Sony hack is a warning we can’t ignore

9 Feb
Harry Tucker: "The Sony attack is a warning that our vulnerability goes well beyond losing a couple of movies that haven’t been released yet."

Harry Tucker: “The Sony attack is a warning that our vulnerability goes well beyond losing a couple of movies that haven’t been released yet.”

By Geoff Meeker

February 2, 2015 - The cyber attack on Sony’s web site made global headlines late in 2014, resulting in embarrassing email leaks for the electronics giant and postponement of the release of its movie, “The Interview”.

President Obama claimed that North Korea – which took offence to “The Interview” – was responsible for the hack, and that may well be the case.

As ridiculous as that situation was, it unmasks a serious problem we can’t afford to ignore. That’s according to Harry Tucker, a Wall Street strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect who provides guidance on both strategy and technology – including security.

While it may be tempting to blame the Sony hack on sloppy security or bad site maintenance, the truth is that all sites are vulnerable.

“Any web site can be hacked,” said Tucker, who hails from Bell Island and now lives in Alberta. “The NSA (National Security Agency), the CIA and other government sites in the U.S. and Canada have been hacked routinely. There is no such thing as a hack-proof site.”

Most web sites have an ‘air gap’ between their public face and the more sensitive, internal information at the back end but this does not make them hack proof, Tucker explained.

“Let’s say you have a site like Amazon, which connects to order fulfillment, credit processing and other applications. The very fact that you connect to all that because of the way you do business means you are always vulnerable.”

Then there are firewalls, which can also offer a false sense of security.

“A firewall works by blocking specific traffic on certain ports, only allowing authorized traffic in. But even with those, there are gaps. Sony had a firewall on their site and it didn’t matter. There are free utilities available on the web that can scan firewalls to see what ports are open. Some ports allow remote control of physical equipment and if a port is left open by accident, someone like me can come along and it doesn’t take long to get control of that infrastructure…”

There are common sense safeguards that can be applied, such as not connecting email systems to company web sites. “Sony made the classic mistake of connecting their email to everything else. The private emails of senior executives were accessible by channeling through the web site – that’s just ludicrous.”

The biggest concern with the Sony hack is not a bunch of leaked emails or the postponement of a movie release, Tucker said.

“Here’s the issue, and this issue matters. Every week, somebody important… in the U.S. government has issued a warning that our infrastructure, utilities and defense systems are vulnerable to cyber attack. So the Sony attack is a warning that our vulnerability goes well beyond losing a couple of movies that haven’t been released yet. There is a dark warning in this that people aren’t paying attention to and that warning is, if a country like North Korea ever successfully invades our power distribution system, for example, they can turn the U.S. off.”

You may be skeptical about that. A lot of people are. After all, how could a dysfunctional and backward little country like North Korea bring the U.S. to its knees? It sounds, oddly enough, like a bad Hollywood comedy.

“When people say it can’t be done I can tell you, I’ve been to meetings with utilities for a while now who are trying to figure out how to shut down some issues they have internally. The utilities by their own private admission dread the day when someone gets in there and turns everything off. They are trying to figure out ways to prevent this, but the way our systems are all inter-connected (presents a challenge). Right now, according to military experts, it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.”

There can be no doubt that certain countries and extremist groups would like to launch such an attack. According to Tucker, we need to anticipate and prepare for it.

“There are 18 key infrastructures in the U.S. and 17 of them run on electricity,” he says. “So electricity is the holy grail of vulnerability. And right now, our entire distribution system is vulnerable to cyber attack. It’s just a question of who wants to do it. So the Sony stuff is in fact a warning. But we have to pay attention to it. We need to go back to our utilities and governments and hold them accountable and responsible. We need to ask them, ‘What are you doing about the things that matter to us?’”

How to get a close shave without getting skinned

5 Jan
The Harry’s shaving kit comes standard with a bottle of shaving gel but this is over-priced at $10. You can remove it from the shopping cart before making the purchase. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Harry’s shaving kit comes standard with a bottle of shaving gel but this is over-priced at $10. You can remove it from the shopping cart before making the purchase. (Geoff Meeker photo)

January 5, 2015 – According to some reports I’ve read, razor blades are one of the most popular targets of shoplifters – so much so that Shoppers Drug Mart keeps them behind the front counter.

