When Gerry Harvey and Ruslan Kogan agree


blog It seems like a case of hell freezing over this week, with an amazing synchonicity of views being heard between two traditional opponents. We quote from the blog of Ruslan Kogan:

“If the Government is serious about this program, we honestly believe we could deliver a Set Top Box to each and every one of the proposed recipients for under 1/6th of what the Government has provisioned. The Government can spend as little as $50 million instead of the proposed $308 million on helping pensioners get access to digital TV … These devices are extremely easy to install – it usually takes just one cable from the Set Top Box to your TV.”

And Harvey Norman chief executive Gerry Harvey has also been on Sydney talkback radio making similar statements, followed up by this quote from Harvey Norman spokesman Haydon Myers:

“We can do a top-range, LCD digital television for $199, which you don’t even need a set-top box for,” he said. “All you have to do is plug a lead from the TV into the wall and one to the antenna.”

Could this be the start of a beautiful new relationship? Or even a new merged company, with physical and online shopfronts? What would we call it — Hardly Kogan, Kogan Normal, or maybe Ruslan and Gerry’s Excellent Adventures?

Image credit: Kogan Technologies and Delimiter


  1. Eh, most of the money isn’t for hardware, it’s for people to go and do the installations and show them how to use the remote. If you think this is silly, just think for a moment about all those VCR clocks flashing 88:88…

    A better criticism would be the one Bernard Keane has been making: why is this up to Government rather than the TV networks who’re going to benefit?

    • This is exactly the question that crossed my mind: why is this the government’s problem?

      I have this question cross my mind a few times, in particular with technology issues. Sometimes I can answer it, like with the NBN (that is to say I know why it is a political issue, not that I agree with what they doing), other times I can’t, like the filter.

      This falls squarely into the Why? bucket?

      • I figure the “Why?” in this case is entirely political — as opposed to something like the NBN, where it’s a policy issue, whether you agree with their thinking or not. It’s a case of taking the view that the networks aren’t going to fund it, and without this sort of scheme to finish off the push to digital doing the switch-off will be political suicide.

        Given how much money the Government has given the networks through hugely reduced license fees and extending the allowed number of minutes/hour of political advertising you’d think the networks would reciprocate. Then again, they’re all owned by beancounters these days, no more genuine media mogul types.

      • This is exactly the question that crossed my mind: why is this the government’s problem?

        Democracy my friend!

        Now think of the minuscule number of people who still don’t have access to digital TV, and the stupidly cheap price that set top boxes sell for, and think that the government is decidedly nervous about these voters. OK, got that in mind?

        Imagine the backlash when big chunks of copper network get closed down… If there’s one thing I have learned after too many years in the tech industry — people don’t like new ideas jammed down their throats. Pisses them right off.

    • “A better criticism would be the one Bernard Keane has been making: why is this up to Government rather than the TV networks who’re going to benefit?”

      Gillard has pointed out that one of the main reasons is to ensure that once analog is switched off everyone has access to emergency broadcast information, so that in times like the Qld Floods, Vic Bushfires, etc, information on what is going on from the authorities can be obtained.

      • Radio is the primary emergency broadcast medium, not TV. All the talk after the Victorian bushfires was about doing more with SMS.

        The real reason is that they don’t want to be screwed when the switch-off happens and there are large numbers of (mostly older) people without digital TV.

        • Actually, after the Victorian bushfires they had this idea of using a system that dials out landlines with voice messages:


          Let’s work through some of the terminology. A telephony-based emergency warning system – the example you are concerned with in this report and that your office has been developing is essentially automated phone calls made to landlines and possibly mobiles; is that right?—I think that underplays the key element. The key element we are looking for is the ability to define an area that is at risk and then to ring every landline and mobile phone in that area.

          Thankfully they abandoned that idea (which was dead-set stupid) and changed to the idea of sending SMS (which is sensible). During the QLD floods many people reported getting useful updates as SMS on their mobiles.

          What would be even more useful would be some sort of multicast SMS that could go out to every phone on a given tower — only to be used in emergency situations. This would reduce the load on the tower bandwidth and automatically notify everyone in a given area of a coming disaster (note that it does require the emergency services to know about a disaster before it hits, which disqualifies SEQ Water but I digress).

          After a lot of false starts, they did finally decide to do more with SMS.

    • “If you think this is silly, just think for a moment about all those VCR clocks flashing 88:88”

      Who cares if the clock is flashing 88:88? The basic operation (on/off, channel up/down) isn’t complicated, and I’d bet anyone who has used any kind of TV remote before would get it right on the first guess. Teaching the more advanced functionalities (how to use the menus/EPG/whatever) is well beyond the justification for the program (“people will be stuck with no TV if we don’t help them”). In any case, if pensioners do want to learn, what’s stopping them doing what everyone else does (read the manual or ask a teenager)?

      Side note: a lot of people are entirely capable of setting the clock on their VCR, but just haven’t bothered to do it because they haven’t wanted to record anything since the last time the power when out.

