already gives me more of that “information” than I need.

Besides, unless you spend the big bucks for an 80-inch TV you won’t even notice the difference in the jacked-up high definition. That’s because on sets smaller than that the human eye can’t discern any difference.

But my favorite new desperate TV marketing gimmick is Samsung’s offering that allows two people to watch different shows simultaneously on the same set.

This so-called “multi-view” TV enables, say, my wife and I to each watch our own show while wearing requisite special 3D glasses equipped with cute little speakers.

In the words of the title of that defunct TV sitcom, “Just Shoot Me.”


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email