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Old 01-10-2009, 02:14 PM
 
Location: Keller, TX
5,670 posts, read 5,374,804 times
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In 1990 I had my first job (age 15) and saved up money to buy a television. I ended up buying a 27" TV, brand "LXI" as I recall, from Sears. It cost $600. It was a CRT with a very convex screen, one small speaker, hardly any inputs, and a fairly pedestrian picture.

Eighteen years later, you can buy a 27" CRT TV with no HD capability but two speakers, digital filters, multiple inputs, and a flat tube for $250. It's a bit better than the same size television for $600 from eighteen years earlier.

Or, you can buy a 42" LCD HDTV for $600. It does everything vastly better than the smaller $600 TV from eighteen years earlier. Widescreen, HD, flat, great sound, sharp digitally controlled picture, many inputs, etc.
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In 1995 I was one of the first buyers of the Sega Saturn, a 32 bit game console. It was $400. Yikes! What was I thinking? A few months later, the superior Sony Playstation came out at $300.

Thirteen years later, you can buy an XBox 360 brand new for $200. It has dozens of features the Saturn and PS1 from thirteen years ago for $400/$300 couldn't even approach and vastly superior audio and video capabilities.
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I didn't really have a grand point with this thread, just illustrating what I think is an amazing aspect of technology vs. cost. What do you think? Other examples?

Last edited by Nepenthe; 01-10-2009 at 02:26 PM.. Reason: typo
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Old 01-10-2009, 02:18 PM
 
Location: US
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I am fairly certain the Xbox 360 didn't have an original retail price of $200. That is what you can pay for it after it has been out for what, 5 years?
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Old 01-10-2009, 02:33 PM
 
Location: Keller, TX
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J Arp View Post
I am fairly certain the Xbox 360 didn't have an original retail price of $200. That is what you can pay for it after it has been out for what, 5 years?
Three years. It debuted for $300 November 2005 (same debut price as PS1 ten years earlier), November 2008 it went to $200.

I understand economies of scale, improvements in chip design and yield, integration of internal components, etc. These things are PART of what I'm talking about that I find amazing.
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Old 01-10-2009, 07:42 PM
 
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I'm actually a computer/electrical engineer, and when you study the reasons for it, it's not as amazing as you think (but, at the same time, it IS perplexing to think about the US at the beginning of the 20th century and at the end). A lot of it has to do with the simplification of the digital logic used in the systems (think of the combination of gates as an equation... you can use boolean math and reduction tables to reduce the number of components GREATLY and thus the number of transistors... reducing the number of paths also cuts delays, making it not only cheaper but more efficient). Also, the number of transistors per cm has gone up tremendously. Thus, we can fit entire circuits onto one chip and be done with it. If you want to REALLY be amazed, take out your cell phone, especially if you have a blackberry/iPhone/other smartphone. Know now that that thing is more powerful than top of the line desktop computers we had just 10 years ago! The iPhone has an ARM processor that runs at about 633MHz if I'm not mistaken. Yet, it freezes on me a lot lately (with more power comes more demands).

When you start talking about signal processing, that's when you dabble in voodoo. Remember how great those CDs were when replacing records/tapes? One thin disc to hold 70 mins of music. Then, we decided to use MP3s. Store them on your computer, portable player, or a CD (and hold 700 minutes of music, assuming 128Kbps mp3 encoding... a 3 minute mp3 at 128kbps is ~3Mbytes while the uncompressed CD version is ~30Mbytes), instead of just 70. How was THAT possible while retaining a similar quality? Wrap your head around THAT! Okay, I'll tell you how, lol:

