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The Almighty Buck Hardware

The Hidden Costs of Bargain Electronics 689

Fill Dirt writes "Mike Langberg of Knight-Ridder newspapers wrote an interesting article on the the hidden costs of bargain priced consumer electronics. I saw it in the Seattle Times business section with the title Can't lose with bargain DVD player, but low cost carries price ."
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The Hidden Costs of Bargain Electronics

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  • Pollution? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grioghar ( 228683 ) <thegrio@@@gmail...com> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:19AM (#7871711) Homepage
    Seems to me the biggest thing is the pollution generated by these bargain electronics. If it's dirt cheap, then if it dies, you throw it away, you buy more dirt cheap.

    Not so good for our environment.
    • by Tirel ( 692085 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:22AM (#7871733)
      It all goes to China [washingtonpost.com], where it's disassembled by teens in makeshift tents looking for a quick way to earn a buck (and perhaps die because of the dangerous toxins in CRT screens.)

      Life is just grand, isn't it?
    • Re:Pollution? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cgranade ( 702534 ) <cgranade@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:29AM (#7871757) Homepage Journal
      Of course, the same argument can be made for many things. I have the same feeling about American cars... you're likely to have a Ford or GM last 5 years. Now, before everyone floods me about how "my truck has been around for 40 years," let me pre-emptively defend myself: 1) trucks are a little bit different still, 2) there are always exceptions (I have a friend who loves his CyberHome brand DVD player) and 3) well, 20 or 40 years is a long time removed from now.
      Getting back OT, it seems like the parent poster is right on, but I would extend this argument to a much larger scope of problems, and one that doesn't just affect China, but all nations.
      • There are very few products that are as recycable as automobiles.
        • Recycled cars (Score:3, Informative)

          by fm6 ( 162816 )
          If you think of a car in terms of the metals and plastics that make up 90% of its weight, then yeah, it's mostly recyclable. (Though I recall having trouble disposing of an old Buick back in '86, when there was a scrap metal glut.) But there's other stuff -- tires, brake pads, the exotic metals in you anti-smog muffler -- that are difficult to recycle.

          Tires are a particular problem -- 270 million tires are discarded every year. Except for truck tires, there's no market for retreads any more. Extracting the

      • by BigBlockMopar ( 191202 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @02:37PM (#7874161) Homepage

        Of course, the same argument can be made for many things. I have the same feeling about American cars... you're likely to have a Ford or GM last 5 years.

        For sure! The design is a little less "optimized" by finite element analysis than a typical Japanese car. Ever notice how a domestic car always feels heavier and more solid than a comparable Japanese model?

        I blame scientific calculators, CAD and finite element analysis for the whole feeling of "they don't build 'em like they used to".

        With a sliderule, you could only work to three or four significant figures. Every calculation, you'd have to round up forces and round down material strengths. As a result, your final design was always stronger and heavier than it "needed" to be.

        With scientific calculators which hold 12+ sig figs in memory - CAD, Matlab, etc. even more - the design can be optimized more. Finite element analysis allows the design to be broken into millions of almost infinitely small points and the forces on each one of those points can be analyzed in minutes or hours with a computer, a job which would have taken years with a sliderule. Armed with this knowledge, the manufacturer can use (thinner, cheaper) 22 gauge sheetmetal instead of the 20 gauge you would have chosen with sliderule calculations. The net effect is that the car/washing machine/VCR/whatever is cheaper to manufacture and cheaper to ship. If it's a car, this also translates into better acceleration and better gas mileage.

        But the problem is that the thinner sheetmetal and other heavily-optimized parts makes the design less forgiving of the real-world crap which occurs. A pair of jeans gets stuck under the washing machine's agitator. A videocassette gets jammed angrily into the VCR by a couple of kids who've just argued about what to watch. A guy takes his car to Home Depot and instructs the guy to put 600lbs of fertilizer bags into the trunk.

        Real world abuse is not considered in the optimization process. And as a result, the machine breaks.

        Now, before everyone floods me about how "my truck has been around for 40 years," let me pre-emptively defend myself: 1) trucks are a little bit different still,

        Less so. Full-frame American-made rear-wheel-drive cars (like the Caprice Classic and the Crown Vic) are made of box-section steel frames while pickups are generally C-channel steel frames with comparable gauge steel. The drivetrains are generally exactly the same. Real SUVs (like the Durango/Grand Cherokee, Blazer, Explorer, etc. in contrast to the silly little toys like the RAV-4 and the CR-V) are built similarly. In fact, the only reason I'd buy an SUV is because they don't make the Caprice Classic anymore.

        Having said that, if you take a wander through a wrecking yard, you might want to start looking at the cars there carefully. Take a very close look at the cars which don't have obvious accident damage - ie. the cars which were worn out. Wander around and note who built the car, the mileage and the year. Some of each will have had better owners than others. But if you take an average, you'll start to see a pattern emerging.

        Whatever it is, they don't build 'em like they used to. A new VCR may sell for $59, and you might be tempted to buy the $200 model from the same brand, reasoning that it will last longer. Flip open the cassette door and point the MAG light in there before you buy it. Typically, it'll use the same mechanism as its cheaper cousin - you're spending the $141 extra for software which enables a few more features.

        Washing machines? Mine's a 1954 Maytag [glowingplate.com]. When the spin bearing in the bottom finally let go after 49 years of cleaning dirty underwear, I took apart the transmission to see if it was worth rebuilding. There was no appreciable wear to any of the gear surfaces, etc. So I spent a couple of hundred bucks on bearings, gaskets, hoses and seals. Most of them were perfectly fine when I swapped 'em. I could have spent $147 on the Roper

        • Somewhat OT, but unibody cars are more rigid than full-frame cars. Full-frame cars are notorious for twisting and flopping around under stress. High-powered full frame cars need the frame "boxed" if they have C-shaped rails, which they usually do; A boxed frame is just a semi-monocoque design, though, where the load is transmitted to its skin, or in other words, a bad parody of unibody.

