Added value vs.the bogus bonus

One of my top candidates for Most Dubious New-Product Function Posing as "Added Value" belongs to the digital video recorder that can nab a TV show a full year before it airs.

Who do these guys think we are, some kind of Nostradamuses of network programming?

Then again, five years ago I'd have laughed if you had told me I would own a video camera with night vision. And now I do.

The feature came with other cool options - I can't recall what they all are. "Nightshot" has been ideal for making green-tinted family videos that look like Defense Department footage of a midnight raid.

I'd have to call it extraneous.

These days, many such "bonus" product features go way beyond convergence - where, say, voice and data messaging meet up in a little hand-held device.

Over the past year or so, we've seen the rise of washing machines that tell users how to treat fabrics, refrigerators that surf the Web, and portable music players that hold 4,000 CDs worth of music.

Once, such technology was sold only to those fringe consumers who monitor the trickle-down of military technology. Now it's marketed to the mainstream, where it's sometimes embraced. (Roseanne Barr is said to have quipped that she'd use a vacuum only when Sears made one she could ride on.)

So is a search for real simplicity a viable consumer tactic?

When I lost my digital Sony Walkman recently, I replaced it with a $6 analog model from a low-end maker. The radio-only device can't hold a signal. Its cheap earphones don't fit in my ears.

I just want a radio. But most good portables come with CDs or MP3s. Like other consumers, I'm scanning for some middle ground.

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