Consumer electronics or home electronics are electronic or digital equipment intended for everyday use, typically in private homes. Consumer electronics include devices used for entertainment (flatscreen TVs, DVD players, DVD movies, iPods, video games, remote control cars, etc.), communications (telephones, cell phones, e-mail-capable laptops, etc.), and home-office activities (e.g., desktop computers, printers, paper shredders, etc.). In British English, they are often called brown goods by producers and sellers, to distinguish them from "white goods" such as washing machines and refrigerators. In the 2010s, this distinction is not always present in large big box consumer electronics stores, such as Best Buy, which sell both entertainment, communications, and home office devices and kitchen appliances such as refrigerators. Consumer electronics stores differ from professional audio stores in that the former sells consumer-grade electronics for private use, whereas the latter sells professional-grade electronics designed for use by audio engineers and audio technicians.
- Electronic component
- Software development
- Trade shows
- IEEE initiatives
- Service and repair
- Energy consumption
- Standby power
- Electronic waste
Radio broadcasting in the early 20th century brought the first major consumer product, the broadcast receiver. Later products included telephones, personal computers, MP3 players, audio equipment, televisions (first cathode ray tube TVs, then in the 2000s, flatscreen TVs) and calculators. In the 2010s, consumer electronics stores often sell GPS, automotive electronics (car stereos), video game consoles, electronic musical instruments (e.g., synthesizer keyboards), karaoke machines, digital cameras, and video players (VCRs in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by DVD players and Blu-ray disc players). Stores also sell digital cameras, camcorders, cell phones, and smartphones. As of 2016, some of the newer products sold include virtual reality head-mounted display goggles, smart home devices that connect home devices to the Internet (such as smartphone-controllable thermostats and lights) and wearable technology such as Fitbit digital exercise watches.
In the 2010s, most products have become based on digital technologies, and have largely merged with the computer industry in what is increasingly referred to as the consumerization of information technology. Some consumer electronics stores, such as Best Buy have also begun selling office and baby furniture. Consumer electronics stores may be "bricks and mortar" physical retail stores, online stores, where the consumer chooses items on a website and pays online (e.g, Amazon). or a combination of both models (e.g., Best Buy has both bricks and mortar stores and an e-commerce website for ordering its products). The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) estimated the value of 2015 consumer electronics sales at US$220 billion.
For its first fifty years the phonograph turntable did not use electronics; the needle and soundhorn were purely mechanical technologies. However, in the 1920s radio broadcasting became the basis of mass production of radio receivers. The vacuum tubes that had made radios practical were used with record players as well, to amplify the sound so that it could be played through a loudspeaker. Television was soon invented, but remained insignificant in the consumer market until the 1950s. The transistor, invented in 1947 by Bell Laboratories, led to significant research in the field of solid-state semiconductors in the early 1950s. The transistor's advantages revolutionized that industry along with other electronics. By 1959 Fairchild Semiconductor had introduced the first planar transistor from which come the origins of Moore's Law. Integrated circuits followed when manufacturers built circuits (usually for military purposes) on a single substrate using electrical connections between circuits within the chip itself. Bell's invention of the transistor and the development of semiconductors led to far better and cheaper consumer electronics, such as transistor radios, televisions, and by the 1980s, affordable video game consoles and personal computers that regular middle class families could buy.
Main consumer electronics products include radio receivers, television sets, MP3 players, video recorders, DVD players, digital cameras, camcorders, personal computers, video game consoles, telephones and mobile phones. Increasingly these products have become based on digital technologies, and have largely merged with the computer industry in what is increasingly referred to as the consumerization of information technology such as those invented by Apple Inc. and MIT Media Lab.
One overriding characteristic of consumer electronic products is the trend of ever-falling prices. This is driven by gains in manufacturing efficiency and automation, lower labor costs as manufacturing has moved to lower-wage countries, and improvements in semiconductor design. Semiconductor components benefit from Moore's Law, an observed principle which states that, for a given price, semiconductor functionality doubles every two years.
While consumer electronics continues in its trend of convergence, combining elements of many products, consumers face different decisions when purchasing. There is an ever increasing need to keep product information updated and comparable, for the consumer to make an informed choice. Style, price, specification, and performance are all relevant. There is a gradual shift towards e-commerce web-storefronts.
Many products include Internet connectivity using technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, EDGE or Ethernet. Products not traditionally associated with computer use (such as TVs or Hi-Fi equipment) now provide options to connect to the Internet or to a computer using a home network to provide access to digital content. The desire for high-definition (HD) content has led the industry to develop a number of technologies, such as WirelessHD or ITU-T G.hn, which are optimized for distribution of HD content between consumer electronic devices in a home.
Many consumer electronics are built in China, due to maintenance cost, availability of materials, quality, and speed as opposed to other countries such as the United States. Cities such as Shenzhen have become important production centres for the industry, attracting many consumer electronics companies such as Apple Inc.
An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic components are mostly industrial products, available in a singular form and are not to be confused with electrical elements, which are conceptual abstractions representing idealized electronic components.
Consumer electronics such as personal computers use various types of software. Embedded software is used within some consumer electronics, such as mobile phones. This type of software may be embedded within the hardware of electronic devices. Some consumer electronics include software that is used on a personal computer in conjunction with electronic devices, such as camcorders and digital cameras, and third-party software for such devices also exists.
