I'm the poster child for investing in technology right before it becomes obsolete.
My husband and I got our iPhones, and then the third-generation version came out. We bought a big-screen television just before flat-screen versions became affordable. Way back in the mists of time, I invested in a really good turntable -- only to watch vinyl disappear from store shelves a few months later.
I'm getting tired of buyer's remorse, so I turned to the ultimate source of technological wisdom -- CNET -- to give me the scoop on how to future-proof my TV, phone and music player purchases.
The following advice from CNET Editor-at-Large Brian Cooley won't put you on the bleeding edge of technological advancement. But it will boost the odds you won't regret the money you spend.
TelevisionsEven just-OK televisions these days are pretty great, Cooley said. There's a noticeable difference in quality between entry-level sets with 720p resolution and higher-end sets with 1080p resolution, but the picture quality of the lower-resolution sets is still good, and the prices are much better, said Cooley, who only has 720p-resolution sets in his own house.
"Good enough is good enough," Cooley said. "A lot of people are deciding that a noticeable gap (in picture quality) is not worth a giant gap in price."
"It's a gaming technology more than anything else. People aren't going to want to wear goggles to watch TV (otherwise)," Cooley said. "Keep with the 2-D set for now, and figure that the next TV you buy in five years might have 3-D."
Another trend is Internet-connected sets, but currently the Internet-capable televisions have a limited number of partnerships that restrict which sites you can use, Cooley said. You might get access to YouTube and Amazon.com video but not Hulu, for example.
Until the situation settles out, Cooley recommended skipping TVs with built-in Internet. Instead, get a non-Internet TV and add a separate, far less expensive device that streams Internet-connected content, such as a Roku Netflix player for streaming movies or, if you're a gamer, a console that has Internet streaming.
That way, you can upgrade as the Internet technology matures, rather than being stuck with a television that might not connect to the sites you want.
Also, don't buy a Blu-ray DVD player, Cooley advises. To get the most out of one, you'd need to buy new Blu-ray versions of your favorite movies and shows, which can get costly fast. Besides, that would be an investment in a dying technology, he said, because DVDs themselves soon will be replaced by Internet-streamed content everywhere you are -- at home, at work and on the road.
"The Blu-ray is the last gasp of physical media," he said.
PhonesSmart phones allow people to cruise the Internet, check e-mail, play games and listen to music. Last year, they made up about 13% of mobile phone sales, according to Gartner, and the market share of these devices will continue to grow.
The key consideration for users isn't the phone itself -- "I'm usually lucky if the phone lasts as long as the contract," Cooley said -- but the operating system it uses. Smarter phones mean longer learning curves, and you don't want to invest years learning one system only to have to switch to another. So choose wisely.iPhone has gotten the lion's share of media attention but actually trails Research In Motion's BlackBerry in sales, Cooley said. Meanwhile, Google's new Android operating system is getting lots of good buzz. Any of those three platforms is likely to be a good bet, he said.
Palm and Microsoft are the weaker players in this field, but Cooley noted that Microsoft has its Windows platform to protect and is likely to put up a fight. (Microsoft is the publisher of MSN Money.)
Another factor to consider, for those of us prone to buyer's remorse: Apple is by far the most secretive of the players, which means it's hard to know when you're buying a product that's about to be seriously outmoded. The other players tend to telegraph upcoming innovations, Cooley said, but not Apple.
"They're very cagey, as we know," Cooley said. "They innovate so hard; they really move the ball forward. . . . The Apple experience really does mean you can buy something and something better immediately comes out."