And no wonder: a pack of eight brand-name razor cartridges at the drug store will set you back from $40 for the basic Gillette Fusion up to $48 for the fancier Fusion ProGlide Power.

That’s a lot of bucks, to scrape a bit of hair off your face. So this week, I’m here to save you some money on your manscaping… though women who use razors may pick up something useful here as well.

First of all, no matter what cartridge you use, you’re probably dumping it way too soon. Some think that little blue strip is a wear indicator and that the blade should be thrown away when it fades to white. This is not true. I use a cartridge for at least four weeks, throwing it away only when it becomes uncomfortable to use.

In the last year or so, a couple of upstarts have given the establishment guys at Gillette and Schick a run for their money, offering cheaper cartridges by mail order on a subscription basis.

The best known of these, the Dollar Shave Club (DSC), got its start with a funny and creative online ad that boosted the company’s fortunes by going viral (view it at dollarshaveclub.com). I’ve been tempted to sign up with DSC but the online reviews of the product have not been great, with many complaints about cheap materials and poor shave quality.

Then, my 22-year-old son announced that he had signed up with Harry’s, another blade subscription service (harrys.com). When the parcel arrived, he gave me one of the cartridges and lent me the razor to test shave quality and longevity of the blade.

That was on November 8 and I’ve been using it ever since. First, an important qualifier: I have a closely-trimmed beard and only shave my neck from the chin line down and part of my cheek, so wear on the blade would be less than with a full face of hair. On the other hand, the neck can be a troublesome zone to shave closely and comfortably so it was a rigorous test nonetheless.

I was impressed by the Harry’s product right from the get go. It delivered a clean, close and comfortable shave, with no cuts. There was a slight drag from the blade, a barely noticeable irritation caused, presumably, by a small amount of friction, though this was minimized by using a quality shaving gel.

I am still using that same blade, more than six weeks later. It’s not as sharp as when new, but still serviceable. And today, just for fun, I did a test shave using my old – and also well-used – Gillette Fusion razor and the Harry’s razor at the same time, alternating one with the other, stroke for stroke. There was no discernible difference between the two.

I decided then and there to sign up with Harry’s. To keep it simple, the company offers one standard shipment of eight cartridges for $15, which you can take monthly, every two months or every five months. By default, they add two cans of shaving cream to the offer but, at $8 per can, this is grossly over-priced – you can buy a good lubricant for much less at the drug store.

Really, the extra cans of foam are an attempt to upsell and make money on accessories. You can remove these from the cart before clicking the purchase button. I did include the razor handle as well for $10, so with shipping and taxes factored in the order came to $35 US. Going forward, it will cost me about $21 US every five months, which is about half the price of the Gillette cartridges. I’m sold.

You can also purchase after shave/moisturizer from Harry’s, at $10 for 1.7 ozs, but again, you’ll probably find cheaper by looking around. And after shave is a personal choice – you want to shop with your nose before settling on a brand. And if you want something really distinctive, check out the spicy, skin-soothing balms at Fogtown Barber.

If you’re looking for other ways to enhance the manscaping experience, I recommend purchasing a shaving brush and jar of shaving soap. You can get both for a one-time investment of roughly $25, but you will save bucks in the end, get a shave that feels good and send less garbage to the landfill. And if you really want the best, check out some of the high-end shaving accessories at Home on Water.

I will report back on the Harry’s product in several months, after I’ve had time to settle into the service.

 

Tech company is shaking up the taxi industry

8 Dec
The Uber.com web site (screen grab above) offers more information about their services, and the company’s apps can be downloaded on iTunes.

The Uber.com web site (screen grab above) offers more information about their services, and the company’s apps can be downloaded on iTunes.

December 8, 2014 – Perhaps you haven’t heard of Uber yet. If not, that will certainly change in 2015, as the company continues to expand into Canada – and quite possibly into Newfoundland.