          This is why sports cars were amongst the earliest vehicles to go unibody. There are some exceptions, such as backbone-c

        • Armed with this knowledge, the manufacturer can use (thinner, cheaper) 22 gauge sheetmetal instead of the 20 gauge you would have chosen with sliderule calculations.

          This paticular bit is bullshit - the world has moved on - the crap sheetmetal of the past has been replaced by high strength low alloy steel. Since the stuff is a lot stronger, and really cheap (it's the same as the old stuff only cooled at a controlled rate - so stronger for around the same price if all else is the same), you don't need as mu

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:20AM (#7871717) Homepage
    All DVD players are now made in China, so there's no "Made in the U.S.A." option.
    • by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:19AM (#7872075)
      Denon manufactures DVD players in Fukushima, Japan. Linn manufactures DVD players in Scotland and Krell does so in Connecticut.

      So no, you can't waltz into Wal*Mart and find a non-chinese model, but if you truly do want to support labor standards with your purchases, you DO have choices. Of course, to purchase a DVD player manufactured by Krell in Connecticut, you will have to cough up $8000, not $80. The Scots will provide you with a Linn model for around $2200 and Japanese labor will produce a Denon for an average of around $800, with the cheapest being about $300.

      So, really, how dedicated are you to the cause?
  • cheap products (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oateater ( 593228 ) *
    This must be the same way a store like "Steve and Barry's" can sell all new clothes and the like for under $13(US). I never knew how it all worked, however..
  • Fatwallet (Score:5, Informative)

    by BoldAC ( 735721 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:22AM (#7871729)
    I have seen the real hidden costs of bargin equipment!

    As many great deals that I have found in fatwallet forums [fatwallet.com], I'll be damned that it seems I get more and more broke everytime I visit there...

    Of course, whenever my bookoo of rebate money rolls in, I'll be doing much better.

    Damn you fatwallet! :)

  • Apex... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lordfly ( 590616 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:23AM (#7871734) Homepage Journal
    Apex DVD players are junk... and so are Cyberhome, for that matter.

    I sell them at a national department store, and roughly 80% of them sold come back defective... usually the drive door breaks, or it eats a dvd, or the components come loose in the back.

    Not worth it. Spend 50 bucks and get a decent one.

    • Re:Apex... (Score:2, Informative)

      by BoldAC ( 735721 )
      I was a huge fan of apex DVDs previously. They were inexpensive and had ton of functions.

      However, it died. Dead as a doornail.

      Opening it up, I found several leaking transistors...

      My "n of 1" is that I agree. Cheap Apex DVDs suck.

    • Re:Apex... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajagci ( 737734 )
      I sell them at a national department store, and roughly 80% of them sold come back defective... I think you are making that up. Even if 100% of them were DOA, you wouldn't get 80% return rates--at those prices, half the people won't even bother driving back to the store. I am using a Cyberhome player (cheapest I could find) and have been happy with it. It seems to use the same drives everybody else is using and it plays everything I put into it just fine.
      • Re:Apex... (Score:3, Funny)

        by Bloodmoon1 ( 604793 )
        I personally will take back anything I have, no matter the cost of the item, if it breaks within its warrenty through no fault of my own.

        That being said, you grossly misunderestimate how cheap people are. Having worked many a shitty electronics retail job, I promise you, people will bring back anything that has broken if they think they have even the slightest chance of getting money/exchange/repair/anything.

        Doesn't matter if their DVD player (or anything else, for that matter) ran out of warrenty 3 year
    • Re:Apex... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Skuld-Chan ( 302449 )
      I still use my AD-660A (which I paid about a hundred bucks for - a deal at the time 3 year ago) - rarely it locks up when coming out of standby (I just switch it on and off) other than that it works like a top.
    • Very, very true. I worked at Circut City about 3 years ago, when a decent DVD player cost $200 and only had AV out. We had some Apex's for about $50 or $60. I would sell these to people, then the same people would bring them back within 2 weeks, maybe a month at most. One day I was back in receiving and one of the managers had a palette of Apex's stacked up and shrink wrapped. 7-10 boxs tall, 3 or 4 wide.

      Me: We got another shipment of these pieces of crap?

      Manager: Nope. These are all going back defective
      • Re:Apex... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WoTG ( 610710 )
        My first question would be, is Apex that bad, or does it look bad because of the volume?

        Apex gear sold like hotcakes... didn't they have about 1/3 of the DVD player market for a while? A palette of returned Apex's doesn't sound necesarily bad...

        FWIW, most folks I know have various off-brand DVD players. I've heard of few, if any problems.
    • It seems to me that the Apex players I've seen are more reliable than the Toshiba, Sony, and JVC players that seem to freeze on a lot of DVD's.
    • Re:Apex... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NotAnotherReboot ( 262125 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:05AM (#7871867)
      Oh, come now, 80%?

      I have dealt with a number of Apex players, and even have a Cyberhome player. All of them have functioned without problem.

      I have no doubt that a number of them will fail, but, I would be surprised if more than 10% of the total sold are returned defective. The idea is that you get it so cheap that if it does break after awhile, you can buy another and be at the same point. Odds are that the first won't break, and I would wager that the odds of both breaking before the time a player that costs twice as much is lower.

    • Re:Apex... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wrmrxxx ( 696969 )
      Quality mechanics are what really makes the difference between a good electronic product and crap. If you're going to buy cheap, this is where you'll feel it.

