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Pogue on Gateway plasmas

If you’re not subscribing to the NYT’s Circuits e-mail list (free registration required), you’re missing out on some classic Pogue, who this week talks about Gateway’s big-screen plasma displays:

Cut to last week. I saw a TV ad for Gateway’s plasma flat-screen TV, trumpeting its success as the “Number 1 bestselling plasma in America.”

Well, duh — the thing costs $2,500 for a 42-inch model (after rebates). No wonder it’s so popular, considering that most 42-inch plasmas are white-hot even at $6,500.

So how does Gateway get away with it? As I wrote when I reviewed this screen last March, the Gateway TV’s are not, in fact, HDTV sets. “Instead of composing the picture from 1280 by 720 tiny square pixels, as a 42-inch HDTV screen does, these screens offer only 852 by 480 pixels, a lower resolution that the industry calls enhanced definition (EDTV). If you stand four inches from any plasma set, the coarse EDTV pixel grid does a convincing impression of a screen door.”

In short, Gateway is selling the cubic zirconia of plasma screens: a cheap imitation that will fool your family and friends. You’re getting all the status and that Bill-Gates’s-house chic of a plasma screen at less than half the price. Only you need to know that you didn’t actually bite the big bullet and blow the big bucks.
You know your computer company is in trouble when (a) you feature ads where you talk to a cow, and the cow talks back, and (b) when you have to move beyond selling computers to selling lame plasma displays that aren’t as good as the real thing. To quote Michael Dull from about five years ago, “If I were in charge, I’d shut it down and give the money to the shareholders.”