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What Ever Happened To Quality? 11 December 2002 Edition
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A very wise person once introduced me to the old saying "quality is remembered long after price is forgotten" -- and for a long time I found this to be very true.

Over the past 20-30 years I've tried to buy quality products whenever my budget allows and, until recently, I've been rewarded with things that have offered good performance and a long life.

I could tell you about the 14-inch NEC colour TV that ran flawlessly for over 14 years before I gave it away to a needy cause -- or the top-end Sony VCR that ran perfectly (and almost continuously) for almost 10 years, providing recordings of superb quality.

Then there's the PC I have sitting here which I bought in 1991 and which has only ever required a new power switch and fan, despite having been used every single day.

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But something has happened recently that is shaking my faith in the concept of paying a little more in the expectation of receiving a quality product in return.

When my 1991 Sony VCR finally began acting up a couple of years ago I went out and bought a new one. Once again I bought a model from near the top of the Sony range and expected it would provide the same faithful service and high quality recording.

What a disappointment.

The picture quality was decidedly inferior to my old Sony VCR. Swapping it for a new replacement unit showed that this was obviously due to inferior design and not a fault with the particular unit I received.

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    What's worse, it developed a major fault just 18 months after purchase which rendered it useless (record and playback produce just a mess of lines and noise).

    Maybe I was just unlucky?

    Well I might be tempted to believe that, except that when I rang the Sony service centre, the nice tech I spoke to confirmed that the new models were neither as reliable, nor built to the same level of quality as the older units.

    But wait.. there's more.

    At the same time I bought my new VCR, I also bought a 29-inch Sony TV. Guess what?

    Yes, that's right, the other day it too developed a fault, and it's less than three years old.

    Having spoken with a number of other Sony users it seems as if my experiences with this formerly excellent brand are not unique -- they have also experienced an unacceptably high rate of failure and disappointing levels of performance with everything from VCRs and TVs to the company's VAIO laptops.

    But Sony don't appear to be the only company affected by this general decline in standards.

    I've been through three Nokia cellphones in the past three years. The aerial on one jammed, the other actually fell apart because the screws holding it together worked lose and fell out, and the third just died.

    To make things worse, much of today's consumer electronics is considered "disposable" rather than repairable.

    The cost, and often poor availability of spare parts, combined with high labour rates means it's often just cheaper to buy a new VCR, TV or cellphone than it is to have the old one repaired. For example, one person on a local newsgroup claims they were quoted $800 to have a computer monitor repaired and two thirds of that price was for parts.

    So it looks as if, in today's highly competitive market, manufacturers are setting out to grab the eye of customers by inventing a never-ending list of acronyms and technobable-terminology rather than focusing on the design and construction of good solid products.

    Just look at what Sony's marketing department alone have "invented":

    There's WEGA, BBE, DBFB, Intelligent Volume, Intelligent Picture, DTE, VCWM, Basso Speaker System, Truesurroundsound SRS, etc, etc...

    Did you notice the lack of the terms "reliability" and "good solid performance" amongst that list of geek-speak?

    Is it that people no longer buy on quality but on the length of the feature-list perhaps?

    Or is it that in times-past, people twigged to the fact that modern electronics were pretty reliable so those "extended warranties" were just a waste of money. To address this, perhaps the manufacturers have built crappier products with a view to forcing people to take these warranties or face having to toss their TV, VCR and other appliances at 2-3 yearly intervals.

    Whatever the reason, I've changed my buying habits.

    I used to be an avid Sony user but now I'm happy to spend a lot less and have resigned myself to the fact that no matter what I buy, it's not going to last.

    That's the tack I took when I bought my Mizuda DVD player (Reviewed) from Woolworths a few months back. So far it's going just fine and even if it spits the dummy in a year from now I will have still gotten great value for money.

    How about you? Have you experienced a similar decline in the quality and reliability of modern consumer electronics? Have you found that high repair costs have them into throw-away items?

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