Uber.com is a smartphone app and a taxi company rolled into one, in which private citizens turn their cars into unmarked taxis. Passengers download the free Uber app, enter a name, password and credit card number, and they’re ready to ride. Drivers download their own app, which has a built in meter for calculating fares.

When you hail a cab with the app, it locates your position instantly using the phone’s built-in GPS. The app then locates the Uber driver nearest you, showing that person’s rating (out of five stars) and you accept or reject the offer. You can see exactly where the driver is on a map, and observe their progress as your ride gets closer. The fees are lower than regular taxis and there is no cash transaction – fares are charged automatically to your credit card.

Uber is not a small start-up trying to gain traction, it is a global super-company with active operations in 250 cities in 21 countries and a market valuation of $40 billion.

Not surprisingly, the “old school” taxi companies don’t like Uber at all for a carload of reasons, most of them quite valid.

Uber taxis are available now in three Canadian cities – Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto – but their arrival was greeted with controversy and legal problems.

The key issue with Uber is the company’s refusal to comply with regulations governing the taxi industry in cities where they operate. The drivers are not screened as thoroughly as commercial taxi drivers, their training is sketchy at best and they have much less insurance coverage. There are also questions about safety: Are the cars inspected for mechanical condition? Is it wise to get into an unmarked car with a stranger?

In Ottawa, undercover enforcement officials have been hailing the cabs and handing out $650 tickets to the drivers – a penalty that is sure to make many think twice about staying on the road. Toronto has challenged Uber’s legality in court and the mayor of Montreal has declared the cabs illegal.

And really, who can blame them? Existing taxi drivers charge fares that in many cases are regulated, their cars undergo frequent inspections and their insurance costs are through the roof. Uber is ignoring all those regulations and under-cutting existing taxi companies.

Uber defends itself by saying they are not a taxi company, they are a technology company. Yes, indeed. Which is like saying that Domino’s is not a restaurant because you can order a pizza online. With this line, Uber is being too cute by half. They are a taxi company no matter how you slice it.

Uber’s expansion strategy focuses mainly on large cities with populations in the millions, but there are smaller cities there as well; cities like Burlington, Vermont with a population of about 200,000. It is quite conceivable that the company will move into St. John’s at some point. If that happens, how will the city react? I put that question to St. John’s City Councillor, Tom Hann, who sits on the city’s taxi committee.

“I took a quick look at it and I also asked our legal people to have a look at it,” Hann said, in an interview. “We haven’t heard anything about it coming to the city and want to learn a lot more about it, how it operates and so on. I asked them to look at other Canadian jurisdictions where (Uber) has happened…. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on in the rest of the country and taking a look at Uber’s setup and so on, and then figure out what to do. Because I think it would have a major impact on the taxi industry here.”

Hann has a number of concerns with how the company operates, safety of passenger and driver being chief among them.

“What kind of impact would it have on the lives of taxi drivers who put themselves out there every day servicing all demographics of the population? And how do you vet people so that they are safe and how do you know people who use the service are in a safe environment while they get from point A to point B? Technology or not, they are providing the same services that the taxi industry is doing but without the constraints and regulation that the taxi industry has. It’s going to be a complicated issue that the city had better be prepared for.”

The core of the issue is regulation. If Uber does get a foothold in this market, would the city consider deregulation of the taxi industry to level the playing field?

“The city would have to review its by laws if Uber should happen. It would create a situation for sure… But I don’t think deregulation would happen.”

Hann said he will raise the matter with the taxi committee at their next meeting.

A lawnmower that works on a go forward basis

10 Nov
The Honda self-propelled mower cuts a fine figure, even as it mulches the thickest of lawns.  (Geoff Meeker photos)

The Honda self-propelled mower cuts a fine figure, even as it mulches the thickest of lawns. (Geoff Meeker photos)

November 10, 2014 – After 10 years of reliable service my old Briggs & Stratton lawnmower finally bit the biscuit, sputtering and croaking right before my eyes. Suddenly, I was in the market for a new machine – and curious about how the technology has evolved over the last decade.

