When the first CD player came out in the Philippines in 1990, I bought one. It was a Sharp CD player. I remember my brother and I talking about a stereo component system when I saw a newspaper ad of the new Sharp CD player. I said that was what I would get. He said it was too expensive.
Expensive is relative for someone who wanted it badly. I was already working at the time and when my 13th month pay came out, I went and bought the Sharp CD player and a double-disc soundtrack of the original London cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera. It was my first taste of digital audio and I never looked back.
About two years after I bought the CD player, my brother bought a laser disc player which could read discs in three formats. We would rent laser discs from… I forgot the name of the rental shop in Quezon City… and watch movies at home. No crappy pirated VHS copies for rent in the neighborhood sari-sari store but pure digital delight. It was our first exprerience of digitized film and it was magnificent. I still remember that it was Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose the we first watched.
I enjoyed my CD player for years. In fact, Sam and Alex were already in pre-school when it finally died. Not died-died. It wouldn’t play CDs anymore but the double cassette recorders, the radio, the equalizer and the speakers were all fine. When I called in a technician to have a look at it, I was told that the laser eye — the part that reads the data from the discs — needed replacement. He also said that it would need replacement regularly given its normal life span.
My brother’s laser disc player — an RCA, if I remember correctly — conked out earlier than my CD player. Same problem. The laser eye.
When laser discs were replaced by VCD players — and that was the time we were contemplating getting one after our trusty old VHS player went to digital heaven — Speedy and I had a long discussion as to whether we would get a branded player for about PhP 12,000.00 or one of those generic made-in-China units that Greenhills was becoming famous for.
At PhP2,500.00, oooohh… about seven years ago… it seemed like the better option. If we got a branded player, we would still have to pay a few thousands every few years every time the laser eye needed replacement. So why not a PhP 2,500.00 unit that can be replaced with another when it conked out?
We had two VCD players in a span of five years. When the first one went out of commission, we just bought a new one. Cheaper than the first at PhP 1,500.00. The old one could still read digital games and since the kids could still enjoy it, we didn’t throw it away.
I’m not promoting piracy here. I don’t even think piracy falls under the equation since the made-in-China units are not purporting to be Sonys or Panasonics. I am merely looking at things from a smart consumer’s point of view.
When we shifted from VCD to DVD, there were no more discussions about whether we would get a branded player or not. The earlier generic DVD players cost around PhP 3,000.00 pesos and the branded ones cost over PhP 20,000.00. I mean, do the math, taking into consideration that branded or not, the laser eye would have to be replaced after a certain period.
We’re into our second generic DVD player. We currently own a Pensonic DVD player bought from the supermarket for a thousand pesos a year and a half ago. It’s still working fine.
And, yeah, they get cheaper and cheaper every year too.
The question, of course, is this. If these DVD players can be sold so cheaply — and still at a profit — why are the the prices of the branded ones so high? Brand, I think, is the operative word here. In a capitalist world, more than half of the price of anything just goes into paying for the brand. Well, I don’t care about brands. I care about performance.