Some consumer electronics adhere to protocols, such as connection protocols "to high speed bi-directional signals". In telecommunications, a communications protocol is a system of digital rules for data exchange within or between computers.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) trade show has taken place yearly in Las Vegas, Nevada since its foundation in 1973. The event, which grew from having 100 exhibitors in its inaugural year to more than 3,600 exhibitors in its 2014 edition, features new consumer electronics and speeches by industry pioneers.
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world's largest professional society, has many initiatives to advance the state-of-the art of consumer electronics. IEEE has a dedicated society of thousands of professionals to promote CE, called the Consumer Electronics Society (CESoc). IEEE has multiple periodicals and international conferences to promote CE and encourage collaborative research and development in CE. The flagship conference of CESoc, called IEEE International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE), is on its 35th year.
Electronics retailing is a significant part of the retail industry in many countries. In the United States, big-box store retailers include Best Buy and Sears, with Best Buy being the largest consumer electronics retailer in the country. Broad-based retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, also sell consumer electronics in many of their stores. In April 2014, retail e-commerce sales were the highest in the consumer electronic and computer categories as well. Some consumer electronics retailers offer extended warranties on products with programs such as SquareTrade.
An electronics district is an area of commerce with a high density of retail stores that sell consumer electronics.
The electronics industry, especially meaning consumer electronics, emerged in the 20th century and has now become a global industry worth billions of dollars. Contemporary society uses all manner of electronic devices built in automated or semi-automated factories operated by the industry.
Service and repair
Consumer electronic service can refer to the maintenance of said products. When consumer electronics have malfunctions, they may sometimes be repaired.
In 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the increased popularity in listening to sound from analog audio devices, such as record players, as opposed to digital sound, has sparked a noticeable increase of business for the electronic repair industry there.
The energy consumption of consumer electronics and their environmental impact, either from their production processes or the disposal of the devices, is increasing steadily. EIA estimates that electronic devices and gadgets account for about 10%-15% of the energy use in American homes – largely because of their number; the average house has dozens of electronic devices. The energy consumption of consumer electronics increases – in America and Europe - to about 50% of household consumption, if the term is redefined to include home appliances such as refrigerators, dryers, clothes washers and dishwashers.
Standby power – used by consumer electronics and appliances while they are turned off – accounts for 5–10% of total household energy consumption, costing $100 annually to the average household in the United States. A study by United States Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab found that a videocassette recorders (VCRs) consume more electricity during the course of a year in standby mode than when they are used to record or playback videos. Similar findings were obtained concerning satellite boxes, which consume almost the same amount of energy in "on" and "off" modes.
A 2012 study in the United Kingdom, carried out by the Energy Saving Trust, found that the devices using the most power on standby mode included televisions, satellite boxes and other video and audio equipment. The study concluded that UK households could save up to £86 per year by switching devices off instead of using standby mode. A report from the International Energy Agency in 2014 found that $80 billion of power is wasted globally per year due to inefficiency of electronic devices. Consumers can reduce unwanted use of standby power by unplugging their devices, using power strips with switches, or by buying devices that are standardized for better energy management, particularly Energy Star marked products.
Electronic waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Many consumer electronics may contain toxic minerals and elements, and many electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, dioxins, or brominated flame retardants. Electronic waste recycling may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaking of materials such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes. However, large amounts of the produced electronic waste from developed countries is exported, and handled by the informal sector in countries like India, despite the fact that exporting electronic waste to them is illegal. Strong informal sector can be a problem for the safe and clean recycling.
Reuse and repair
E-waste policy has gone through various incarnations since the 1970s, with emphases changing as the decades passed. More weight was gradually placed on the need to dispose of e-waste more carefully due to the toxic materials it may contain. There has also been recognition that various valuable metals and plastics from waste electrical equipment can be recycled for other uses. More recently the desirability of reusing whole appliances has been foregrounded in the ‘preparation for reuse’ guidelines. The policy focus is slowly moving towards a potential shift in attitudes to reuse and repair.
With turnover of small household appliances high and costs relatively low, many consumers will throw unwanted electric goods in the normal dustbin, meaning that items of potentially high reuse or recycling value go to landfills. While larger items such as washing machines are usually collected, it has been estimated that the 160,000 tonnes of EEE in regular waste collections was worth £220 million. And 23% of EEE taken to Household Waste Recycling Centres was immediately resaleable – or would be with minor repairs or refurbishment. This indicates a lack of awareness among consumers as to where and how to dispose of EEE, and of the potential value of things that are literally going in the bin.
For reuse and repair of electrical goods to increase substantially in the UK there are barriers that must be overcome. These include people’s mistrust of used equipment in terms of whether it will be functional, safe, and the stigma for some of owning second-hand goods. But the benefits of reuse could allow lower income households access to previously unaffordable technology whilst helping the environment at the same time.<Cole, C., Cooper, T. and Gnanapragasam, A., 2016. Extending product lifetimes through WEEE reuse and repair: opportunities and challenges in the UK. In: Electronics Goes Green 2016+ Conference, Berlin, Germany, 7-9 September 2016>