Thursday, June 16, 2011

Misleading Tech Advertising

Picture it... 
You've unearthed the best new tech in the world...but no one knows about it. So naturally you turn to creative advertising to promote your product. Once promoted, you think, "Wow that's my product!?" Of course it is, but smart advertising has disguised it. A big pet peeve of mine is inflation of the truth in tech advertising. It's also genius! To stretch the truth of the product's specifications/capabilities is masquerading, but it's not necessarily lying. Let me shed some light on 2 of the biggest advertising facades.

Hard Disk Drive/Solid State Drive/Flash Memory
Why when you look at the 100GB drive under "My Computer -> {drive} -> Properties" it shows as only 93.13GB? Where did my 6.87GB go!!!??? It is a 100*10^9 byte drive, but the secret is that storage is advertised in decimal format (base 10), while the computer displays it in binary (base 2). A little math to explain:
  • Decimal (Base 10): 10^3 = kilo, 10^6 = mega, 10^9 = giga
  • Binary (Base 2):     2^10 = kilo, 2^20 = mega, 2^30 = giga
  • Math gives us: 100*(10^9)/(2^30) = 93.13 GB (base 2)
Naturally, marketers wish to promote the larger number.
Just know this: Marketers speak in decimal, Computers speak in binary.

600Hz Plasma vs 120Hz LCD
Flat screen TV ads are the worst. Plasma and LCD are way different techs. The advertising of Hz in TVs is due to how humans perceive motion on screen. LCDs have an inherent blur effect with motion (e.g., camera pans, fast motion scenes). The higher frame refresh rate (Hz) aims to switch fast enough to eliminate motion blur. (I may post a separate article on LCD 120Hz explained.)

On a 1080p TV, think of plasma pixels as 6 million tiny light bulbs, 1 for each sub pixel (red, green, blue). These bulbs constantly flash to display their photons. For a 600Hz sub-field drive, each bulb flashes 10 times per frame. Since the screen refreshes at 60Hz (frames per second), each bulb flashes for 60 * 10 = 600Hz (flashes per second). Old plasma bulbs flashed only 8 times per frame, with a 480Hz sub-field drive.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panels have a back light that is constantly on. Basically, the Liquid Crystals allow light to pass (more white) or block it (more black). Just know that 120Hz really is the screen refreshing at 120 frames per second. Old LCDs refresh at only 60Hz. See this awesome video for a better explanation of how LCD works.

The Skinny
  • Plasmas' Hz rating - how many times per second plasma bulbs flash. 
  • LCD's Hz rating - how many times per second the frame refreshes. 
So, which is better? Both are better than their older versions, but it's like comparing a Volkswagen's miles per gallon to a Ferrari's turn radius. It just doesn't make sense. Plasmas are inherently better at handling motion, but don't use the 600Hz > 120Hz comparison to determine that. Some prefer LCD's version of motion handling. Let's face it, either tech is a good choice, as long as the TV is huge. Go to Best Buy and determine it for yourself.

What are some misleading advertisements you have come across?

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