Sunday, January 23, 2011

High Tech Snake Oil Abounds

From the very first time one person sold something to another person there have been those who have tried, and succeeded, to take advantage of the buyer. The snake oil purveyors of the old west are alive and well in the digital age. This week we will look at three very popular items being sold on line and in the big box electronics stores. All three are low tech. All three are used by millions of consumers. And, all three are obscenely over-priced.

With the popularity of Blue Ray DVD players and high tech gaming systems growing, many of us need cables to connect these devices to our large flat screen TVs. These connections often require HDMI cables. HDMI cables are made up of multiple wires and special connectors at each end. These simple high tech extension cords often come with a big price. It is not uncommon for a 6 foot cable to cost more than $35. If you want one with gold plated connectors the price can reach $75 or more.

The sales person will give you the often rehearsed spiel, “You know, you just spent $1500 on this great XYZ 3-D Plasma 5.1 Dolby enhanced TV, for sure you want the best connections to your DVD player or cable box, don’t you?” The only problem with this suggestion is that there is no perceivable difference between the results you will get with a $5 HDMI cable than the one that cost $75. Go with the $5 cable.

Since the paperless society promised by the computer age is still not quite here, many of us continue to print documents and photos on paper. This brings us to another high tech rip off, the ink cartridge. It is not uncommon to be able to purchase a new ink jet printer for less money than it will cost to replace the ink cartridges about four times. This marketing strategy is akin to the “Gillette” philosophy dating back decades. You “give” the razors away for pennies and then charge a king’s ransom for the blades. From what I have found there is no reason for the ink to cost as much as it does.

Our final rip off is really hard to even see. In fact it is transparent. Most smart phones, hand held games and e-readers have touch screens. It is highly recommended that you use clear plastic protectors on these screens to prevent scratching. Most of these devices come with one but they do get dirty and develop bubbles and need to be replaced. What a surprise you will have when you go to the store and find that the little piece of clear plastic measuring about 1.5 x 3 inches has a price tag of $5 or more. Even online it is hard to find discounts for these screen protectors.

There are truly some extraordinary electronic devices on the market and the prices seem to be dropping for many of them. Nevertheless, snake oil is also available in abundance and it ain’t cheap.

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