Baby, Buy, Buy, Buy!

The purchase of even a seemingly trivial home theater product is fraught with complications: Is this the right length cord? Did I buy the right adapter? Why does the guy at RadioShack smell vaguely of Hormel corned beef hash? The purchase of a new television, the centerpiece of a home theater, is that much more complicated. Understandably, people often view it with the same amount of trepidation as they do their own public caning. (I know I was nervous before mine, yet as it turns out, my caner was thorough, yet gentle.) Fortunately, this magazine gives you everything you need to help you choose the right TV. But there’s still the matter of actually buying your TV.

It used to be simple enough. You’d trudge down to your local big- box store, spend about 10 minutes trying to flag down some help, and begin throwing pennies at the manager’s office window. When that failed, you’d climb on top of the display TVs and eventually get the attention of a clerk who was young enough to be born the same year you bought the TV you’re replacing. You’d give him the model number you’re looking for, he’d walk you over to the water heater section, you’d start over, and after a few more false starts in the ergonomic keyboard and Celtic Vocal music sections, you’d load the thing in your car and be off.

But now there are many more choices. If you’re willing to put up with a few flaws to save some serious money, you may want to look for a used model. A good place to start is Sure, you have to wade through a lot of dross, including some 500 badly misspelled listings for 24-inch CRT TVs, or phone calls like this: “Hey, you’re selling that plasma TV?” “Nope.” “Hmm, I saw your ad on Craigslist.” “That wasn’t me. That was Ted.” Thirty solid seconds of silence follow. “Can I speak with Ted?” “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.” More silence. “I’ll go get him.” A very long silence follows. You begin to suspect that everyone on the premises on the other end of the phone has died. More time passes. You begin to suspect that you have died. Finally, a voice comes on the line. “Hang on, I gotta wipe the crankcase grease off my arms.” More waiting during which you hear what you can only imagine is the sound of crankcase grease being wiped off of the arms of someone named Ted. “All righty, what can I do you for?” “You’re selling that plasma TV?” “Yep.” “Great—” “But I sold it. I got a minibike I’m selling, though. It doesn’t work. Just want to tell you that up front.”

Still, you can get lucky and save some money. You could also go the eBay route, which at least has seller ratings to help you avoid a lot of problems. Most sellers are savvy enough to include pictures, which makes it easy to steer clear of those who feel no compunction about posting a photo of their television being used opposite a sawhorse to prop up the birch-bark canoe they’re currently building in their living room. A fastidious seller takes care to light and frame his photos for the most flattering presentation. Caution should be exercised with those who snap wide pictures and fail to crop out their grandfather sitting in his boxer shorts sipping from a tumbler of Ancient Age and sporting a yellowed back brace. I also tend to avoid those who use 38-point flashing purple cartoon fonts in their product descriptions. But I admit that’s just my own aesthetic prejudice. I figure that buying their product would only encourage more monstrous choices in the future, e.g., large animated cat GIFs or the playing of a MIDI version of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

If you would rather avoid these annoyances, you can of course buy new from hundreds of online retailers, but even here the choices are not clear-cut. Major, trusted retailers tend to crowd around a certain price point. If you want to knock that down a little, you’ll find yourself having to troll around, well, less traveled sites. Sites with names like, whose staff photos look suspiciously like they were pulled at random from the People at Work section of a budget-priced stock photo collection. Suggestions of clean, well lit warehouses staffed by friendly, competent, and knowledgeable folks can’t quell your suspicions that the reality involves gray goods offloaded at the docks in the dark of night, along with crates of acai berries and Chinese herbal Viagra. That the friendly operators standing by to take your call are in reality one guy in a cramped apartment in Newark who mutes his phone every so often and bangs on the wall in an attempt to stop his neighbor from yelling so loudly during Judge Judy.

Of course, you can always shop the various gigantic warehouse stores that often discount older models or overstocks—so good deals can be had. As a bonus, you can also score a barrel of Tums and a pallet-load of surprisingly non-scratchy two-ply toilet paper while you’re there.

I write all this as a way of steeling myself for the task at hand, for, yes, I’m living without a TV at home. Sure, I have plenty of them at work, but people tend to look at you funny when you settle in with a martini to watch a movie at the office. And, yes, I feel that mixture of excitement and anxiety, but I take comfort in the fact that I have the ultimate trump card: I can always not buy a TV.

Ah, who the hell am I trying to kid? I’m going out to get it right now. I’ll let you know how it turns out.