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Cybernaut 14.19

When to jump

Nobody has ever done a real study to see how much the average person spends on technology these days, but once the basics are covered — housing, food and transportation — it’s probably a safe bet that technology accounts for a significant chunk of whatever discretionary income we have left.

Televisions and computers remain huge purchases for most people, requiring much hemming and hawing at the electronics store. Lump in cell phones, cordless home phones, video game consoles, digital video recorders, personal video recorders, digital cameras, music players, and other gadgets, and the costs can be high. The added cost of maintaining an Internet connection, digital cable or satellite (with or without high-definition) and a cell phone plan also have a monthly impact on our bank accounts.

There are ways to reduce those costs, but the key is knowing what, and when, to buy.

The longer you wait before buying a technology, the less it will cost. But, the longer you wait, the less time you have to enjoy the gadget before it becomes obsolete.

It’s this line of thinking that has kept me from buying an iPod. I was all set to buy in more than three years ago when I heard about the colour screens. Then the colour screens came out, but I heard about the full screen model with a built-in phone. Now the phone is coming out and there are rumours of a full-screen iPod with FM radio and voice recording — the latter being a necessity of my job. At the same time Apple’s competition is getting better and better at what they do, offering cheaper and more capable players — most of which won’t play music and video downloaded from iTunes, which is kind of a “must” for me.

I’m also playing the waiting game with game consoles. When the Xbox 360 came out, I decided to wait and see what the Wii and PS3 looked like before making a decision. Now, firmly convinced that the 360 is the way to go, I decided again to wait for a rumoured version of the console with built-in wireless, a larger hard drive and HDMI port. That version came out last week, without the built-in wireless, but now I’m waiting for a version to come out this summer with 65 nanometre circuitry that will consume less energy and run cooler and quieter. Now I hear Microsoft is upgrading the video card to 65 nm in the fall.

If I wait until November to buy, future promised upgrades notwithstanding, the system will be two years old. If the lifespan of a console is five years, as Microsoft has suggested, I’m cutting things close.

Knowing when to buy is tricky.

I researched high-def televisions exhaustively and came to the conclusion that the best option was a LCD television good for broadcasting 1080i. Less than a year later I’m wondering if I should have waited until the price point for 1080p-capable televisions came down, given the fact that all next generation consoles and disk players will either be shown or upscaled to the 1080p standard. The television I bought is a long way from being obsolete, but I’m also a far cry from being state of the art. Not that I could ever afford to live in that state, but it’s nice to know a shclub like me can at least live in the neighbourhood.

Over the years I’ve learned a few lessons on when to buy.

1. Never buy the first generation of anything. It’s usually expensive, can be buggy, and is never really all that compatible with anything else. For example, high-definition televisions have actually been around since the 1980s, but until the major networks got on board in the last few years there really wasn’t much point.

2. Never buy anything until you’ve read the reviews. Thanks to websites like Cnet ( ), Engadget ( ), Gadgetmania ( ), and other sites, qualified reviewers will actually take a technology apart and evaluate every last component.

3. Take it for a test drive. Any electronics store selling high definition televisions should be broadcasting movies in high definition to see the system at its best, but should also let you see how regular television would look. One of the biggest shocks I got with my new television was how crappy analog quality stations look.

4. Get a guarantee. Usually it’s a year for parts and service, but you can sometimes go for longer at no extra charge. Also make sure your store has a money back guarantee for at least 30 days — you never really know until you get something home if you really want it, or whether it works with your other technology.

5. Research ahead. Don’t buy anything, computers especially, without looking what’s coming down the pipe in the immediate future. For example, if you want to know about iPods or whether to buy a new Mac computer sooner or later, visit sites like or to get some idea what’s coming down the pipe. It drives tech companies insane, but these sites are right a lot of the time.