      DVD players, CD players, tape decks, hard drives and VCRs all have complicated mechanics as well as complicated electronics - but it is the mechanical parts that will fail first. Compared to a spinning metal shaft or moving piece of plastic, a transistor doesn't wear out or break down at all.
  • you can buy american, let the MPAA get their membership fee, and fund terrorism.
    • you can buy american, let the MPAA get their membership fee, and fund terrorism.
      You know, you pay US taxes on many imports, too. Oh, you meant the MPAA fee funds terrorism...
  • So True (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rhetoric ( 735114 ) <rhetoric AT columbus DOT rr DOT com> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:25AM (#7871741)
    (from the article) " If we all stopped buying DVD players tomorrow, conditions in China would probably get worse rather than better." And this folks, is where the real issues can be glimpsed.
    • Re:So True (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dandelion_wine ( 625330 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:18AM (#7871909) Journal
      Sad, but probably true. But then leaving an abusive lover could make things worse rather than better -- in the short term. Supporting an oppressive but stable status quo is always safer. That isn't a reason to not try for change.
    • Re:So True (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Afrosheen ( 42464 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:45AM (#7871979)
      That has to be the most insightful yet resigned statement I've read all year.

      Does this mean that if we buy MORE dvd players, the Chinese folks making them will have a better life? Maybe this is a rare instance where the opposite isn't true.

  • by Denyer ( 717613 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:25AM (#7871742)
    The only thing which will make a difference is legislation penalising companies which deal with off-shore producers who flout human rights.
  • that article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dandelion_wine ( 625330 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:27AM (#7871751) Journal
    was a strange mix of negative comments -- horrific near-slave working conditions in China, coupled with... no S-video output? Cause if it had the S-video connection, I'd be in there!

    Seriously, though, as we insist on human rights (never mind fair wages and conditions)as the basis for the entire world, not just our citizens (and not just out mid/upper classes), prices will go up. That's as it should be. We have arrived at a time of unprecedented purchasing power, and have done so at the cost of people we don't have to see or hear on a daily basis. No labour rallies in the streets or our factories, and no one (including my country, Canada) seems willing to cut ties with a powerful trade nation such as China over a little thing like human rights. As long as they're not crushing people with tanks, of course. That upsets the missus.
    • Choice quote : "Maybe, in the end, it's enough to be aware of what's happening behind the scenes as we enjoy this cornucopia of bargains."

      [Insert cynical comment here]
    • Re:that article (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 ) <[xptical] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:26AM (#7872094)
      Not sure about Canada, but the US got where it is today by:

      1. Stealing land from others.
      2. Using slave labour on that land.
      3. Cutting down the trees to drive the industrial revolution.
      4. Employing child labour to cheaply replace slaves.

      Now we want to bitch about other countries doing the same thing? If you LIVE in the US, you are partaking of the fruit made sweet by the sins of our fathers. Even if you are an ultra-PETA-Human Rights-hippie-on-a-reservation, you are still reaping the bounty made avalible from the deaths of countless slaves, children, trees, and animals.

      Leave the rest of the world alone you fucking hypocrites. Stop trying to be your brothers' keeper. Just live and be happy knowing full well that in several hundred years China will come arround to our way of thinking....Or maybe we to theirs.
      • Re:that article (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dandelion_wine ( 625330 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:40AM (#7872131) Journal
        I agree 100% with your first paragraph, but this is not (for me) about superiority in the marketplace, preventing equalization of an advantage that was certainly ill-gained. If you got that anywhere from my comments, I'd be surprised.

        I am, however, not a country, but a person. I am not responsible for what others have done, but I am responsible for what I do, and what a nifty way to avoid responsibility to say that we've done wrong and it would be hypocrisy to act now. I'm not talking about the U.S. bombing anybody. I'm talking about consumers making choices on the basis of something other than their wallet. For those people who have done wrong, it is never hypocrisy to admit mistakes and change, and in this case we're not talking about former slave owners. I'm sorry, but I don't inherit the guilt of my forefathers. I didn't choose to be born here any more than someone chose to be born in China, but that is the root of our responsibility toward change. We are a product of our times; I'm not saying that we in the age of exploration would have done so much better or kinder. But we can. TODAY.
        • Re:that article (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 ) <[xptical] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @08:19AM (#7872369)
          >I am not responsible for what others have done, but I am responsible for what I do

          I agree completely. But, the US got where it is today by slavery, child labour, pollution, and basicly just being dicks. If you live in the US, you are enjoying a lifestyle brought to you by these things.

          >I'm sorry, but I don't inherit the guilt of my forefathers.

          How can you inherit the good without the bad. You have to take it all. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your lifestyle. Just understand that the reason you are posting on /. is that it was brought to you by sins committed in the past.

          We cannot sit in out comfortable houses sipping our bottled water and reading /. and speak badly of people trying to get where we are by any means possible.
      • Re:that article (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SoupIsGood Food ( 1179 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @07:48AM (#7872293)
        This is a common misunderstanding... the same formula didn't work out too well for the Brazillians. Matter of fact, it didn't work out too well for us... the deep south, haven to slavery and the grossest theft of Native American lands was as close to a third-world backwater as you could find in the industrialized world until the past few decades.

        And, if you take a closer look at it, Germany, which didn't have any colonies until really late in the game and couldn't figure out how to exploit them, dominated Europe economically until the first world war, and was probably more than a match for the US on its own. It had no slaves or child labor, but an educated and well compensated working class.

        After the Unions took on the Gov't and corporate America to improve working conditions and wages across the board, productivity skyrocketed... we literally buried the fascist societies of the second world war with war materiel, and did so with a sorely depleted workforce as men were mustered to war.

        But apart and aside from that, your notion of ethics is peculiar. If it was wrong and evil for "our fathers" (even those of us whose fathers immigrated a generation or so ago) to get ahead using evil means, why is it now acceptable for others to do the same? If you don't find those tactics reprehensible, why bother complaining about them?

        We recognize what was done was wrong, and we now wish to make sure other people aren't victimized in the same way. This is not hypocracy, this is a coherent and rational ethical reaction completely consistent with our beliefs. Unless you believe that you should be punished for your father's crimes, which is unethical and hypocritical in and of itself.

        SoupIsGood Food
  • by ajagci ( 737734 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:28AM (#7871755)
    Yes, working conditions in China probably can be poor, even hazardous. But if the fashion industry is any indication, many of the more expensive items are made under similarly bad conditions. With electronics, often, the high price and low price items are just minor variations on the same design anyway.

