Hardware coverage is depressingly bad

By Alex Kierkegaard / March 1, 2006

Looking online today for a review of Dell's new 30-inch LCD monitor was a depressing experience. CNET's bottom line is that: "We'd give the Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP an unequivocal thumbs-up if it had S-Video ports and better DVD playback." They gave the monitor a 7.6/10 (see here), even though they could not fault the DVI image quality, and even though it poops all over the only competing product (Apple's 30-inch Cinema HD display). And it goes for a much lower price, even.

Asking Dell to include composite and S-Video ports on the 3007WFP is the equivalent of asking Alienware to include 5.25 and 3.5-inch floppy drives on their $7,000 Quad SLI Aurora ALX. Sure, you can do it, but what's the point? Moreover, just think for a second how absurd it would be if someone gave the Aurora a mediocre review just because it lacks those obsolete floppy drives. The whole internet should be laughing at CNET right about now. Unfortunately, of course, it isn't.

The poor Dell never had a chance, really. Even if the company had included the useless composite and S-video ports, CNET would still be whining about DVD playback quality since it's impossible for a 2,560x1,600 LCD to display such a low-res signal without it looking like complete and utter shit. The depths of their ignorance are hard to fathom, even for someone as imaginative as myself.

What I find most depressing about all this is the fact that people like CNET's Kristina Blachere are even paid to write about subjects they obviously do not understand. Where did she land the job anyway -- the grocery store?

Although I picked CNET's ridiculous review to complain about today, it is not an isolated incident. Hardware matters are routinely covered by people with no qualifications or experience -- even in major publications such as Ziff-Davis' CNET. This may seem perplexing at first until you realize that those with the necessary qualifications can actually get, you know, decent jobs, instead of becoming one of the overworked and underpaid hacks that staff these kinds of websites and magazines.

But then again, do you really have to have a university degree in computer systems engineering to avoid making a fool of yourself when writing about LCD monitors? This stuff is not really that complicated -- we are not talking plasma physics here. I only spend a couple hours a week online reading up on hardware, mostly on FiringSquad and Ars Technica -- these people get paid to work 40 hours a week on this stuff! Surely, you'd think they'd be able to figure out what's going on sooner or later.

But no. Even PC Magazine is staffed by morons these days. In their review of the 3007WFP (see here) they say it's great for gaming. In fact, the opposite is true. Dell's latest monitor is an incredible display, but its 2,560x1,600 native resolution makes it useless for gaming -- at least until suitably powerful graphics cards arrive, and games that support it.

But let's move on.

Mr. Sarju Shah of GameSpot is just as clueless regarding consumer electronics hardware as Mrs. Kristina Blachere of CNET and Mr. Loyd Case of PC Magazine. Around the time of the 360 launch he wrote a ridiculous hardware feature which, months later, I still haven't managed to get over (see here).

For one thing, his piece is not a "video cable comparison," as he calls it. It is a video connection comparison. It would have been a video cable comparison if he had taken several cables of the same connection type from different manufacturers and compared them. But whatever, English is not the strong point of GameSpot writers anyway so let's ignore that mistake. What I cannot ignore, however, is that he devotes whole paragraphs to obsolete RF, composite and S-Video connections, without even mentioning RGB -- the best analogue video connection after VGA! And he writes for one of the biggest video game websites on the internet. This guy has never even heard of RGB, which many of the rest of us have been using to get the best picture quality from our consoles for almost two decades, and he's getting paid to write hardware features about next generation consoles. Really, firing people is not a nice thing to do, but misinforming hundreds of thousands of readers is worse, in my opinion.

Hey, here's an idea! Let's get middle school students to write about this stuff -- the analysis will be just as bad, but at least it will be more entertaining, and Ziff Davis could get away with just giving the kids some free lunch for their efforts.

But it's easy enough to just sit on my ass and complain about others' ignorance. It's a bit more difficult to actually do something about it. So what I will do instead is start writing articles discussing all those hardware matters that are important to gaming. The first such article will be on HDTV monitors -- a subject about which no one seems to know anything at the moment (and I am not even exaggerating). When the forums go up in a couple of weeks there will be a dedicated hardware forum, so that should also help spread some much-needed knowledge around.

In closing, I'd like to say that, in contrast to the journalists mentioned above, I do have better things to do with my time. However, I love the subject I am writing about, and I don't mind spending a few hours of my time explaining these things to fellow gamers. Hopefully, if you know some things I don't, you'll join the forums and tell me all about them.

I will still keep whining from time to time -- it's a tough job, etc etc-- but at least I'll also be doing something productive with my time. And yours.