I gotta admit, I’m going crazy trying to decide which Blu-ray and TV to buy for Christmas. I’m not panicking; I don’t have a dead-line of DEC 25th like everyone else. I want to buy the Blu-ray for a friend, but he won’t be home until after that. And I’ve already mentioned that I plan on buying the TV during the after-Christmas sales. But I can’t even narrow it down.

I got very excited today about Android TVs, and then got shot down while reading the reviews. It seems Quality Control and Production Sampling have gone out the window as the “Walmart Nation” becomes “Walmart World.” And these were Sony products.

Sam Walton was a fiercely patriotic American who insisted that everything sold in his stores was made in the United States. Of course, those days are long gone. But he was a tough horse-trader who always squeezed the last nickel out of his vendors so he could under-price his competitors.

The ultimate version of that is what we have today. If you can save one cent on a production of 1,000,000 devices, you cut your price by $10,000. And save a dollar per unit, save $1,000,000. If that dollar you cut out means a device that downloads three new versions of firmware before it gets started, lasts half as long, or costs twice as much to repair… not your problem. Price is king.

The big-box stores have a little trick along these lines. Have you ever gone to or some other manufacturers’ web-site, and then not been able to find the model number you saw in the store ? Big-box stores can get a model number unique to their company. It might have fewer HDMI connectors, or use older chips for running H.264 codec, but whatever it is, you aren’t getting as good a product. And then they say, “Will beat any price on the same model,” knowing no one else sells that model number.

Reviews are a very non-scientific sampling of the relatively few people motivated to say something about the product. Either they love it or they hate it. If you read reviews in the order posted, you might have one person saying it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and then the next in all caps ‘screaming’ about how much it sucks. That’s the lack of Quality Control I’m talking about. There was a day when everything that came off the production line was tested. But that costs money. Now, it’s a crap shoot. The odds are “ever in your favor”. But if it’s you who got the lemon, statistics are not very comforting.

You have to be careful while reading reviews to make sure they are all talking about the same thing – and they rarely are. ALL manufacturers have gotten lazy and lump every review about a category of devices in the same group. You look at the reviews for a certain model and don’t realize they are all mixed together. Somebody might be complaining about poor uniformity in the black pixels and the next is saying he can’t find any flaws in his TV. What you don’t realize is the second guy bought a TV in the same line-up but a model which cost twice as much.

Reviews usually are listed highest to lowest. But I read reviews in order of lowest to highest. Then I read them again, starting with the newest. I’m looking not only for problems with a particular brand or model, or firmware (ability to connect to Netflix, problems with WiFi, etc.), but also trends.

One trend I am definitely seeing across the board – every manufacturer – is TV with almost useless speakers. In reading the reviews, you have to believe we have gone back to the days of the cheap ‘tinny’ speakers which came with your computer. There definitely seems to be a drive by all manufacturers to force us to buy a sound-bar in addition to the TV.

One model of TV had the speakers facing the rear. This was not a mistake, but a design decision. The review said the TV sounded great… if you didn’t mind it facing the wall. I don’t know about you, but if I pay $5,000 for a TV, it should at least have the same quality speakers they were putting in $1,000 TV’s ten years ago.

I’ll talk more about this in next week’s blog, but you want Audio Return Channel (ARC) if you are going to use a sound-bar. Not only is this feature not on some models, but you really have to look to see if it is – or is not – offered. And you need it on both the TV and the sound-bar to work.

Another problem is the operating system. They don’t call it that, but TV’s today are all-in-one computers with a very big monitor. And they are getting slower, not faster. It least, it seems that way. The problem is the codecs are changing and the model you buy may not be optimized to run the newest stuff. One example is H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) is replacing H.264 and is “a beast to decode” (“Maximum PC”). I am not happy. You are already familiar with computers that ran like lightning on a previous version of Windows but couldn’t get out of its own way when you tried to up-grade. They don’t let you ‘down-load RAM’ on these new TV’s. And you know your TV gets operating system up-dates.

Of course, sometimes the manufacturers can’t win. Some people who write reviews like connections on the back and complain about how you either can see the wires, or have to bend them backwards to be out of sight. Others want them on the side and complain about not being able to easily get to the ones on the back. Me, I buy cables for EVERY connection on the back and let them stay there. I still remember the four-man-lift 32” tube-TV’s.

Look, you need a professional and you need an In-home Design Consultation. I read electronic spec sheets the way other guys read sports statistics. I’ve been doing it a long time. But even I am confused this holiday season. I’m not going to buy anything until after I’ve talked with the folks at Dynamic AV. Do yourself a favor and follow my lead.