    And what is the alternative? Do you think the Chinese that work in those shops are going to be any happier if you don't buy their products and they are out of a job? If they had an alternative, they'd probably take it.

    Europe and the US went through periods of horrendous exploitation and abysmal working conditions before workers demanded, and got, improvements. China will probably follow the same path if given a chance.
    • Europe and the US went through periods of horrendous exploitation and abysmal working conditions before workers demanded, and got, improvements. China will probably follow the same path if given a chance.

      Amen! Although I would say that the reason developed countries' workers received improvements is due to increased productivity; i.e. the workers were more valuable then the pitence that they were paid.

      Same thing should happen in China and other third world countries if the US, Canada and Europe give them a chance. The Chinese workers will gain some skills on the assembly line and then they'll protest for and get higher pay or better working conditions.

      Now before I get flamed for being naive or what not, I must point out that this is happening in the Chinese toy industry. Workers their have to master the skills to put together the current "hot" toy whether it is a Furby or an XBox. They've gained some skills in doing this and now they have better working conditions. The Economist had an article about this a couple of years ago.

  • by Richard M. Nixon ( 697603 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:30AM (#7871762) Homepage Journal
    Sometimes you get what you pay for, but you have to pay attention.

    One thing the article doesn't seem to mention is that it is usually the no-name less expensive DVD players that allow you to play other region DVDs.

    Is there a middle ground where you can get a cheaper DVD player that plays foreign DVDs, doesn't allow blocking of skipping commercials that some DVDs force you to watch, and is made with "fair-trade" labor practices?

    Being able to play PAL formats as well as divx cdrs would be nice too.

    Oh, and if you buy a cheap DVD player, or whatever, and it doesn't work then take it back.
  • by PRES_00 ( 657776 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:32AM (#7871768)
    Those "hidden" costs (strange, it says made in china on it) exist on most of the electronic appliances we buy. Why should we start worrying now? Even if it had that "made in USA" sticker on it, u might still miss the little disclaimer that says "with parts from -insert poor countrie's name here-. So, even that's not certain.

    I'm glad that digital stuff can reproduce media without any loss in quality due to hardware (compared to magnetic mediums).

    I would go even as far as encouraging China's non proprietary video format which can be played on royalty-free hardware thus lowering the price even more.

    Besides, all the big brand names in digital devices are Japanese. Isn't this outsourcing too?
  • You know.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by boomgopher ( 627124 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:37AM (#7871787) Journal
    Shit is so cheap these days, I actually feel bad when I shop now. I'd rather pay a lot more for niceties like DVD players knowing that they weren't built by slave labor. Workers in China are treated like shit, but what the hell do you do? Every damn thing you see is made there these days...

    Below is a response I recieved from the CEO of an american toy company I contacted after I read about the conditions of a factory used by them in China. It reeks of bullshit, but what can you say in response?:

    Dear Mr. XXXXX:

    We were very concerned to read your e-mail regarding some misinformation you
    may have received regarding our manufacturing practices.

    We are a global provider of game and toy brands for children, and the
    conditions under which our products are manufactured are a matter of serious
    and long-term concern to XXXX. We are committed to ensuring that our
    products are manufactured under safe, humane and non-exploitative

    In fact, as early as 1993, XXXX established its Global Business Ethics
    Principles ("Code of Conduct"). Participation in the XXXX program is
    mandatory for all of our suppliers and vendors. Among many important areas,
    the Code of Conduct governs:

    * child labor --no person younger than 15 or younger than the age for
    completing compulsory education in the country of manufacture (where such
    age is higher than fifteen) may be employed to produce XXXX products -- In
    China the minimum school age is 16;

    * working hours and compensation --employers must comply with all
    applicable wage and hour laws or, if prevailing industry wage standards are
    higher, then employers must comply with or exceed these standards --In
    China, minimum wages are set by province or by city, which may cause some
    confusion, when reported by those unfamiliar with the process.

    * forced, prison, or indentured labor --any person employed to produce
    XXXX products must be voluntarily employed, except that rehabilitative
    programs which provide for employment may be assessed by XXXX on a case by
    case basis;

    * health and safety --employers must operate facilities in a healthy
    and safe manner, including, but not limited to, providing fire prevention,
    first aid, and hazardous waste disposal;

    * abuse and discrimination --employers must treat employees with
    dignity and respect and shall not subject employees to abuse, cruel or
    unusual disciplinary practice, or discrimination;

    * freedom of association --employees have the right to choose (or not)
    to affiliate with legally sanctioned organizations without unlawful
    interference; and

    * monitoring by XXXX --XXXX has the right to conduct periodic
    on-site visits of working and living conditions, audit the production
    records and practices of the employers, and require employers to promptly
    address compliance issues or face termination by XXXX. Following initial
    audits to approve use of a factory, XXXX conducts unannounced follow-up

    As indicated above, XXXX's Code of Conduct clearly sets forth the
    standards under which vendors may manufacture XXXX products, with auditing
    and monitoring rights for XXXX. All factories located in the Far East
    manufacturing XXXX products are audited by XXXX and by independent firms
    hired by XXXX

    Over the years, XXXX has successfully worked with its manufacturers to
    correct any unacceptable practices discovered during the course of our
    audits. New factories must correct any audit findings before they are given
    any XXXX orders, and existing vendors must correct any findings within a
    specified time frame depending upon the severity of the issue. Although
    serious violations or failures to make corrections are rarely experienced,
    XXXX has in fact terminated vendors for failure to comply.

    XXXX has also been a leader in the worldwide toy industry as a member of
    the Toy Industry Association, Inc. ("TIA") and
  • The alternative... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:38AM (#7871790) Journal
    ...is to work in a rice paddy, and make under $1 per day.
  • by Qweezle ( 681365 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:40AM (#7871795) Journal
    There's something to be said for buying a name-brand DVD player at a respectably high price...I mean a good model over or around $100.

    While you could buy one of these cheaper DVD players, considering that it has fewer features anyway than the higher-end, and more expensive models, when it won't last long, why would you?

