Samir Parikh / Blog

Originally published on 22 November 2019


My wife and I recently agreed to get our first new TV in over 12 years (truth be told she's been telling me to get a new TV for over a year now!) and I figured that we should also get our first Blu-ray player while we're at it. Given how expensive they are and given my propensity to endlessly research these sorts of things, I'm surprised at how little effort I put in selecting the models we eventually bought. We just ended up going to the local Best Buy and picked out what we thought would look good in our family room. (Having a restless 2.5 year old tag along also does an amazing job of focusing the mind on the task at hand.)

We haven't taken delivery of anything yet but we did have a technician come to the house to do a "site survey" to ensure that the TV could be installed properly and that the wiring was up to snuff. The technician suggested that we would need an HDMI switcher (a little gizmo that allows multiple inputs, such as a cable box or Blu-ray player, to be sent to one TV) since there was only one HDMI cable prewired into the wall. He also said that we'd need to get some type of power strip to accommodate all of the plugs in the area where we want everything. Of course, he helpfully mentioned that they'd be happy to sell us these accessories on the day of installation at a "nominal cost" so that we wouldn't have to worry about buying them ourselves.

At this point, I thanked him for his generous offer and told him that I'm a grizzled veteran of internet shopping armed with an Amazon Prime account and a calloused finger ready to click the "Buy Now" button. "After all", I thought, "how hard could this be?"

Entering the Internet Shopping Abyss

I first took a crack at buying the power strip as that is something I'm relatively familiar with. We have plenty around the house but the installer wants to mount one behind the TV on wall so it has to be a low profile model, slim enough to fit within the depth of the TV mounting bracket. My first stop for recommendations is normally The New York Times' product review site Wirecutter. Unsurprisingly, they have a nice review of the best surge protectors but the ones they selected are all too big for my use case. My next thought was to just search on Amazon for "low profile surge protector" which is when I ran into my next issue. Amazon does do a good job of allowing you to filter search results based on certain criteria such as number of outlets, star rating, and cord length.1 But even after filtering, it's extremely difficult to separate the quality products from cheap knockoffs. You can't just assume anymore that the price correlates with quality. Search Results for Low Profile Surge Protector Search Results for Low Profile Surge Protector

The reason is that as Amazon has grown in size and scope of what it sells, it has become increasingly difficult for it to police the quality, authenticity and provenance of what it sells, especially as it serves as a store-front for a large number of third party vendors. It seems as if not a single day goes by where there isn't some news article describing how the company either fails to protect its consumers from harmful products or is using algorithms to push questionable products to the top of its search results.

Contact Us

Faced with this issue, I narrowed down my search to two vendors who are big players in the surge protection market: APC and Tripp Lite. Rather than surfing through the dozens of options they offer, I went straight to their respective Contact Us pages and tried to get someone on the phone or via their online chat channel. For now, all I'll say is that my experience between the two companies was vastly different in terms of the support quality I received but part of that may have been due to the different methods I used to contact them. As I haven't installed or used the surge protector I received, I can't vouch for the quality or performance of the product so I'm hesitant to mention what I purchased (maybe a topic for a future blog post!). Suffice to say that when faced with difficulties in deciding what to buy, it doesn't hurt to pick up the phone or fire up a chat window to interact with someone. This also gives you a good indication of what future interactions may be like in case you have to contact them for support issues.

As much as I despise having to drive to a store and finding someone to speak with or with navigating an overly complex phone tree just to reach another living person, sometimes that human element does cut through a lot of complexity and chaos you find when shopping online.

Look Beyond Amazon

Searching for an HDMI switch proved to be just as challenging. There are numerous options on Amazon and searching for "HDMI switch reviews" doesn't help:

Google Search Results for "HDMI switch reviews"

Google Search Results for "HDMI switch reviews"

In cases like this, I've started looking at more specialty sites to do my research and eventual purchasing. This can be problematic if you are not familiar with what you are buying but in most cases, you can typically find a reputable online retailer for the niche of products you are looking for. My only concern with going off of Amazon is that I now have to provide my credit card details to yet another online site which increases the chance it will end up on the dark web if the site is compromised. Unfortunately for me, I don't have a lot of experience buying audio or video equipment for a home theater so I wasn't really sure where to look. I did recall receiving catalogs from Crutchfield back in the day so I spent some time researching them as a retailer. Most of the reviews of them as a company came back fairly positive and while their prices are somewhat on the higher end, they do seem to have a good selection of equipment and details on their site. Again, I haven't installed or used what I purchased so I'm going to hold off on opining on the quality of the switch.

Reddit Can Be Your Friend

Reddit often gets a bad rap as being a hostile and inflammatory place on the internet and while this is certainly true on some of the bigger sections of the site, I've often found the people on the smaller subreddits to be fairly knowledgeable and helpful. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a chance to leverage this during my search for a surge protector or HDMI switch but I will certainly spend more time on the on home theater and home theater buying guides subreddits on the future when I need to augment our home theater setup. I think this can be an especially helpful approach if you don't know about many of the dedicated A/V forums2 or have a big social media following.

I will do my best to provide an update on how well my strategy worked once we get everything installed. If anyone has any suggestions on how better to shop for electronics, including home audio and video equipment, please reach out to me!

  1. Of course, Amazon will present other criteria for different product categories.

  2. Look at that!