Another holiday season is already underway — and has been since September — because life is a nightmare and we only quiet the howling abyss by buying ourselves new stuff.
Thankfully, this week brings us Black Friday, the American Retail Hunger Games where multinational corporations shave prices to the bone to prove, uh, something. Next week, millions of Americans will leave their homes, families, and dignity to camp in the darkness outside of chain stores. They will also trample and fight one another — like The Purge, but with widely available consumer goods.
So if you’re already rubbing the magnetic strip of your credit card in anticipation, relax for just a second.
You might not want to buy that TV on Black Friday. Here’s why.
In order to satisfy competition and the public’s deal-grubbing bloodlust, manufacturers produce “derivative models,” which is a polite way to say “scaled-back versions with less features,” which is a polite way to say “shittier versions.”
Cheap is cheap: You can buy that off-brand Jumbotron for $149 because they use worse components or fewer HDMI ports or come with a drastically slashed warranty. But Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and the rest all do it, too.
It’s a dishonest strategy cooked up by manufactures (likely with retailers happily onboard) to avoid using their price-match guarantees. Almost all of these price-match offers are limited to the exact same model number, and most consumers probably don’t realize this, because they’re looking for three important things: a decent brand, a decent price, and a gigantic screen measurement. What they aren’t looking for are things that make a TV worse: fewer HDMI ports, color accuracy, high input lag, low refresh rates, poor black levels.
They also aren’t reading that model number that conveniently has 40 digits. If you can’t compare that exact same model, they don’t have to match the price.
Here are a few examples:
- Toshiba 49L310U: A 49″ Toshiba TV for a jaw-dropping $149. The product description does not mention that Toshiba recently quit the TV business, so the brand is now licensed by a Taiwanese brand called Copal. Hm!
- Vizio D58u-D3: This 58-inch 4K set has fewer local dimming zones, and was cranked out specifically for Black Friday. It has 10 zones of local dimming versus 16 or 32 in other models. It also has a 60Hz panel versus the 120Hz in the 60-inch and larger M-Series. Who knows what else it has or doesn’t have, because nobody has seen one or reviewed it yet :o)
- Samsung UN60JU6390FXZA: A name that just rolls off the tongue. This 60-inch 4K behemoth is a Best Buy exclusive at about $800 on Black Friday. Best Buy says it regularly sells for almost twice as much, but Google the product number and you’ll see it doesn’t exist anywhere else. Good luck finding a better price, because Best Buy engineered that possibility out of the equation! I hope it doesn’t suck!
You’ll notice none of these TVs are reviewed because they only exist for this one “holiday.” It’s like using your own money to beta-test something that might not work well — or at all.
This practice doesn’t apply to just TVs. Check out the “amazing” $25 deal on this Roku SE. “SE” apparently stands for “special edition.” This highly prized limited run lacks voice control, 4K support and the stronger Wi-Fi technology available in other models. I’d wager that “limited edition” is a much more accurate descriptor.
Retailers are always looking for ways to skimp, and that holds true on this most savage of shopping days. Before you spend your money, just do a quick search for the model number you’ve got in mind. If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably cheap bullshit.
And if you’re the type of masochist planning to show up to a brick-and-mortar location, just remember this wisdom from Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”