Australian tech upstart Kogan has stirred the HDMI hornet's nest by accusing UK retailers of duping customers into buying expensive cables for no reason.
It's a stinging attack on UK retailers in general but singles out Curry's and John Lewis for particular attention, offering to send anyone who buys a TV from either of the High Street giants a perfectly serviceable HDMI cable completely free of charge.
Kogan's campaign, entitled 'Cut the Cable Con', says shoppers are being 'tricked by High Street retailers into thinking they need to buy an expensive cable to get the most out of their new high definition TV."
Ruslan Kogan, the man behind the company trying to set the tech world on its head in more ways than one, says the campaign intends to shed slight on the 'cable con'.
“Some retailers have decided that it’s appropriate to trick unsuspecting UK shoppers into thinking a £100 HDMI cable is better than a £4 one. To prove our point about how much an HDMI cable should cost, we’re giving John Lewis and Currys customers free HDMI cables.
“When you buy a TV from John Lewis, Currys, or countless other high street stores, you will be offered hideously expensive accessories such as HDMI cables. These cables are sold with absolutely ridiculous markups, many multiples of the actual cost of the items," Kogan told thinq_ in an interview today.
The argument against 'premium' HDMI cables is a simple one. HDMI is a digital format which means all of the information transferred by the cable is in a series on ones and zeroes. The quality of the cable and the interconnects has no bearing on the quality of the signal between the source and the display whether you have paid £4 or £400.
"What they conveniently forget to tell you is there’s no difference in picture quality between Kogan’s £4 HDMI cable and one more than 20 times its price," said Kogan. "It's a digital cable. You either get a picture or you don't. Don't get conned into buying a 'fancy' HDMI cable, because it will make no difference."
Ruslan Kogan is obviously passionate about the campaign, to the level that he is willing to put his hand in his own pocket to prove his point
“While retailers like Currys and John Lewis use rip-off prices on cables to try to increase their margins, we’re selling them for £4, and we’ll even prove to UK high street shoppers what is going on by giving them free cables."
Although there's a faint whiff of publicity stunt about the whole deal, the deeper we dig the more we can't find a twist. Kogan is even offering to pay the postage. All you have to do is email a scan of your receipt to the company's Cable Con email address, and sit by the door and wait. You'll have to be 18 and have purchased an LED, LCD, Plasma or LED-LCD TV from a bricks-and-mortar Curry's or John Lewis shop between July 1st and December 31st this year but, apart from that, the Terms and Conditions are pretty standard (including the caveat that Kogan does pretty much whatever it wants with your personal info once it has it).
We've reached out to two of the biggest cable makers on the planet and those singled out by Kogan as prime examples of companies charging ludicrous prices for digital cables. US company Monster Cable has now seen Kogan's campaign thanks to thinq_ and has promised to respond in due course. Belkin has yet to answer our request.
We asked Ruslan Kogan why John Lewis and Curry's had been singled out for particular attention and the outspoken Aussie certainly didn't pull his punches.
"These retailers pride themselves on being tech focussed. At Kogan we live and breathe technology and couldn't imagine anything worse than duping the public into spending more on accessories for their brand new TV. These retailers are the ones being the biggest hypocrites in their HDMI pricing."
Kogan the company is garnering a growing reputation for getting up the noses of established tech giants with its customer-focused policies, like allowing punters to choose the specifications of hardware which is then built to order. It's a model which allows products which people actually want to be built rather those based on executive decisions, focus groups or pandering to the lowest common denominator. And it's this policy of giving consumers what they need rather than what a slick marketing campaign tells them they want which seems to have fired Kogan the man's vitriol.
"While there are plenty of vendors who are creating these overpriced products, it is the retailers who are ultimately responsible for, not only stocking them, but promoting them over cheaper alternatives which achieve the exact same result."
Although the campaign is currently aimed firmly at two of the UK's biggest TV retailers, Kogan hints that he may widen his sights in the furture.
"Our research shows that Currys and John Lewis are amongst the worst offenders in the industry," he told thinq_ ."However, we are a brand that truly listens - so if there are other retailers out there guilty of this scam, we'll certainly be considering including them in our bid to cut the cable con."
Curry's spokeswoman Anina Castle told us: "We sell a large range of HDMI cables with different specifications and prices tailored to our customers' needs. Our entry level HDMI cable is currently on sale at £7.99 and our most expensive cable is at £100.99.
"In the rapidly changing technologies that surround TV we have highly trained staff in store to guide customers to making the right choice for their TV. It's not just about the quality of signal and image that HDMI cables can provide, particularly in higher end televisions, it is also about the protection from interference and the long-time durability of the cables.
John Lewis has yet to respond to our request for a statement.
[UPDATE] John Lewis has responded with the following comment which just goes to prove Kogan's point:
“At John Lewis, we aim to provide our customers with a wide range of options when choosing accessories for their TVs. We offer a number of different HDMI cables, which start at £20 and go up to £99.95. Each of our HDMI cables offers excellent quality and value for money, and by providing our customers with a range of different cables which offer different specifications, we are able to help them find one to suit their specific needs, with features such as different cable lengths, ultra slim and high speed.
"We advise customers to consider purchasing an HDMI cable which matches the quality of their television's components. For instance, a cable suitable for a premium 3D TV would not be required for many of our mid-range TVs. We pride ourselves on offering excellent customer service, and will always aim to advise our customers to buy the product that is right for them.”