No Place to Hide

Just in case you haven't noticed, let me point out that the Web has changed everything, especially the way we get information. Do you need a satellite photo of your neighborhood? How about the name of a good dental hygienist in Anchorage? What was the patent number on Edison's phonograph? Need to know the name and birth date of the country's 24th first lady? With a little Web savvy, you can probably answer any of those questions within a minute. Terrific stuff.

Now, if you can, recall life before the Web. It was damned difficult to get a decent satellite photo of your neighbor's pool. Other tasks were routinely accomplished, but the idea of using a worldwide computer network to facilitate them would never have crossed our minds. For example, suppose you wanted to buy a TV or stereo receiver. You read magazines - like Sound & Vision's ancestors, Video and Stereo Review - and got some good ideas. Then you visited an A/V dealer and talked to Roger, the salesman. He steered you away from Video's recommendations and instead advised you to buy an Excelsior TV. He owned one himself, he assured you, and it was fantastic. So you bought one. It worked okay for a while, but then the picture got fuzzy. Oh, well. What can you do?

Today, you can still buy a TV using that old technique. But with the Web, the experience and its outcome can be a whole lot better. You start with Sound & Vision, of course, but this time you grab the manufacturer's URL and check out its Web site. You look at all the models and their specs to find one with the features you want. You also check out other manufacturers' Web sites and evaluate the competition.

digital horizons hmpgNext, check out and look at past reviews and articles. Does anything there change your mind? Let's suppose that the Titan looks like a good TV. From the same home page, go to the Forums, in this case, the HDTV and Display Devices forum. Lurk there, and you'll find a wealth of information. Many of the people who post messages are extremely knowledgeable and also very friendly. Ask their opinion of the Titan. You'll get a response.

Forum users might describe some of the pros and cons of the Titan and alert you to known issues. For example, you might learn that early in the production run, the set had quality-control problems, so you should steer away from sets with serial numbers lower than 12-6000. On the other hand, sets with serial numbers 22-xxxx come from a different factory that is notoriously funky. Stick with the sets that have 12-6000+ numbers.

Of course, remember that although these forums are moderated to a degree, the content is as unregulated as the hole in the ozone layer. You can expect to find postings ranging from the expert to the absurd. A print magazine has lots of editors checking facts and trying to stay objective, while a forum is an opinion page. Search through a forum's archive to read old postings and see who the regulars are. Soon you'll be able to tell which regulars actually know what they're talking about and which ones are cranks.