Why It's Okay to Return that Christmas Gadget You Don't NeedS

I love Blu-ray. I'm anticipating Star Wars release greater than my first child. But, like all gadgets, sometimes Blu-ray is pointless. Maybe you or someone dear to you got a pointless tech gift. And you can (should!) return it, guilt-free.

People are protective over their things. Console wars! Format wars! My thing is brighter than your thing! Perhaps it's some caveman reflex to be tech territorial. But while there's still time, it's worth explaining to that friend or father why the shiny holiday gadget that's lighting up their smile might not be the best thing to light up their TV. Until Amazon's guilt-free exchange patent becomes a reality, a thoughtful explanation of a mis-targeted gift is better than pleasant obliviousness. Whether it be a Blu-ray player that isn't right for their TV, a TV that isn't right for their room, or a outright shitty smartphone, a trip to the return line is a drag—but wasted technology is a bummer of an even higher resolution.

I had to grapple with this issue in my recent personal life, with two people close to my heart. My father informed me he was eyeing a Blu-ray deck as a self-gift for Christmas. My father is big into tech, but has never wanted a TV that swallows up a room—as opposed to myself (and many of you), who adores big televisions that look like giant portals into another dimension. His TV is a relatively diminutive 26 inches. It's got a good, 720p picture, didn't cost much, and doesn't distract from the rest of the living room. Fine.

Then there's my roommate, who proudly informed me that he had received a Blu-ray player for Christmas to hook up to the 37-inch set he's got in his bedroom, so he can watch flicks before he hits the sack. Cool! I said, unconvincingly. It's a hard topic to crack. Gifts are exciting—and when placed amid a sea of incredibly, incredibly lame gifts that aren't Blu-ray players, it's easy to whip oneself into a gadgety frenzy, without justification. But when someone you care about gets something they don't need, you're doing them no favor by letting them fool themselves.

I was able to dissuade my father from getting a pointless Blu-ray player—for my buddy, it was a little too late.

It's not about tech bias or fanboy-ism or any sort of ideological stance on Blu-ray (are there even any HD-DVD zealots left? Hiding in the hills somewhere?). It's science. My dad was disappointed. But it's nothing personal about you or your tiny tube—it's just biology. And sometimes you just can't beat biology. So I explained to my father why it didn't make sense for him. I should explain this to my roommate—and so should you, if you're in position, witnessing the purchase of ill-advised tech.

It's easy to break down inoffensively.

Your eyes are only capable of so much—even the sharpest have limits. And these limits mean that, unless the conditions are right, you won't be able to appreciate the Blu-ray difference you just sunk cash into (or had a loved one sink cash into on your behalf).

The beauty of Blu-ray lies in its gorgeous 1080p image. But if your TV is under 40 inches—even if it technically supports 1080p—odds are you're not sitting close enough to the thing to even tell the difference. So unless you're alright with a very expensive placebo effect—Hey! I think it looks sharper!—you're wasting money on technology that's doing nothing for you, except taking up space under your TV. The extra pixels that Blu-ray player is pumping out are just lost in the ether. Or, in the case of a 720p set, the pixels aren't even there to begin with. No matter the reason, hooking a Blu-ray player up to an inadequate television is like taking your cousin out on a fancy date—expensive, pointless, and a little bit sad.

This rationale might sound overly technical. Or coldly impersonal. Well, it is impersonal—and that's the point. This isn't the AV equivalent of a heinous wool sweater you'd just as soon incinerate as donate to charity. A gadget you can't use—or use as it's meant to be used—isn't a reflection upon the gifter. It's not a matter of poor taste (although every Christmas is, of course, a striking annual reminder of poor taste). A mismatched gadget gift is the equivalent of a sweater that doesn't fit, not one emblazoned with horrendous knitted blue squirrels or whatever the hell. It's not right for—yes—technical reasons, not emotional ones. So guilt, obligation, whatever—all these should be placed to the side. The ill-conceived gadget gift should be appreciated—remember those thank you notes, like mom always nagged about—but just as you wouldn't walk down the street in some drooping, XXL jacket, it makes little sense to hook up a device that's not suited for your life at the moment. So hit the exchange line. Maybe get a refund to put toward a Blu-ray friendly TV. Or some new sweaters. But don't let guilt stand between you, science, and the proper use of good tech.