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Today’s Show:

Are High End Audio/Video Retailers a Dying Breed?

We all know someone who has to own the absolute best gear on the market. They don’t care how much it costs. Whether its a receiver that “reproduces sounds that only dogs can hear” or its the guy who buys the most expensive video processor for his equally expensive projector, we all have stories of friends or acquaintances that match that description.

Do you remember chains that focused solely on A/V. We all remember The Good Guys, Tweeter, and in Southern California Ken Crane’s just to name a few. Today many of us buy our electronics at Best Buy, Costco, Wal*Mart, or online from Amazon. You have to look hard to find a brick and mortar store that exclusively sells A/V equipment. What’s going on? Do we no longer care about quality audio and video? Or more likely, equipment has become much better and we can now have a high quality experience from low price gear.

Video

Let’s take a look at TVs first. Ara’s first HDTV (which is still in use) was a $4,000 DLP that measured 50 inches. Three years later Ara bought another DLP for his media room. It measured 65 inches and cost $2,000. It produces a picture that is dramatically improved over the 50 inch DLP. Both are properly calibrated. Two years ago Ara bought a 37 inch LCD TV that produced a better picture out of the box than the $4000 DLP. The point here being that TVs have become so good you don’t have to spend a lot of money for very high quality. In fact, videophile grade Plasmas and projectors can be had for less than what Ara paid for his original DLP. Please don’t misunderstand what we are saying. There are still very high end TVs that cost much more than $4,000, we’re just saying that there isn’t much difference between the top of the line consumer grade and Videophile products. And as such, there is no reason to visit a specialty store to purchase your TV.

Next we’ll look at Blu Ray players. Even the cheapest Blu Ray player will produce a picture that is superior to the best DVD player; provided that the Blu Ray disc was masted properly. That means for $99 we can have a picture that looks better than the most expensive DVD player produced just 5 years ago. Are there premium players on the market today, sure. But the cost is usually in the upconversion process of DVDs. If you are all Blu Ray, then you have videophile quality without the price. Why would you spend $1000 on a Blu Ray player when it won’t produce a significantly better picture than the $100 player?

Audio

A similar argument can be applied to audio equipment. Just two years ago if you wanted to get into the next generation audio game you needed to shell out a minimum of $1000. Today a $300 receiver from Pioneer, Yamaha, or Onkyo can do the same thing. What about sound leveling, auto calibration, height channels, and seven channels? Once the domain of expensive high end gear, all these features are available in receivers that go for $700.

The only place we haven’t seen a dramatic decline in prices are speakers. Good speakers can make a $500 receiver sound like $1000 receiver. The converse is true also so don’t cheap out when buying speakers. The good news is with all the money you save on your TV, Blu Ray Player, and Receiver, you can afford a good set of speakers. This is an area that a good specialty store can provide a service. But even still, as good as speakers sound in a store, they will sound differently when you get them home. Some online speaker companies will give you a no risk 30 day free in home trial. That way you can hear exactly how they will sound in your home. No guessing!

What does this all mean?

Unless high end retailers can provide some sort of reason for you to spend money in their stores, they are going to find themselves out of business. These stores typically charge more for their products than Best Buy or online retailers. Jerry Del Colliano has some ideas in his article Is Today’s Home Theater Equipment Too Good?

A/V Retailers need to:

  • be priced competitive but more importantly – they must offer more value.
  • provide longer warranties
  • provide professional calibration
  • offer low-cost in-home support,
  • sell top brands

We’d add they need to provide door to door service. Buy the TV this afternoon watch it tonight, on a calibrated and fully installed system.

One of the last sentences in his article sums it up beautifully, “If the AV business cannot more clearly illustrate why specialty audio is in fact special, then expect more stores and regional chains to fold in the coming months even as the economy improves, simply perhaps fueled by the fact that mainstream home theater gear is just too good.”

Download Episode #436


Posted by The HT Guys, July 29, 2010 11:44 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.