      • You are, I suspect, projecting your own experiences and treating them as universal.

        There’s a lot of stuff I take for granted, which seem incredibly simple and obvious to me, which completely elude a lot of other people. And those people often have skills that seem simple and obvious to them, which completely elude *me*.

        I’m not convinced that this should be government-funded — aside from the political issue, which means whichever party is in power at the time would be doing this — but the basic issue stands: there are a significant number of people who simply can’t pick up a $60 STB and expect to plug it in and operate it without some hand-holding. Kogan’s blather about it being easy is just that, blather.

        • I must say, I do tend to agree with people who think this set-top box funding is a waste of money. I don’t believe the Government really needs to provide this level of support to people. Food, clothing, shelter? Yes. Universal access to high-definition entertainment? Hardly. That should be our own purview.

          • It does seem a lot of money, I initially though the same thing (and still think $300 is at the high end of the scale). The real cost/service is indeed the installation and training. Everyone here are tech-savy. How many have helped an elderly person swap over to digital?

            For the few that I have helped, its hasn’t been completely straightforward.

            For starters, analogue channels are still going to be broadcast for a while so anyone who has a memory lapse and picks up the old TV remote will get a blurry picture and wonder why its not working.

            If they do pickup the right remote, then they will presumably have to turn on the TV first – flick to AV then pick a channel with the STB remote. Not difficult, but remember some of these people were born before TV was even common in homes and technology doest come as second nature.

            To really make life interesting, if people have not already upgraded to digital – they probably haven’t upgraded their VCR either. Try explaining how to record or watch tv with a VCR plugged up as well.

            They will now potentially have a TV (without enough AV plugs!) with a VCR and STB plugged in, and need to know the new process to view the channels!

            In some cases, it might be cheaper to swap the entire TV unit out – and that may well be what happens in some cases. For everyone else though, this (presumably) provides for support and assistance getting their setup working properly

            Renai – comments need a preview button!

      • I recently purchased an LED digital TV (from Kogan of course) and the only thing that annoyed me was that when first connected it says “No Signal” and I had in fact just replaced the entire cable from the antenna to the TV set with quad-shielded Belden cable (overkill, but given the effort spent in labour, seems insane to use crap cable) so there was at least some chance that it genuinely had no input signal. However, the old analog TV was quite happy with the signal delivered by the Belden.

        After finding the menu option that, with a single selection, will scan all channels, and fully configure everything including the program guide, it all just worked. Seriously, it was as easy as selecting one menu option and letting the TV do its stuff. The only suggestion I have is that the “No Signal” message is a bit misleading, could have been a different error message to give the hint that you need to trigger the scan option.

        The only other minor things about Kogan TV’s is that if you want to use the PVR facilities then you need a genuinely fast USB drive and I finally spent $100 on a Corsair Voyager USB flash stick which works nicely. Digging out an old slow drive from your back shed causes no end of strange TV lockups and bad results. So if you really do want PVR then mentally add $100 to the price for some storage. That’s probably not a big issue for the grandparents. The built-in speakers on the Kogan TV sets are so-so quality, you get much better sound by piping the audio out through an external amplifier and into hi-fi speakers. Nothing unusual about that, same thing could be said about most digital TV’s.

        You will probably also want to turn the brightness down, because the Kogan LED displays are much brighter than normal human eyes can handle. The other choice would be sitting in your lounge room wearing a welding mask, or starting a tanning salon.

  2. Oddly enough they’re right, for around $60 you could get a HD set top box to every house.

    I’m not sure about everyone else here though, but my olds needed to wait for me to visit before plugging their new HD STB in because they didn’t have a clue where the cables went or how to set it up.

    Really Ruslan’s assumption that it’s “extremely easy to install” is just a slap in the face to anyone who is technically inept, let alone Gerry attempt to use the situation as advertising.

    • Unless your parents are severely mentally handicapped I am sure they could’ve figured it out – it’s nothing more than matching colours and shapes. You don’t even need to be able to read. A toddler could do it.

      • I’m sorry, but could you explain why you felt the sudden need to make assumptions/insults about my parents?

        • I was working under the assumption that your parents are not severely mentally handicapped. My sincere condolences if this is not the case.

          • No my parents are not severely mentally handicapped, they’re not handicapped at all for that matter.

            But your assumption that they should be able to work out (because as you said a toddler can do it, though I’d like to see you find one that could) is a complete insult to them and to everyone else of their generation who doesn’t know one cable from the next.

            It isn’t a matter of whether they are disabled in any shape or form, it just means they don’t understand the concept. There is nothing wrong with that, hell I know the basics of how my car works but if I want it fixed I pay a mechanic to do it.

            Does the fact I can’t do maintenance on my car, an item which has been around far longer than TV, mean I’m disabled or handicapped in any way?