People had been telling me for some time that I needed a motor-propelled mower, so this moved to the top of my checklist.

Then a friend posted on Facebook that he was selling a new Honda HRR216 mower – purchased in May of this year for $650 – for substantially less than the showroom price. It had the motor-drive feature I was looking for and more, plus it’s a Honda… so I purchased it on the spot.

I obtained the mower in the fall so I haven’t used it extensively, but my first impressions are largely good.

I read the owner’s manual front to back before using the machine – you don’t want to mess around with lawn mowers, as they can do major damage and even kill you if used improperly.

The Honda started on the first pull. The motor drive is controlled by a thumb-manipulated lever that takes a little getting used to, because if you accelerate too quickly you almost have to run to catch up.

That said, it’s a pleasure to follow this baby around the yard while it does all the heavy lifting.

I prefer mulching the grass when I can because it saves time and deposits nutrients back into the soil. And I was intrigued by the “Micro-Cut” twin blade system, which features a smaller, apparently sharper blade mounted directly above the cutting blade, to shred the grass even more as it flies upward.

On my first use, the lawn had not been mowed in two weeks so it was quite dense in places. On my old machine I would have been forced to use the bagger, but the mulch setting on the Honda breezed through everything, including a light layer of leaves in the corner of the yard. At no time did the mower protest. Heck, I think you could mulch a field of ripe cabbage with this baby. (That’s a joke. Do not attempt this at home.)

One feature I like is the gas control switch, which allows you to drain fuel from the motor for long-term storage without having to wastefully suck the whole tank dry.

There are some downsides to the machine, most of them minor.

The mower weighs a hefty 90 lbs., which makes the motor propulsion a necessity – especially going up an embankment – and can be challenging on sharper inclines, such as the 40-degree downward slope that connects my property to the lot next door. I had to give the machine a running start boosted by a strong push to get it up the hill, and strong back and shoulders were needed to ease it back down. If you have a lot of steep hills on your property, a machine this heavy probably isn’t for you.

It’s also a bit of pain having to disengage the motor drive to more carefully approach trees, flowers, downspouts and other garden obstacles. Though it works exceptionally well, this mower is best suited to wide open, fairly level lawns with minimal obstructions.

The 5.5 horsepower motor and brand new blade makes for excellent cutting power that gives no quarter to any uneven ground you encounter. Little bumps in the yard are leveled to brown dirt instantly – not good for the lawn – so you need to be wary of such inconsistencies (especially if that bump is a rock).

Cause for concern: the drive belt that connects blade pulley to motor is completely exposed to flying debris inside the mower deck.

Cause for concern: the drive belt that connects blade pulley to motor is completely exposed to flying debris inside the mower deck.

I discovered my biggest concern with the mower when I flipped it up to check the undercarriage. The drive belt that connects the blade to the motor is clearly visible through a gap about eight inches wide, exposing it and the pulley to whatever is flying around inside the deck. Is this wise? We all know how grass pulp can accumulate, not to mention the flying twigs, rocks and other flotsam that might go flying up there.

I can only assume that Honda knows what it is doing; that they have studied the aerodynamics of spinning blades and flying debris in a closed compartment and can promise that nothing could possibly go wrong with this design.

To borrow a pompous political cliché, I will monitor the mower closely on a go forward basis.

 

Some small business survival tips

27 Oct

While this column is normally aimed at consumers, many of you are also small business owners – like me. As the owner of a downtown storefront and an ecommerce web site, I receive all kinds of sales pitches from vendors – some of them legitimate, others not so much. So this week, I offer some tips for you small business operators, including a scam alert, a rip-off service fee and a great office rental alternative. I expect regular folk will be interested in this as well.

Scam alerts

Last week, I received a call from ABC Marketing Solutions, advising that advertising space was available in a new, glossy magazine to be distributed at four golf courses in the St. John’s area. The magazine would target “high income, upscale households that appreciate and are willing to pay for quality products and services.” And the rates were quite reasonable, at $300 for a quarter-page to $700 for full.