1) break the uncompressed info in to "frames" of about 26 ms
2) use a fourier transform on the data to examine which frequencies are represented as well as their power/amplitude.
3) compare the frequencies to a table of psychoacoustic values and remove the frequencies that aren't audible to humans (basically, stuff below 20Hz and above 20KHz is cut out as well as analyzing the frequencies within the threshold and looking at their amplitudes blah blah which is dependent on the creator of the algorithm... the original audio has ALOT of frequencies you can't hear because they are out of the range of hearing or they are lulled by more powerful frequencies so removing them can allocate more bits to the audible frequencies).
4) Once the frequencies are cut out, examine the data and look for repeated values. Cut out redundancies by assigning the most common values less bits and the less common more bits. Use Huffman tables to do this.
5) Create a frame header w/ meta-data in it to explain how the data should be interpreted. Put it in front of the data-block to make one frame of data and repeat the process on the next 26 ms of uncompressed stream. Put these frames in order in a linear array, and you have an MP3 file :-).
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Old 01-10-2009, 07:48 PM
 
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And just think... your computer decodes ALL OF THAT in a flash... and you're multitasking on a spreadsheet, the net, IM, email client, and other background programs that you don't know about while listening to that mp3. Not only that, but most CELL PHONES can do this seamlessly. Think about that for a minute...
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Old 01-10-2009, 08:14 PM
 
Location: Marietta, GA
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I recently bought a basic HP Windows based computer with dual core, 3GB of RAM, 500GB HDD, DVD writer, separate 3D graphics with dedicated VRAM, KB & Mouse at Brandsmart USA for less than $400. This system has many times the processing power and storage of a computer I bought a few years ago for $2000.

Thanks to Moores law and supply and demand, PC prices get cheaper and cheaper relative to the capabilities. If you want to spend $2000, you can get so much more than a basic system.
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Old 01-10-2009, 10:57 PM
 
Location: Beaverland, OR
588 posts, read 2,607,637 times
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As a fellow EE/computer engineer, I second everything that runningncircles1 said. I would also like to point out that much of the manufacturing for these high tech products has been moved overseas during the past 20-30 years, where labor costs are cheaper. Also, much of the overseas manufacturing has been centered in China, where the robustness of the products are sometimes compromised. Couple of cases in point:

I recently replaced my 11 year old desktop scanner recently. The old one had a nice solid frame with metal hinge pins - very well put together. The new one is solid plastic, and seems somewhat fragile. Old scanner -- made in Malaysia, new scanner -- made in China.

I also recently bought a new digital camera to replace my 7 year old camera. The old camera had a nice metal case, felt very robust. The new one (you guessed it), cheap plastic. The old camera -- made in Japan, new camera -- made in China.

These design shortcuts also tend to bring down the price of consumer electronics.
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Old 01-11-2009, 01:13 PM
 
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Quote:
I also recently bought a new digital camera to replace my 7 year old camera. The old camera had a nice metal case, felt very robust. The new one (you guessed it), cheap plastic. The old camera -- made in Japan, new camera -- made in China.
I know what you mean there! It's nice to have cheaper electronics, but I hate that they're using plastic in lieu of metal. My old 386 computer (first computer when I was 3), for example, had a case made of metal. My 486, made by my father, had a metal case. The front had a plastic thing that popped off but it didn't seem flimsy. Fast forward, I bought a Dell and it has much more plastic (some metal, but more plastic). Many of the fasteners are plastic! It's just god-awful.

It was similar with the Japanese invasion of the 80's. "All the best stuff comes from Japan" was kinda true because they knew how to make quality goods. I mean, manufacturers here hated it, especially car makers, claiming they were making "cheap cars". But those cheap cars were very reliable, fuel efficient, and cost less to boot. Yet, they still tried to put sanctions of Japanese automakers despite higher quality. Now, we get flimsy and UNSAFE crap from China and we're fine with that? No trade sanctions at all. Perplexing. That's one reason I don't think China can become a superpower despite their large manufacturing base: they may have quantity, but the quality is lacking and R&D there SUCKS! Currently, you have USA, Japan, Western Europe engineering the devices, then exporting to China for manufacturing. So not only are they reliant on our consumerism, they're reliant on our intellectual property.

Last edited by xavier132487; 01-11-2009 at 01:22 PM..
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