Don’t buy the hype

Don’t send that Christmas bonus to electronic Valhalla before you do your homework. For every stereo-transforming appliance, there’s a case of gadgets better left on the development lab shelf.

Three memorable offenders:
The RCA SelectaVision Videodisk Player—Released in 1981, it had all the ambition of DVDs with 1890s record technology. As Dave Maurer of Sounds by Dave explains, “It was vinyl based, had a needle. It was supposed to make a picture, and it kind of did, but it was so low quality.” It lasted three years.

Divx—Brainchild of an entertainment lawyer and largely owned by electronics giant Circuit City, this DVD-like technology had a brief run in the 1990s. It was to have consumers buy discs they could watch on Divx players and then pay, via a credit card and phone line, each time they wanted to watch the movie again. Says Maurer, “I’m still proud of the fact we never sold one to a customer.”

Digital VHS—This one’s on the market now, so watch out. Like the RCA Videodisk, it takes old technology, video cassette recorders, and sprinkles in a modern twist, digital formatting. As Maurer puts it, "That’s what the industry calls an interim product. That means you buy it and it’s obsolete. It will be replaced by the DVD recorder."