    It reminds me of the Mac vs. PC cost debate, because Macs need less overall maintenance and therefore end up being the same cost or cheaper than competing PCs.....

    So I say, go for a higher-end model from a name brand manufacturer like Sony, Philips, etc. and have something that you can enjoy for years(with much better support from the company and industry), instead of something that will work for a while and eventually break down after 6-12 months because of bad parts....that's not a nice thing to have happen.
    • I wouldn't buy a Sony. I used to buy their products until I realized they fell apart/were defective out-of-box at an alarming rate considering their price. I'd go with middle-of-the-road DVD players. My friends and I have Sanyo, Go-Video, Samsung, and recently, Daewoo, DVD players. We've had nothing but good results with them. If I wanted to go top-of-the-line, I'd probably go with Panasonic. IMHO, Sony isn't of a higher quality than the "Bargain" brands this article is about.
      I wouldn't buy an Apex or simil
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:40AM (#7871797)
    Maybe the average joe is fine getting their electronics at WalMart or Kmart or S-Mart or whatever... but some folks (like me) still want to go somewhere there are authorities.

    I mean, walk into a Future Shop and ask the minimum wage sales clerk what the difference between two $100 DVD players are and he'll spend 5 minutes studying the boxes, shrug and say "Uh. This one's better." "why?" "uh... it costs more?" or at best just read the features off the box.

    I'd rather go into a "mom and pop" or specialty store. Here in Toronto, we have places like Bay-Bloor radio (or in Hamilton, East Hamilton Radio). A little more expensive perhaps, but they really know their stuff - these guys read the manuals on their lunch breaks. And they'll ask you what brand and model your TV is and if you give them a figure, explain what model is the best bang for your buck... or if you'd be willing to spend the extra $50 you could get [brand X] and why its good. Oh, you only have [brand Q] stereo? Well perhaps not this, but this other model since your stereo can't make use of [feature F]
    • Tho just because it's a mom and pop doesn't mean you'll *necessarily* get any better value for your money.

      Example: A friend was shopping for a digital camera. She went to the local shop and was looking at an Olympus and a Pentax (which cost $100 more). The shop owner went on and on about how much better the Pentax was. A bit of independent research revealed that the Pentax was in fact a cheap HP camera body with a Pentax lens tacked on the front. Our conclusion was that the Pentax is a much more *profitabl
  • These days things move so fast that by the time you discover that you've bought a cheap piece of crap and noticed that its already getting flakey, the next generation of hardware is on the shelves and its time to buy a whole nuther one anyway.

    And if I were working in tech retail, that would be the moment that I would loudly go "*Ka-Ching!*" and make a downward yanking motion with my right fist.

    "Sorry, I can't see you over there, I have huge great dollar signs in my eyes".

  • What a lightweight piece. It tells us to beware of these hidden costs, with no facts to back that warning up. Then concludes by saying if we did pay attention to these hidden costs, conditions in China would get worse. Huh?

    If they could afford to pay the workers more, they'd probably move production up the chain to Singapore or Korea or Mexico or Canada or the US or Japan, depending on just how high those wages would be. China is probably not going to get those jobs unless the labor is as cheap as abso
  • The average consumer doesnt care they just want unit that plays dvds. and as far as the cheapies breaking in a couple years at there price pick it up throw it away and get another one. I love my Apex works great plays all region dvds and best of all if it breaks im I can get another one for sub 50 bucks.
  • technology will drive down labor costs. this goes back to david ricardo. if you buy the labor theory of value (ricardo and marx agreed here), fine. but that only works in labor intensive, agricultural economies. look at it this way: one, the number of people who can enjoy movies is significantly higher. two, the lower cost frees up capital for other areas. while they make low cost, low margin goods, we manufacture semiconductor chips and other high cost goods. three, with a greater distribution mark
  • by shakey_deal ( 602291 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:57AM (#7871841)
    Philips, which along with Sony and Pioneer has hundreds of patents covering all aspects of the DVD system, is administrating the granting of licences and the collection of royalties, which are then shared equally between the three manufacturers.

    The Dutch electronics giant has set up a dedicated website -- www.licensing.philips.com -- which features a list of licensed manufacturers from its licensee database. Philips maintains the website is kept up-to-date with the latest licensing information.

    A leading importer of DVD players, who asked not to be named, told ERT Weekly: "This is big news. We have found most low-cost DVD players do not hold the necessary licences.

    A Philips spokesman said: "There are a number of manufacturers that don't have the necessary licences.

    IIRC but cost of a licence is around $25.
    • I was going to post a comment on this very question. If they are unlicensed, is it not possible to ask the chains to stop selling them or sue them?

      Take a look at the licensing website of philips. There are 76 licensees of dvd players in china.
      Would it not be easy to spot the licensed and unlicensed players from their price difference itself?
      Take a look at this article-nytimes [nytimes.com].
    • I think the reason they don't have the necessary licences is due to them not qualifying for them rather than the cost of obtaining them.

      Found this little tidbit on the web
      pdf [soton.ac.uk]
      about another license that is needed to build dvd players. It says:

      In order to manufacture any sort of DVD related item, whether it be DVD discs (i.e. the movies) or the players (DVD Players or DVD-ROM's), the manufacturer must obtain a license from the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA). The DVD CCA is a non-profit organisati
  • by venicebeach ( 702856 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @04:58AM (#7871845) Homepage Journal
    But there are hidden costs. Horrific working conditions on assembly lines in China...

    And what makes slashdot so cheap are those barrels of trained elephants that make the homepages....

  • by robogun ( 466062 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:08AM (#7871878)
    From the article: First stop was the Fry's Electronics in Sunnyvale, Calif., shortly before 11 a.m., where I discovered early-bird shoppers already had snapped up the Mintek models at $26.99.

