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The 5 great myths of home electronics

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The 5 great myths of home electronics

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

I call them the five great myths of home electronics. They're assumptions that many people make, and they're all untrue.

The first is the belief that you can buy an American-made videocassette recorder.

Every single VCR sold in this country is made overseas. Many come from Japan, but many others are made in South Korea, Taiwan or other countries in the so-called Pacific Rim.

Some VCRs have American-sounding brand names, such as Sylvania and RCA, but they're imported like all the others.

And that brings me to the second myth. It's the belief that American companies still sell the best home electronics products.

The problem with this assumption is that nearly all the major American companies that make such things as TVs and VCRs are not American any more. They're owned by the Japanese or by the Europeans.

Here's a sampling. RCA's electronics business is owned by a French company. So's General Electric's. Quasar is Japanese. Sylvania is Dutch, as is Magnavox.

In fact, the only major American company left in the TV and VCR business is Zenith, and it could be bought up by foreigners before long.

The third myth has to do with computers. It says the best kind of computer to buy is an IBM compatible, because it's the kind used in offices (or in schools, in a variation on this myth).

The fact is that IBM compatibles are crippled by an oversight in the original design. All IBM-compatible PCs, even the latest and most powerful versions, have to adhere to that original design. There's no way to get around it.

Yes, most office computers are IBM compatibles, but that's not because they are better. Until recently, IBM compatibles were cheaper than the major alternative, the Apple Macintosh, and that was a powerful inducement to stick with the old design.

The fourth myth is that you can get more life out of your electronic devices if you turn them off when they're not in use. Makes sense, right? No, not really. If you're going to use them at least once a day, it makes sense to keep modern electronic devices on all the time. They'll last longer this way; the single biggest source of failure for an electronic circuit is the jolt of electricity it gets when it is turned on.

Most home electronic components don't use much power, and so the added cost to the electric bill is smaller than the cost of fixing or replacing the item when it goes bad.

The only exception to this rule is a large TV set (with a bigger screen than 25 inches, let's say), which soaks up a lot of electricity. Big TVs should be turned off when they're not in use.

The fifth myth is that money counts — that more expensive compact disc players or videotapes, for example, are better than the ones that don't cost much.

In the case of CD players, the cheap ones often sound just as good as the expensive models. The reason is simple: These days, with all the improvements in electronic design, it's relatively easy to make a digital-audio device that works properly. More money may get you more features, but it probably won't get you better sound.

In the example of videotapes, even the cheapest tapes from established manufacturers are made to very high standards. Those standards usually ensure that the tapes perform better than nearly all the VCRs they're used on.

That's my list. If you have your own, send it along. Myth-slaying is a sport we can all share.

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