However, my gut told me something was wrong. A quick Internet search showed several complaints about the company, but this is not conclusive. I sent an email to the four golf clubs named in the letter – Admiral’s Green, Bally Haly, Clovelly and GlenDenning – to ask if they had agreed to distribute the magazine. Three of them replied. None had ever heard of ABC Marketing, let alone agreed to circulate the magazine. “I just did a quick Google on it and your gut is right,” said one of the golf course reps. “It appears to be a scam marketing company.”

If you get a call from this company, I advise you to hang up with extreme prejudice.

Also, a short note about another sketchy crowd. A while back, I signed up for online advertising with Yellow Pages, which feeds geographic information to Google searches (and is a legitimate, useful service). Several weeks later, I received a call from “Global Tech,” offering to elevate search results for my business to the top ranking in Google. It was not a random call – they were using my web site for background information and the wording sounded similar to conversations I had had with the Yellow Pages people. However, when they said that I “pre-qualified” for the service and would now be transferred to a sales rep to discuss “available packages” I realized they were scammers, and hung up abruptly. A search revealed that Global Tech is infamous across the web as a company that indulges in a variety of scams. If you receive a call from them, hang up immediately.

Freaky fee

Since launching my jellybeanrow.com web site in 2007, I’ve been using the services of Moneris for online credit card processing. Last year, while developing a completely new site, I cast about for alternatives to Moneris (which is operated by Royal Bank of Canada). I discovered that Elavon, a service of Costco, charged substantially less than Moneris. I decided to make the switch.

This is when I discovered the bank fee to end all bank fees. At first, Moneris fought to keep my business – and fair enough – by offering more competitive rates. But when I formally advised them that I was moving on, I was told that a cancellation fee of $300 would be levied.

That’s right: three hundred dollars. To cancel an account that had been active for seven years. When I protested, the attendant advised me that Elavon’s cancellation fee was even higher, and I’d better ask about that before switching. A quick check, however, revealed that she was wrong – Elavon has no cancellation fee. None at all. But when advised of her error, the Moneris rep was unrepentant: the $300 would be charged.

By making it so expensive to cancel, Moneris is hoping that I will keep my business where it is. That, however, is a blatantly unfair tactic that frankly should be outlawed. It’s ridiculous and unacceptable. The best way to avoid this skulduggery, of course, is to give Moneris a pass because there are far more options out there now than there were in 2007.

Finding Common Ground

I used to joke that there are three challenges to working at home: the couch, the fridge and the TV. And while there are big advantages to a home-based business, most owners will eventually outgrow the basement and require a dedicated space of their own. Now there is an alternative that makes that transition both affordable and enjoyable. It’s Common Ground, a non-profit organization that offers comprehensive office services and more for small businesses and start-ups, for a nominal membership fee.

“Common Ground provides a fresh, community-based alternative to the way we ‘go to work’ in St. John’s,” said Executive Director, Jennifer Smith, in an email interview. “As a non-profit, social enterprise, Common Ground attracts a wide variety of people working independently on their projects and businesses in a shared, open-concept work environment. Common Ground is a hub for entrepreneurs, non-profits, freelancers, artists, remote workers and anyone looking for the freedom to work the way they want in a professional, fully-equipped space. For $250 per month members gain 24/7 access to desks, reliable wifi, meeting rooms, kitchen facilities, locker storage, unlimited coffee, a mailbox and the most exciting coworkers in the city!”

Smith added that Common Ground has done well in renting its private office space. “Our focus now is getting the word out there to people who are working from home, in coffee shops, traveling to St. John’s for business. We also have a $75 rate that’s great for those looking to work from a co-working space once a week.”

To find out more, visit workatcommonground.com.

 

Homemade cleaners that really work

13 Oct

By Geoff Meeker

October 13, 2014 – Regular readers of this column must think I’m a rampant consumer, on a perpetual buying binge for the latest appliance or technology bling.

And there may be some truth to that.

Not always, though. I’m also about finding the bargain and spending sensibly. So today’s column is about buying less, saving money and minimizing our impact on the environment. Because too often, we purchase household products that we could easily make ourselves; things that work as effectively as commercial preparations but with fewer, cheaper ingredients and virtually no toxic chemicals.