    Fry's stocks the loss leaders throughout the day. It pays to ask a clerk if there are more in the back (using the tone of voice that you KNOW there are more). Last week they had 250gb WD drives on sale for $149 after rebate ($219 OTD). Of course the shelf was empty when I got there. I asked the clerk and hung out 20 minutes, until he brought out four more from the back (spying the screen, I saw they had 140 units on hand).

    After burn-in (do NOT cut out the UPC for rebate until after burn in) I realized I had no way to back up a drive this size. So two days later I went back and got another, using the above process.

  • by Grimster ( 127581 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:10AM (#7871888) Homepage
    So the guy gives a small sum up of how capitalism works and then some vague unsubstantiated arguments that "oh well it'd just get worse" if we didn't buy cheap shit and then that's that.

    I don't buy a $30 dvd player, or $119 25 inch tv or a $299 computer expecting quality, I buy it because it's cheap. My 3 year old has a $39 AMW DVD player in his room, it plays dvd's on the 8 year old 27 inch tv I put in there (well 8 years ago I bought it used from a pawn shop, no clue how old it really is) and well, that's about it, if he slides a piece of cheese in there I'm not gonna get pissed about it and he doesn't need optical outputs or S Video or composite or progressive scan or none of that jazz, he wants to see Nemo in bright orange and Spongbob in yellow and he's happy as a clam. Down in the living room it's a Panasonic progressive scan with all the trimmings on a 57" Hitachi wide screem, neither of which are the cheapest (or most expensive) in their class.

    My wife's car is a nice mini van with high safety ratings leather seats, blah blah blah. She does a lot of running around and my kid is in there a lot as well, safety is a huge issue and I want them safe in a newish car that isn't likely to break down. My car is a 1997 Geo Tracker beer can on wheels, I put about 3K miles on it per year, I don't NEED a good car, I need a pos I can run to Staples in when I need some blank DVD's. If it breaks down I park it on the side of the road and call my wife on my cell to come get me.

    Do I or you need to be told that "cheap stuff tends to be cheap" and furthermore do I need to be told that "working conditions in China aren't good" and that "WalMart doesn't pay employees much"? Sheesh man use a little common sense, this is why #1 I only buy the cheap shit when I have a reason for buying it (as in letting a 3 year old watch DVD's in his room) #2 I am glad I don't live in China, and #3 I'm glad I don't work at WalMart.

    Still the part about the name brands and the off brands going down the same assembly line surprised me, oh wait, no it didn't, how many rebadged Lite-On CD's and BTC's marked as Creative or other "big name" brand does one need to see to realize it's often the same cheap shit under the hood?
  • Chinese economics (Score:5, Informative)

    by Leto-II ( 1509 ) <slashdot.4.tobye ... m ['rme' in gap]> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:15AM (#7871901)
    From the article:
    no assembly-line workers in China able to enter that country's growing middle class

    Yes, the companies hiring these people are really holding them back. Just imagine if they couldn't find a job how quickly they could join the growing middle class!

    Please, give me a break. The economy in China is completely different than what this 'journalist' is used to. The number of people living here just boggles the mind. I would say that over 90% of China's problems can be traced back to the fact that it's population is FAR too high. Too many people, not enough schools. Too many people, not enough jobs. Too many people, not enough land. If the workers had something past a middle school education, then yah, maybe they could enter the so called middle class. But they don't. Usually the workers are glad they have a job at all. If they don't want the job there's plenty of other people who would be glad to take their place.

    Even though their wage is well below the poverty line in the west, they usually have an average salary for the area they're living in. For instance, at the kindergaten I'm working at now the Chinese teachers get around $100-120 USD / month. The cleaning staff gets perhaps around $70-80, I forget exactly. And these are considered good wages for the job they are doing. Hell, I don't think there's a single person at the school who doesn't have a mobile (cell) phone! And remember this is in a large metropolitan Chinese city, not out in the country where most of the manufacturing plants are. The cost of living is even lower where most of the plants are.
  • by shadowcabbit ( 466253 ) * <cx AT thefurryone DOT net> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:19AM (#7871910) Journal
    Yes, I didn't invert the title-- it's practically impossible to get away from DVD drives nowadays. They're almost standard on new computers-- and really only a $20-$30 upgrade if you build your own or customize an existing setup, so most people who've bought computers within the last year or so has one. PS2s and XBox have capabilities to play DVDs, so if you're a gamer you probably have another player. Not to mention the fact that some TVs have them built-in (like the old TV/VCR combos, which are surprisingly popular of late). The odds are good, then, that any given American household has a DVD player of some sort.

    This raises an interesting point-- it's no wonder manufacturers are dropping the prices on their players to next to nothing; the market is saturated and people aren't likely to shell out $60+ on something "they already have".

    I did, in all fairness, pick up a DVD player (as opposed to my PS2 etc.) in May of last year, but only because it was a feature of the 5.1 stereo "receiver" (actually a bookshelf changer-type system) that was on clearance anyway ($200). If the system had been full-priced (about $400) I would have said "screw it" and gone with the $250, 5.1, non-DVD-playing system sitting next to it. Both were by Sony, and I think the DVD system is no longer being produced. The point is that with all the el-cheapo DVD players floating around, I still went with a name-brand because it was "included" with the other item I wanted.
  • by JRHelgeson ( 576325 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:26AM (#7871931) Homepage Journal
    Sony used to be renowned for the quality of every single device they produced. That is why, back in 1996 I shelled out nearly $1,000 for a then state-of-the-art Sony SVHS VCR. That thing still works as well today as it did when I bought it.

    The reason they had that level of quality was they pre-tested and stress tested each component that went into the production of their consumer electronics. They spent literally billions of dollars on test equipment from companies like Aetrium [aetrium.com] and others.

    As soon as Sony (and other electronics manufacturers as well) started seeing serious competetion coming from cheap Chinese imports, the easiest way to add to their bottom line was, among other things, to cut out the pre-testing.

    The failure rate of each individual electronic component is pretty small, but when you have several thousand components that go into a VCR or camcorder, each component having a .001% chance of failing, the combined failure rate of all the components amounts to 1-2%. Now, when a particular component fails, the unit may not die, but something marginal like picture quality will suffer.