          • If an oil change on a car could be done with no tools, no mess and no chance of damaging anything if you stuff it up then I would have a pretty poor opinion of anyone unwilling to even give it a go before calling a mechanic. People are just scared of technology, and if we actually wanted to help them we’d tell them the honest truth that’s there’s nothing hard or complicated about plugging in a couple of cables into the matching jacks.

            Maybe I am greatly overestimating the capabilities of the average Australian – but I think you lot are making excuses because it’s easier to save everybody’s pride by saying “don’t worry about it, it’s complicated”. If my 70-year-old grandmother could manage to swap out a failed IDE CD-burner on her computer with some instructions given over the phone – and she did, once I explained it’s just a matter of plugging the cables where they fit – I think your parents could manage to plug in a digital STB.

          • Maybe I am greatly overestimating the capabilities of the average Australian – but I think you lot are making excuses because it’s easier to save everybody’s pride by saying “don’t worry about it, it’s complicated”.

            If you’re going to start a strawman argument (that being that when we say not everyone is technically adept you turn that and say we mean the average Australian is technically inept) then any discussion with you is just going to be an exercise in futility.

          • I’ll admit that “the average Australian” was poor phrasing, but you’re (deliberately?) ignoring the main thrust of my comment.

            The “skills” required to plug in a STB are literally childs’ play (see http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?e=detail&pcat=bubrilliant&pid=51741 Ages: 6 months & up), yet somehow when it’s matching cables instead of plastic blocks the “technologically inept” are paralysed by an irrational fear of technology and become unable to perform simple tasks. Irrational fear is a poor basis for government policy (cf. boats, and the stopping thereof, magical x-ray scanning machines in airports, etc).

          • You’re right and I apologise.

            As the installation of the STB’s also has involved the installation of new antenna’s, please supply us video of you instructing your grandmother (via phone of course) on the installation of an antenna. The footage will require her climbing up a ladder, on the roof, and doing the full manual installation (including calibrating to get the best signal) herself.

            If you can’t supply that then you’re missing the overall scope of what’s actually involved and can’t get past the ACA/TT “oh my god it’s $400 for a $30 STB” misinformation.

          • So your grandmother with instructions from you was able to replace her CD drive.

            So who is going to walk through the people who get these set top boxes, step by step in how to install them?

            My sister has grown up around technical people and doesn’t have the confidence to setup various devices and so often gets me to come around.

            Whether it’s easy/straight forward doesn’t really matter. If the person has no confidence in setting up a device then someone else needs to install it for them.

            Now yeah $300 per install is a far.

            But, is this figure just covering the set top box and install of it. Or the installation of everything required to get the set top box working correctly. So set top box, new antenna, powered antenna, new cabling etc etc??

      • Seriously Ian? I think you should go spend a little time working in a consumer internet tech support department for a while.

        Its a pretty safe bet that anyone reading this blog would have no problem at all with this install… actually its a pretty safe bet they are already using digital TV. But there are a lot of people out there that are not tech literate.

      • Actually I find setting up TV channels and stuff to be a little more complicated that many people agree … sure, the hardware can be plugged in easily, but I normally leave the tuning to my wife. Having said that, I certainly don’t need or want the Government to do it for me …

        • “The Government”? Okay, then. How about me? I’m not “The Government” but I’m looking for work, have basic tech skills and a congenial manner when dealing with people who are not confident or adept with technology.

          What I want to know is: how do I apply, and when would I start?

  3. Set top boxes are a waste of money. I’ve seen it done so many times around me – households buy a set top box, then a year later buy an LCD TV.

    There should just be a push to get rid of CRT TVs, that way HD can be assured in every household and the major networks can make their primary channels HD instead of SD.

    • It may come as something of a shock to you, but the country isn’t made up entirely of well-paid tech dudes who can afford to just replace their current telly so you can have HD on the main channels.

        • Hi! I have three CRT TVs and no hope of replacing any of them. I have a cheap-o set top box which mostly works (my kids set it up so they can watch ABC2) but I can’t get the damn thing to work properly. And yes, I have RTFM. And no, I can’t just get someone to help me with it — I’m the one who helps my friends and family with their “88:88” tech problems.

          I sincerely empathise with the many, many financially and technologically vulnerable people who can’t just go out and buy their way into the 21st century because, like me, they struggle to pay their bills so they genuinely don’t have the money to buy so much as a decent set top box, let alone a shiny new flat-screen.

          Perhaps I could afford a new TV if I could get employment going house to house setting up people’s set top boxes. Or perhaps the training would provide me with the key to getting my dodgy set-top box to work properly. Or maybe it will transpire that the problem is that the $39 set top box is worth exactly what I paid for it…

        • Something of a minority, though. I think that’s worth bearing in mind when discussing government policy/decisions.

          I sure don’t need help setting up an STB. My hypothetical grandmother probably would, not to mention some of my older aunts and uncles. If we’re switching off a service people have come to rely on, then it’s not unreasonable to provide a little assistance to the stragglers.

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