Monday, September 24, 2012

What market forces sound like

Hong Kong, like many large Asian cities, is up to its neck in electronics and gizmos. Cell phones, for instance, are beyond ubiquitous--you can buy any model of any manufacturer in stores ranging from alleyway carts to big-box department stores. Computers, too, are sold anywhere you can tack up a piece of neon. When you ride the train, nine out of every 10 passengers are using one or the other during their commute. Even taxi dashboards are festooned with gadgets, from front-facing cameras to dueling GPS systems to DVD players... plus, of course, cell phones of assorted shapes and sizes.

It was against this backdrop that Mrs. Blog and I optimistically set out to find a new stereo system for our new Hong Kong apartment. The goal was three-fold: eliminate much-hated wiring, streamline the appearance of our A/V setup (we are currently rocking a Panasonic Dolby 5.1 system with the rear speakers and subwoofer--and their several hundred feet of wires--disconnected), and subject our surroundings to stunning sound.

A component system was out of the question; Hong Kong being Hong Kong, we needed to keep it small and simple. Shelf systems were too tall; any 5.1 system involved more thousands of feet of wires. And then we found this:
Cue the angelic choir (in simulated surround sound)

A soundbar. With a wireless subwoofer. Its multiple HDMI ports meant I could run all of our A/V stuff into the reciever, leaving just one cord running to the TV. The wireless sub meant we could hide it behind a chair. And its minimalist styling meant all the previous clutter would melt away to nothing.

Great! Solution found. For one reason or another, we put off actually getting it, though. We were out of town... we had guests... needed to do more research... and so on. And you know what the punchline here is, right? When we finally went to go buy it, there were none to be found.

Hong Kong, it seems, has a very short built-in shelf life for electronics. In Abu Dhabi, you were likely to find last year's products advertised as though they were brand new. Here, last year's products (the Sony soundbar above was released in the second quarter of 2011) are treated like rotten fruit. Why keep 'em around? No one wants to eat a mushy banana.

All the newer models from other manufacturers at the moment in Hong Kong are no good for our purposes: maybe the subwoofer is wired, maybe they use an optical port instead of HDMI for some reason, maybe the design is ugly, maybe it just sounds bad. And there is little sign of new soundbar releases on the horizon for Hong Kong; customers in the Special Administrative Region clearly prefer component or shelf systems, of which there are dozens of options in every single electronics store.

So, what do market forces here sound like? For now, they sound like an old stereo or a saleseman saying "Sorry, not in stock." But one hopes that maybe by the time the holiday shopping season rolls around, stores in these parts will be singing a happier tune.

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