    Sales at companies that sold test equipment plummeted - I know from personal experience.

    Nowadays, a Sony VCR is pretty much just as crappy as a cheap Chinese import. The premium you pay goes to marketing, product design and adding sometimes unique and hopefully useful features - which usually backfires and winds up being a bloated and unusable product.

    The lower cost leads to higher failure rates in a shorter time span, but now the technology has become disposable and it is not uncommon to replace these cheap items every 3-5 years instead of 5-7.

    Think about it: When was the last time you actually took an electronic item in for repair?

    I bought a camcorder last year. The tape handling sucks, it will casually eat the occasional tape. The batteries that came with it? Lets just say that I've had erections that have lasted longer. Its not a problem with the battery, but something about the unit is just sucking the juice.

    When I inquired about warranty repair I was told that the unit had a 90 DAY WARRANTY! And YES, it was purchased NEW, not a refurb. I was, needless to say, shocked - but what else should I expect from our new, disposable goods economy.

    • by Jarnis ( 266190 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:35AM (#7872119)
      EU is on the right track here;

      All durable goods (well, at least electronics, computers etc - I'm pretty sure it covers lots of other products as well) have 2 year 'warranty' pretty much required by law. Basically the law states that regardless of actual warranties given by the manufacturer/importer, the retailer is responsible for the product to last the expected life of such product. If it fails earlier, it's assumed that the product had a manufacturing and/or desing defect, and the consumer is entitled for a repair, replacement or (as the last resort), refund. For consumer electronics and computers this period has been translated to 'two years' - obiviously excluding such consummables as batteries, ink cartridges etc.

      Unsurprisingly not many retailers carry POS chinese 'no brand' crap, because if the manufacturer does not offer a solid 2-year warranty, the retailer will end up paying the replacements out of his own pocket. That, or they get blasted to bits by the consumer watchdog organization. So for manufacturers to do business in the EU area, they have to give 2-year warranty, or retailers won't stock their stuff.

      Which is good for the consumer, as you can realistically expect certain durability from the stuff you buy.

      Of course in the USA, your legislators could never pass such pro-consumer laws. The manufacturers would pay off any such attempts so they can keep churning out the cheap crap that is designed to last three months and then blow up.
    • I bought a Sony Grand Wega III LCD Rear Projection television this fall. Within a week it had failed, and as I learned on the AVS Forum ("GWIII buzz" thread, still active), many other people have had the same problem.

      At the current time nobody knows what's REALLY wrong with these sets, since Sony isn't saying -- their customer service people continue to deny problems and offer the typical scripted responses about unplugging, resetting or "normal" behavior (like degaussing, which an LCD set would never do.
  • I don't get him... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pe1chl ( 90186 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @05:47AM (#7871984)
    He states that the personel in those stores get absolutely low wages, that the DVD players they sell are too cheap, yet he is not informing himself when he buys one without S-video (I would not think S-video is good enough, get RGB instead!) and then he "returns it for a full refund".

    Now THAT I call cheap! The store already had to take a loss on it, and now he returns the whole unit, which will most likely not be sold again, and takes a refund. Of $32. Sheesh...

    He also worries about patent licenses not being paid. Well, that is not a problem for the consumer, right? This is an issue between the manufacturer and the patent holder, and probably the law in China does not require the holder of a US patent to be paid by a Chinese manufacturing company.

    There is a market for high-end expensive stuff, for those that are prepared to pay too much, and there is a market for this kind of things.
    When you don't think so, then don't advocate a free market. It has lots of complications like this, but it seems to be the favorite of Americans.
  • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:09AM (#7872044)
    The worst thing of these cheap players is their lack of decent region locking. Unwitting consumers may be exposed to content from all over the world. This must stop immediately.
  • by openmtl ( 586918 ) <polarbear&btinternet,com> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:12AM (#7872056) Journal
    Pull apart a DVD. You'll find usual metals, plastics and components you'd expect in a high tech product. Reduce each of those parts to its raw materials and you'll find gold, copper, oil, iron, aluminum and a whole range of other more complex raw materials.

    These raw materials will have been abstracted from many parts of the world using a mixture of Japanese, European and US mining technology. Many of the companies would be US influenced even if its for geological technology (assaying, and other high tech geophysics fields like seismics, microgravity).

    The chips are probably fabricated in a plant that uses US technology even if its physically located in a cheaper country like Malaysia.

    Metal pressing plants maybe Japanese or Korean but stamping dies may be cut with tool bits from Europe using US origin CAM. You wouldn't know unless you looked at a specific plant but you can be certain that the computers were probably not Chinese and most precision machine tools are not Chinese.

    The semi/finished parts shipped from wherever to China using Korean or Japanese made ships. Flagged as Liberian or Panama using British officers but cheap locals. Ship runs on Saudi fuel traded out of Singapore using US made computers to settle transactions. Trucked from dockside to wherever in China and now its assembled in factories. The factory conditions may not be perfect by US middle class standards but its a job. That ship could equally easily drop off those parts in any country in South east Asia and the local truckers would be happy to transport those parts. Thats an important point !

    Assembled, boxed and shipped to US. Trucked from US (LA) dockside to transhipping warehouses, then to stores. All the way US labour used at US ports, trucks and warehouses. No one questions the LA dockers pay conditions !

    The author is just looking at one or two intermediate steps in the whole of the product life cycle in what looks like a political agenda. The whole system is tuned to shift the parts to any country at the drop of a tool. This is capitalism (well Adam Smith's form of competitive advantage) and it works because the alternatives have been repeatedly shown to not work. Eventually China will be too expensive and work will flow to even cheaper countries. Until that time you'll do a lot more harm by denying the Chinese labour force their cut because you don't feel you could stomach that work.

    He seems quite happy to try to export US labour laws into China but I imagine there would be a bit of a cry from him if Europeans tried to export EU labour laws to the US !

