Video cards. I remember the days when there were but a handful from each manufacturer. You either got the "Ultra", the "Normal", or the "Crappy." As campy as it sounds, I miss the early period of 3D gaming. You didn’t have to wade through benchmark after benchmark to figure out which was best. Once you knew which chipset was good, you went ahead and plunked down what you could afford, knowing it would be the best in its class.
Ever since the top-to-bottom lineup reared its ugly head, purchasing decisions became a tad more complicated. It's not that I mind having so much choice, but every now and then I look up and realize that I have only have so much time. Every moment spent trying to figure out which video card to get is an extra moment I could spend using one to play a game.
Nowadays, you've got the XL, LE, SE, Ultra, GT, Pro, VE, XT PE, and the Ultra Extreme. If that wasn't enough, you still have to wade through the various model numbers: 9600, 9700, 9800, X300, X600, X700, X800, and X850. That's just ATI. Nvidia has: FX 5200, FX 5500, FX5600, FX 5700, FX5900, FX5950, 6200, 6600 and 6800.
If we combine the model numbers with the various monikers from above, the permutations become boggling. We work in this industry, and we regularly confuse which card is which when it comes down to the LE, SE, VE or what have you. What chance does the average consumer have? This doesn’t even begin to account for the shenanigans that go on with OEM and retail cards, or models that have been crippled in some semi-hidden way.
There has to be an easier way. In case the manufacturers have forgotten, people will probably spend more time buying if they have less to research. I understand the need to have full product lines, with pricing starting at around $500, and then decreasing in $50 increments till we get down to the slim pickings. It's easy for someone to get confused with all these products even if they follow the industry. But what happens to Mr. Average Guy? He simply wants to play a few games. Mr. Guy goes to the store and sees an almost endless array of products from different companies and stands there scratching his head. Then he asks the sales person, which inevitably leads to doom. There has to be a happy medium between filling in every spot and making the process simpler.
If price was the only concern, things might be a bit easier, but they aren't. Many times you can get powerful versions of yesterday's technology at bargain basement prices. Sure it might not have the latest Shader Model or the best antialiasing, but for a heck of a lot less money you can get a video card that will rock your world.
The joys of mythical product launches doesn’t help our situation much either. It clutters an already full line of products. People might wait to get their hands on the GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme or the Radeon X850 XT PE, when they would have happily bought the GeForce 6800 GT or the Radeon X800 Pro had they known that was going to be the best for some time to come. We understand the necessary evils of one-up-man-ship; but when the product line consists mainly of products that don’t exist, people catch on fast.
I have a quick suggestion - simplify. Everyone will be happier. PR departments will have less material to gloss over. Trees will live due to fewer brochures. Manufacturers won't have to make eight versions of the same card with different boxes and logos. Most importantly, consumers might actually have a shot at making an educated purchase without investing inordinate amounts of time.