At the Trailing Edge: Trading Glamour for Value

Cheap, or frugal? It’s an enduring question, one that is discussed far too seldom in AV fandom circles, where $500-per-foot cabling and six-figure loudspeakers not only are not reflexively laughed to the curb, but actively, longingly pursued.

My answer: Yes. The shoe fits and I’m wearing it, on its seventh re-sole. My newest car is 9 years old. My newest motorcycle is 25 years old (I put about 3,000 mile per year on that one). My newest guitar is 17 years old, and my oldest one (my favorite by far) is just 9 years younger than me, which I’m not telling. Even my smartphone is, depending on how you count, two or three generations behind.

So when my long-serving, circa-2007 Samsung 52-incher coughed up its power-supply capacitors for the third time, I cried basta! and went shopping. (It’s not the de-soldering and replacing of a handful of miniature caps, on a circuit board designed to be populated by robotic wave-soldering machines rather than humans, that daunted me; it was the eleventy-seven various-length screws holding the damned spinnaker-sized rear cover that did the trick. I’m pretty sure I stripped at least three of them last time around. Basta!)

Thus ensued many happy hours of delving the inter-webs for the best TV at the best deal. Sure, I’d have loved a 65-inch OLED LG—who wouldn’t? But even last-year’s, non-HDR models were well north of $1500, which is nearly 800 ramen noodle bowls: not happening. A 55-inch HDR Samsung—they seem to have upgraded their p.s. caps, finally—seemed a far more reasonable alternative, but was still in the 600-noodle range. Nuh-uh.

What I ultimately chose—what I always ultimately choose—was trailing-edge technology: yesterday’s tech, today! It’s not glamorous, it won’t get you a spread in Architectural Digest, and it won’t get you a date with Kendall Jenner. What it will get you is value. Real, demonstrable, edible value.

What I ultimately selected is a boring, quotidian, run-of-the-mill Chinese TV: a Vizio M55-C2. It’s 4K, it’s effectively zoned-backlit, and I actually paid my own money for it, retail, on the open market. (I’m ashamed to say I purchased it, a refurb, from big-W, breaking yet another moral vow of some standing. But it was only 300 noodle-bowls! Wally made me do it!)

What I ultimately chose—what I always ultimately choose—was trailing-edge technology: yesterday’s tech, today! It’s not glamorous and it won’t get you a date with Kendall Jenner. What it will get you is value.

And you know what? It’s the shizz. Two years ago Vizio’s M-Series was the toast of Vegas, a top pick of every rigorous review (including our own), and a game changer that put 4K into the retail flow almost single-handedly.

And it’s still a great TV. The 4K picture is tight, bright, and punchy, a demonstrable upgrade from 8 feet or less, the color gamut, even with only my seat-of-pants blue-film calibration is remarkably good, and the video dynamic range is damned impressive. The Vizio’s screen is three inches diagonally bigger than the Sammy it replaced, in a package several inches smaller in every dimension, and I could lift it up onto my wall-mount with ease by myself, something I could never accomplish with the too-heavy,too-wide Samsung. (Try lifting something heavy with your arms at full stretch: those muscles don’t get a lot of training. Mine, anyway.) It also turns on and makes a picture, first time and every time, even when it’s hot or humid, something its predecessor could not manage once its supply caps had aged in for a year or so.

Sure, it’s not HDR, which pains me when (if) I think of it. But then, neither is 99 percent of the program I view, or expect to view for a year or more. And in a moderately dim room, with the TV suitably tweaked to show its best, and no HDR screen on hand for comparison, what are the odds? I’ll tell you what: about 400 noodle-bowls, that’s what.

As to the faithful Samsung: Eventually I’ll get around to pulling it apart (again) and replacing those capacitors (again)—I still have a peanut-butter-jar of them around here somewhere—and pass it on to a music- or motorcycle- or poker-buddy. Sure, by then it’ll be seriously trailing-edge, but it’ll still be new to somebody.

pw's picture

Makes a lot of sense.. I but a new small DAC from HiFiMe, a cutting edge DAC for $50. I was looking at alternatives from $200 to $5000.. This was almost as good , is cutting edge and is so cheap that I can toss it and trade up at any time with no major financial loss. Sweet..