  • by Dolemite_the_Wiz ( 618862 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:22AM (#7872087) Journal
    If this reporter had done his research he would have known BEFORE entering the store wether or not S-Video or JPEG disc would have worked or not on the Cheap-O DVD Players.

    Let's take a look at the models he bought:

    1) AMW-S99


    Nope. I don't see S-Video mentioned here.

    2) Sylvania DVL 100C


    This PDF could have told you that JPEG discs can't be played.

    You get what you pay for. If you don't research the products before you buy, then it's your own fault.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:47AM (#7872143)

    I know that making sweeping generalizations based on no evidence whatsoever is a Slashdot tradition, so I take it with a grain of salt. But with worsening economic conditions in the US, it seems that we are seeing more and more resentful misinformation being repeated here. Sometimes it's India, sometimes it's China.

    Well, as it happens, I *live* in China. I'm American, and I've lived and worked all over the world. And frankly speaking, when you guys talk about China, 99% of the time you sound like complete and utter morons, or worse yet, complete and utter biggoted racist morons. It depends on the post.

    It seems, reading Slashdot (and other American news, too, actually, and even some European papers) that it's quite in vogue to bash China for a) illegally manipulating its currency, b) having slave-labor-like working conditions c) not respecting human rights.

    I'm not even going to get into the notion of illegal currency manipulation. As annoying as not being able to freely trade RMB is for me, living here, the currency is China's and they can do whatever the hell they want with it. It always amuses me when we Americans cry "international law", given our track record. International law? What international law? See Iraq. And don't give me an BS about the IMF. We are the IMF, and given the way we're currently being raped by China economically, if we wanted to pull aid or threaten pulling aid or anything like that, we could. That we haven't simply means that it's not in our best interest at this point in time. The only thing close to interational law in the world is the UN, and we've let everyone know in no uncertain terms how much we respect it as a governing body. Or then there's the international war crimes tribunal in the hague which we refuse to support for fear that an American might be brought to trial there. But I digress.

    As for slave labor, it's funny that my countrymen are so quick to forget their own history. I'm not even going to get into the actual, institutionalized slave labor that existed here. Let's look at paid workers. Back in the old days, when the US was the libertarian paradise that so many Slashdotters seem to want to go back to, we had child/slave labor, no minimum wage laws, sweat shops, no unions, etc, etc. We worked our butts off for almost no compensation and you can forget about a dental plan. Why? Because we were developing, but we called it something else -- the industrial revolution.

    Rich and poor were incredibly polarized then -- the days of the rich yeoman farmer were long behind us, and great cities of the US like New York were built on the sweat of the poor and the oppression of the working class. Deny it all you want, but that's how it was.

    Before some idiot starts spouting about how much more free than China the US is, take a good peek in your history books at what happened to the first union organizers in this country. Don't fool yourself, the US was then and is still a plutocracy, where the rich buy power and influence. It's sickening. Sure, we have rights, and I commend the spirit in which they were written, but ask any young African American being harassed by cops in the ghetto what sorts of rights he has.

    I used to be a rich little sniveling white boy growing up in the burbs of Silicon Valley, spouting Libertarian rhetoric and talking about how any one, given enough resolve, can work his way up in this great country of ours. And then I went and checked out how the other half lives. Let me tell you, it's not pretty. And the poor are born poor and they die poor, and that's the way of it. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't been there, or at least hasn't bothered to look at the statistics. Did you know that socialist europe has more class mobility than the US?

    China is dirt poor, but they are working their asses off to better themselves, just like we did. And one day, mark my words, they will be wealthy, just as we are. And the scarcity of resources on this planet will mean simply that

  • by James Youngman ( 3732 ) <jayNO@SPAMgnu.org> on Sunday January 04, 2004 @07:36AM (#7872259) Homepage
    The article states that all DVD players are constructed within China. Certainly mine was. However, there are some high-end manufacturers that assemble the final product outside China (no doubt at least partly from components manufactured inside China). Of these, the first one to come to mind is the legendary HiFi manufacturer, Linn (see this article about how their factory works [linn.co.uk]). Of course, that makes them much more expensive than the stuff assembled in China. Take for example their UNIDISK 2.1 player, which plays every disc format (e.g. CD, SACD, DVD-Audio) and could well be the best-sounding player available anywhere. But it costs $8064 (more if you want the silver finish) rather than $30.

    There are other UK manufacturers who almost certainly assemble their own DVD players. These include Arcam [arcam.co.uk] and Roksan [roksan.co.uk].

  • Blah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Julian Morrison ( 5575 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @10:41AM (#7872901)
    Just the usual leftist whining about sweatshops. When will people realise, sweatshops are how a developing economy bootstraps?

    Big Biz outsources to pesthole country X, paying locals much more than they could hope to earn from any local employer, even if it is only a few dollars a month. The locals save up, gain skills, gain reputation, and soon enough X isn't anymore a pesthole but a thriving hub of business, and the locals can raise prices. See the recent discussions of rising outsource costs in India.

    Globalization may "rush to the bottom" - but it quickly fills in that bottom. Making, I'll add, improvements that leftist redistribution consistently fails to do, and sweatshop-boycotts actively reverse!

    So I say again: blah.
  • by LuYu ( 519260 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @08:16PM (#7876556) Homepage Journal

    It seems from the article that the "hidden costs" that apply to the cheap models also apply to the expensive ones. The expensive ones are even manufactured in the same factories. So, even if one were to buy an expensive model, that extra money would just go into the pocket of the person owning the expensive label and "slave labor" would continue in China. Also, we all know that Walmart is never going to pay their employees better.

    In the end, the only ones that cost more are the ones with the higher price tag. Unless everyone buys expensive ones exclusively. Even then, it is more likely that such a practice will just lead the electronics companies to spend more money on trademark litigation in order to milk their brands for all they are worth.

    Low profit margins are a sign of a healthy capitalist market (as opposed to an unhealthy monopolist market) and strong competition.

User hostile.