I have been reading stories on the Internet lately about these homemade concoctions. The younger folk call them “life hacks” while those of a more seasoned age might know them as Hints From Heloise.

This week I tried some of those hacks for myself – using only ingredients that are commonly found in the cupboard or pantry – beginning with an incredibly effective bug killer.

Wasp Whacker

When a wasp finds its way inside the home or office, my first course of action is to open a door and try to coax it back out. When that doesn’t work, extermination is usually Plan B. But any commercial bug killer that I’ve ever used doesn’t knock down the wasp right away – it just infuriates the insect, which then flies around in a blind rage before dying a slow death 10 minutes later. Years ago, I discovered a bug killer recipe that actually works better, costs less and doesn’t leave a cloud of noxious chemicals drifting about the house. In a spray bottle, combine two parts white vinegar with one part liquid dish detergent, then shake to mix. Wait for wasp to land on your window (to avoid getting the stuff on your food or upholstery) and hit it with one good spray. It will drop instantly and die within 20 seconds. This blend works equally well on other insects, including earwigs and house flies.

Drain cleaner

Have you ever noticed an objectionable odour rising from the sink, or water draining too slowly? Don’t reach for those brand names, with their powerful and highly toxic chemicals (which a plumber friend told me can actually corrode your plumbing). Instead, pour a cupful of baking soda down the drain, followed immediately with a cup of white vinegar. Plug the drain to force the bubbling action downward. Let the solution bubble away down there for at least 30 minutes. If the smell is particularly bad or the drain severely blocked, let it sit overnight. Then open the drain and let hot water flow for one full minute. Do this procedure once every two weeks to keep it clean and clear. This really worked for me – odours were eliminated and water drained more quickly.

No, this is not a solar eclipse (above). It’s an apple placed on the glass shelf of my fridge, to block the point source of light and better reveal the accumulated sludge. In the photo below, the shelf is completely clean thanks to a homemade solution of baking soda and water.

No, this is not a solar eclipse (above). It’s an apple placed on the glass shelf of my fridge, to block the point source of light and better reveal the accumulated sludge. In the photo below, the shelf is completely clean thanks to a homemade solution of baking soda and water.

ConsumerTech #179-pic 2

Kitchen cleaner

To clean counter tops, appliances and inside the refrigerator, combine four tbsp. of baking soda with four cups of warm water. (Actually, I used five tbsp. because the box had been open for a while.) This solution did a surprisingly good job cleaning inside the fridge, where the glass shelves were coated in a veneer of unidentified food spatters (check photos to see what I mean). They came clean in just a few wipes; much more quickly and effectively than water alone could achieve. I then used the solution on the sidewall beside the dishwasher door, where water doesn’t reach and food droppings are dried on like glue. Again, the guck was gone in just a few wipes. This stuff really does the job. However, I recommend buffing all cleaned areas with a damp paper towel to remove any baking soda residue.

Window cleaner

In a spray bottle, add four parts water and one part white vinegar, with 3 drops of liquid dish soap per cup of liquid. Shake, then use. I tried this on the kitchen window above the sink – a location that attracts spots the way my dog attracts sticky burrs – and it worked like a charm. Highly recommended.

Water flowed with greater force through this showerhead, thanks to a soak in pure vinegar. I had to improvise a means to keep the bag tight against the showerhead, because of its 9" diameter.

Water flowed with greater force through this showerhead, thanks to a soak in pure vinegar. I had to improvise a means to keep the bag tight against the showerhead, because of its 9″ diameter.

Shower head cleaner

Is your showerhead starting to plug up with hard water deposits? If so, place a cup or more of vinegar in a plastic bag and secure it around the head with an elastic band. Let it soak for an hour or so, making sure that the little holes are fully submerged. The vinegar will dissolve the deposits and get the shower flowing at full force. I own a Thunderhead showerhead which is as wide as a small plate so I improvised a method to secure the bag in place using a sheet of cardboard and four elastic bands. It did seem to work nicely for me, with a noticeably stronger flow of water on my next shower.

