Effros: The Competitive Freeze

Steve EffrosCommentary by Steve Effros

If you’ve been around the “telecommunications business” like I have for quite a few years, an inevitable byproduct is that your friends and neighbors will seek you out for advice and help when it comes to their choices on televisions, stereos, smartphones, computers and all sorts of other consumer electronics. I’m more than happy to help, when I can, but I have to admit that it’s getting much harder these days.

Look, I love this stuff. I like testing out the gear, but the pace of change and the addition of all sorts of new capabilities is now resulting in an excellent case study in “The Paradox of Choice,” which is something I have written about several times. The short explanation is that when choices increase exponentially, as they are doing now in the consumer electronics sphere, folks tend to stop making choices… they “freeze,” rather than buy. I can certainly understand why.

Televisions and all the devices now being sold to connect to them are an excellent case in point. Granted, part of the confusion now being sown is caused by the manufacturers themselves using inconsistent language and incompatible offerings. It’s gotten to the point where an “average” consumer is right in just stepping back and deciding that now is simply not the time to make any major purchase.

A few examples should suffice. We know, now, about “HD” and the size of sets. Televisions have gotten much larger and they sometimes hang on the wall. But is “4K” significantly better than “HD”? Can you really see the difference? Are there enough 4K offerings to even justify buying a new set? What ever happened to “3D?” Should we care?

Well, as many of you know from reading this column for a long time, I have continually pointed out that HDR (High Dynamic Range / Extended Color Gamut) is far more important than the number of pixels (4K). Indeed, an HD set with HDR in most cases looks better than a 4K set without. But there are two major HDR standards! One, Dolby’s, the other, an “open” standard labeled HDR-10. Can the average person see the difference? Probably not, but some televisions come with one, some with the other, and some with both! And, of course, the programming offered is linked to one or the other! Total confusion.

What about OLED, QLED, FHD and all that other stuff we how hear and see in the ads? What’s the difference between “Ultra HD” and “Full HD” or LCD backlighting and LED? And I’m just talking about the screen so far, not the navigation, which is even more complicated. “SmartTV”? Does that incorporate a Roku box or is it the exclusive company-specific “operating system” built into the set, all, of course, linked with WiFi. Will that work with an “outboard” cable box, or an Apple, Roku, Chrome or FireTV attachment? And if so, which navigation screen will come up first? Can I use my Alexa/Echo/FireTV voice commands with a Comcast X1 system? The questions go on and on.

I don’t have the answers. I’m going to try to get some of them for you, but I certainly understand why a lot of consumers are now totally confused as to whether now is the right time to do anything. I’m sure with the holiday season upon us it’s going to get even louder and more confusing. We have arrived at the point where competitive offerings are going to have to promote simplification or they will freeze the marketplace.


Steve Effros was President of CATA for 23 years and is now an advisor and consultant to the cable industry. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of Cablefax.

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