Disposable TVs – the relentless feature stuffing to make TVs obsolete


Disposable TVs are the result of TV makers trying to make you feel inferior if you don’t have the latest. Oh, you don’t have Dolby Atmos 24.1.10? Poor you – part of the disadvantaged digital divide.

A TV used to last 10 years or more. Industry research shows that if it breaks outside warranty, you throw it out and get a new one. No more repairs!

The average life of a TV these days is under five years. Yes, the TV may physically last longer, but who wants to watch something old and inferior?

CableCompare.com has an interesting article on the price/feature equation. A 50” 4K TV today costs the same as a 26” CRT did in 2000. A 48” Plasma in 2005 cost around $10,000, and today you can get a 100” premium 8K TV for about that.

Disposable TVs is about manipulating desire, not need

The introduction of colour TV to Australia in the 70’s caused a massive demand-led price spike. I started with a 20” 480p, 4:3 Rank Arena (because it was cheap at around $1000 and a Philips was twice that price). That whetted my appetite, and it soon became a bedroom TV because it was just not quite enough for lounge room viewing pleasure.

I was a Panasonic fan way back when CRT TVs ruled. Panasonic was the first with an almost flat screen 26”1080p 4:3 TV and cost over $5,000 in the mid-80s. That was good and lasted over 20 years.

Now Plasma beckoned. I paid $10,000 for an early (circa 2000) Panasonic 42” 1080p, 16:9 flat-screen – heaven. It was bright at about 300 nits with a contrast of 20,000:1. Screen refresh was 10Hz (most current TVs range from 50-100Hz). And boy did it eat power – 400W per hour!

But since then, replacement TVs have been on a distinct downwards price slide. The Plasma was replaced with a premium 55” 1080p, 16:9 Sony LCD in 2005 that cost $6000. That became a bedroom TV (and is still going strong).

In 2017 I succumbed to fourth-generation LG 55” 4K OLED at about $5000. That TV is still going strong but was lacking a few later TV smarts. So in 2020 a new 65” 4K Sony Master OLED took viewing pride-of-place and cost under $4000.

Do I expect 10, 15, 20 years of life from these?

No. The lure of 8K beckons and new content video and audio technologies will probably see it moved to a bedroom TV in about 4-5 years.

I digress – 90% of you buy low-cost disposable TVs

Today you can get a cheap 65” 4K smart TV for under $700 – even less on run-out model changes. Even the major TV makers have 4K models from about $1000. Of course, these are the built to a price – edge-lit, low nits and contrast, and forget about HDR, let alone Dolby Vision or Atmos.

Disposable TVs

Australian consumer law states that the product must be fit for purpose and expected to last for a period commensurate with the price paid. There has been a lot of argument between TV makers and the ACCC about that. As a rule of thumb, a cheap 4K TV has a 12-months warranty, and no mandatory requirement to be repairable, let alone keep spare parts for 5-10 years as in the automotive industry. Brand name TVs usually offer 2-year warranty.

In 2012 Vivio US was bold enough to state that its TVs were not repairable and offered a refurbished, recertified swap warranty for 12-months. Repairability has been all downhill since. All other cheap TV vendors have followed suit.

Why disposable TVs?

Because the price has hit almost rock bottom. A generic 65” edge-lit panel costs about US$250. The electronics cost under $50 and are increasingly becoming part of an even cheaper single-chip motherboard. In Aussie dollar terms, that means a landed cost of around $400. Add distribution costs, marketing and retailer profit, and you reach that $700 price point.

Cable Compare found that far more feature-rich (feature stuffing) TVs are about 20% lower than a 2000 TV. And if you were to an average US inflation of 6.57% into account, that 20% figure is far more.

Disposable TVs. Compare Cable

TV manufacturers are inventing new marketing terms to make you uncomfortable with your current TV.

disposable TVs
Not focusing on Samsung but they have been very active in bringing out new ‘must have’ models.

We reveal these in our New TV Technology to confuse you – clear explanation here guide.

Essentially the push is to disposable TVs

  • 8K will drop to 4K prices over the next few years
  • TV content will increasingly move to over IP (internet)
  • Dolby Vision will move to the next stage, making current sets a ‘less than optimal’ viewing experience for videophiles
  • HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) free-to-air TV transmission will require tuner support.
  • IMAX certification for IMAX content – yes, a real must-have!
  • Dolby Atmos will ramp up from 5.1.2 to as high as 24.1.10, again prompting audiophile listening envy and making current Dolby Atmos TV decoders obsolete
  • New audio codecs replacing PCM 1.0 and 2.0 making old TVs obsolete
  • New TVs will support 8K torrents (on the TV) to download high bandwidth 8K from approved streamers like Netflix. That means integrated storage and secure torrent providers.
  • Widevine Digital Rights management certification will expand and tighten to prevent piracy on new TVs. This means that it will block playback of DHCP stripped movie content from media centre PCs.
  • New interactive content (think exercise coaching) will enable viewers to participate in the show. Samsung is experimenting with its S-Health app on the TV and smartphone. This could include Augmented reality and maybe virtual reality.
  • More smart-home hub integration and making the TV the default video telephone
  • The TV will become the centre of the universe as the on-and-off ramp for all internet services. You will use their voice assistants to pay bills, make shopping lists, remind you of events, deliver daily newspapers and an ever changing diet of curated art when not in use.
  • While the  TV set prices reduce, it will cost a lot more to get content!
  • New shoppable TV where viewers can buy on demand Blacklist Raymond Reddington’s Victory 58 Golden coloured Sunglasses by luxury eyeglasses brand Oliver Peoples. This requires a more sophisticated TV processor and secure internet.
disposable TVs
Hint to the wife for my birthday present

The future is a battle ground on both hardware and content

Deloitte has a series of four shot (<2 minutes) future TV outcomes below. I hope scenario 3 – ‘Revenge of the broadcasters’ is the outcome because it is the only one where our privacy is protected.