For August 1997


"Haven't you heard the news? Laserdiscs are dead -- there haven't been any players or software made that system in several years...!"

That (or some variation ) is what I've been told by almost every single hardware salesmen in every electronics retail chain store I visited in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. And if any of you were to start believing this falsehood, the laserdisc market would indeed be in serious trouble. Laserdiscs are far from dead!

I visited several of the larger electronic chains -- Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry's Electronics and The Good Guys -- and requested similar information: 1) I asked for a demo of the DVD system, and 2) I asked how they compare to laserdiscs. What I discovered was pretty scary indeed! We've got many salesman spreading misinformation to consumers in order to make a sale on a hot new electronic gadget. Forget about truth...forget about alternative choices...and in many cases, forget about the extinct "trained salesman" species!

I felt that I had received a lucky break at a local Circuit City location, which was one of the first places I visited. The salesman who helped me was an older gentleman, and he was very patient and courteous through all my questions. I respected his answers, especially for some of the tougher technical ones, since he stated that there were some aspects of the DVD system he was unfamiliar with and couldn't give an accurate answer for. When I asked about laserdiscs, he stated that it is a wonderful system, but that Circuit City stopped selling them in favor of DVDs. (Since DVDs were supposedly going to go up against VCRs, I wonder why Circuit City didn't stop selling those instead...?) I thanked the gentleman and went on my happy way. Little did I know the horror that awaited me elsewhere...

Anyone who has ever tried to get information from a salesman at Fry's Electronics knows what a nightmare it is -- every person at this chain I've ever had the displeasure of dealing with has been rude, insulting, just plain stupid, or a combination of all three traits. In any event, I got this bizarre song and dance speech about how great DVD players are, etc., etc., but no real substance. Any questions I asked along the lines of "can DVDs do this" were enthusiastically answered "yes, of course!" It didn't seem to matter if a specific model I asked about actually lacked a specific feature, the salesman would insist it would do what I ask. The best part was when I asked him about a totally non-existent feature -- digital strobing effects, if I remember correctly. He said that it was only available on the Sony player, but he couldn't show me because they were currently out-of-stock. Yeah, right. At least he did seem to be smart enough to know that it wouldn't record. When asked about technical specs, I got a peculiar blank stare and a shrug. As for software, he said that there were thousands of titles available, but that the store only carried a select few. I asked him about Alien and Aliens (Fox), the Indiana Jones films (Paramount), the Star Wars saga (Fox again), and The Little Mermaid and Aladdin (Disney). Can you guess what the answer was? With the exception of the Star Wars films (which he claimed would be out on DVD in a few weeks), the other films were available but temporarily out of stock. At the end of all this, I asked him about how DVDs compare to laserdisc, and I was told that laserdiscs haven't been made in years, and even if they were, there aren't any players. I wish you could have seen the look on his face when I asked him about the several new-model laserdisc players for sale in the rack behind us. Needless to say, I didn't see the salesman again after that...

The nastiest place I checked out was The Good Guys. You walk into their store, and are instantly accosted by three or four salesman desperate for their commission. I went through the entire Fry's routine above and received answers that were much the same. Unfortunately, I didn't see any laserdisc players at this The Good Guys, so I couldn't rub that lie in their faces. I made the mistake of asking to see a segment from an actual movie DVD instead of the rather grainy demo disc they had, since "I'd heard" that the movie discs looked much better. I was somewhat rudely told that I must be imagining the grain, because there wasn't any (trust me, there was), and that no, they don't have any movies to show customers. I asked for a remote so I could "experiment" with the player and demo disc, but I was told that I could only watch it. There were the same lies about software. I forgot to mention that all this was done in between the salesman running back and forth between customers trying to get a commission from someone. He also insisted that since I was so interested in the system, he was getting me a brand new Panasonic model from the back so I could purchase it that very day. What a presumptuous dick. I left the store after this.

Which leaves us with Best Buy. Same questions, but thankfully not the same answers. I was given correct information about the system and the software availability, with no other embellishment. During our discussion about DVDs vs. laserdiscs, I was actually told that while they were currently out-of-stock on a couple of laserdisc players, but that they did have the Pioneer DVD/LD combo player for those who want the best of both worlds. He apologized for being unable to show me an actual DVD title, explaining that their demo system was fully enclosed and he was unable to get into it (this was was a large, sealed-up; wall unit)I was very pleased with his responses, especially since I bought my Toshiba SD-3006 here a couple of months earlier.

Two stores telling the truth about DVD, and two stores simply out to make a quick sale. Not bad odds you may say, but you would definitely be wrong. I visited several other locations for each of the store chains mentioned earlier, and I received varying degrees of truth and fluff. Where the first Circuit City and Best Buy store was fine, the others I went into gave me an irritating song-and-dance routine. Thanks to my experiences at a couple other The Good Guys locations, I refuse to ever set foot in any of their stores again. I feel the same of the other Fry's Electronics stores I went into, but they have too many cool items at very reasonable prices, so I bite my lip and hope that I never have to speak to anyone there.

My final recommendation to you the consumer is this: Always study up on any electronic product you are interested in before purchasing it. Call up the company and ask for information, download a brochure from the Internet, read reviews, talk to your friends, whatever -- just make sure you don't have to rely upon the salesman to give you the correct information. While there are definitely some good people out there, they seem to be the minority, so be prepared to do battle. As Obi-Wan Kenobi once said, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."


Originally Created: 08/03/97
Last Updated: 09/13/97