In a future column, I will research other household cleaners that call for slightly more exotic ingredients, the kind that require a trip to the hardware or natural products store. In the meantime, do you have any homemade concoctions that work exceptionally well? If so, please drop me a note (geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net) and I will compile some in a future column.

Price of 4K TV continues to drop; great buys to be had on plasma

29 Sep
The imminent death of plasma means prices are dropping into the basement. This 60" Samsung Smart TV (with 3D) can now be owned for $999.

The imminent death of plasma means prices are dropping into the basement. This 60″ Samsung Smart TV (with 3D) can now be owned for $999.

By Geoff Meeker

September 29, 2014 - What did I say? In my previous column about 4K high resolution TV, I suggested checking out the new technology at a relaxed pace because the price is going nowhere but down.

But even I didn’t expect it to drop this quickly. Last week, I touched base with David Budden at West End Electronics, who informed me that the price of the 65” 4K Panasonic will drop, from $4000 last week to less than $3000 on October 3 (the price will be $3300 with taxes in).

In case you missed it, I was completely blown away by the 65” 4K. It’s sharper than words can describe but, as noted in the review, is really most effective on larger screens. That is, the naked eye probably won’t discern the difference between regular 1080p and 4K on a screen of 50” or less – so there is no need to scrap your current set!

However, the October 3 price drop will make 4K that much more attractive for anyone who is currently in the market for a big widescreen TV. Be sure to see it for yourself before making a purchasing decision (and read my previous review to fully understand some of the challenges presented by 4K).

In case there was any question about whether 4K is here to stay, consider this: it has already caused the demise of plasma TV.

Yes, you can still buy them – and for some incredible prices, as you will soon see – but the days of plasma TV are suddenly numbered.

“What’s happening is, manufacturers cannot make a 4k plasma panel,” Budden explained. “The technology doesn’t allow it. The 4K technology makes the others obsolete… if you can’t make a 4k panel.”

Budden was quick to add that there is otherwise nothing wrong with plasma TV.

“We were certainly very large proponents of it ourselves. Almost everybody who works in the store owns a plasma TV, but the reality is if you can’t adjust to the new technology you’re going to disappear and that’s what is happening. Panasonic ended production of plasma last fall and Samsung will end their production in November of this year. That leaves one other brand, LG, that we don’t represent and I don’t know what their plans are. But if the two major players leave the market you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen.”

This may be bad news for plasma manufacturers but if you’re in the market for a new TV it’s cause for celebration, because prices on plasma are going into nosedive.

According to Budden, you can now purchase a 60” Samsung plasma smart TV – with 3D, no less – for just $999.

“That’s a ridiculous bargain. We sold everything we had last week after the price drop and have more coming now and apparently it’s going to stay at that price until they run out of inventory. If somebody needed to replace a TV now and they’re not prepared to make the jump to 4K, it’s an extremely attractive bargain, even compared to a 60 inch LED, which is closer to 2 grand for a good one… I would have no qualms recommending or owning a plasma myself. I do own one, and have for a number of years.”

These prices are not unique to West End Electronics. Check out the web sites of Future Shop, Best Buy and other electronics retailers and you will find similar price cuts across the board. There could be future price drops but bear in mind that inventory is limited.

Incidentally, the picture quality of plasma is considered by many to be superior to that of LED, with more accurate colour, better contrast, darker blacks and wider viewing angles.

Is it risky to purchase a sunset technology? Will there be parts and service available if a unit breaks down? Yes, according to the July edition of Consumer Reports magazine.

“The question… asked most frequently is whether someone buying a plasma TV this year should be nervous that they won’t be able to get the set repaired if something breaks,” wrote James Willcox. “Thankfully, TVs from major brands have been very reliable according to our annual surveys. And Samsung and LG are major brands that will continue to back up their sets with parts and service.”

So much to consider! I will soon be in the market for a new TV and must say, I’ve got my eye on that plasma. It would serve me well while I wait for broadcasters to catch up – and prices to fall further – on 4K.

 

 

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