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Meade - An Innovative Company (finally)

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From the Editors Desk - Meade

From The Editor's Desk
Meade - An Innovative Company (finally)

From the Editor's Desk articles are the opinions and musings of Allister St. Claire. These articles do not represent facts nor are they objective in any way.

For years the offerings from Meade and Celestron reminded me of the computer industry. Intel would announce a new chip and PC makers would stuff them into their boxes and advertise the new product. The differences between one manufacturers PC and the next came down to small things - slightly different video cards, different colored boxes, extra software.

Reviews and forum commentaries would magnify these small differences and make them seem larger then life. Test suites were devised to inform us that vendor A's PC with the different graphics card performed 12% better on some obscure test score. Rarely did I see how this translated into real world, noticeable differences.

Meanwhile, the vast bulk of home PC buying was done by people who really didn't care about these small differences and just wanted a PC to surf the web, write some letters, balance the checkbook and have the kids play some games. Barring some sort of design flaw or QA problem, the PCs worked and users were happy.

In the case of Meade and Celestron, substitute SCT ota for Intel chip and the analogy holds up perfectly. Meade had their lx200, Celestron their NexStar GOTO. Meade had the non-goto LX10s, Celestron their non-goto Celestars. The ads for both companies emphasized those aspects that made them unique from the competition - coatings, unique GOTO features, etc. Yet, the main component was always an SCT ota.

Just like the PCs, reviews and forum commentaries focus on the scope's differences and magnify 10x their importance. Casual buyers read these posts and go into fits of indecision for days and weeks on end. In reality, both scope lineups performed the same. Potential buyers would have saved themselves much time and agony by either flipping a coin or getting the scope with the paint job they liked best.

This may sound like I'm making broad generalized statements here. If so, it's not your fault. The complete lack of true innovation in this market segment has lowered our expectations to the point where we no longer remember what a unique product is. We really think that slightly different coatings and an expanded GOTO database is innovation. Rubbish.

Consider this; if I were in the market for a mass produced 10-12" imaging platform 2 years ago, my choices were;

1. Meade LX200 10" or 12" fork mounted SCT
2. Celestron CGE 11"
3. Celestron NexStar 11'

For actual imaging work the differences between these lineups is in the MOUNT only. The pictures you take (and the reason for the purchase to begin with), will come out the same as the scope used is identical.

Today if you are looking for the same type of imaging platform, Meade has added the RCX400 Ritchey-Chrétien. A completely different optical design and one with many advantages over the SCT's. Now this is innovation and an example of the truly competitive mind set.

But Meade hasn't stopped there. After a decade of 12 companies selling the same types of sonotube dobs (including Meade), they recently released their LightBridge line of truss dobs.

Truss dobs are certainly not new. Premium dob manufacturers have been hand crafting and selling them for over a decade. What makes Meade's offering different, is they are mass produced, low cost and in stock.

Just like SCTs, we've grown resigned to the fact that sonotube dob differences comes down to accessories and the color of the tube. With the LightBridge truss line, we have a new product with real world differences from the rest of the mass produced dob lines.

But let's not forget about eyepieces. Meade has revamped their UWA (ultra-wide angle), SWA (super wide angle) and plossl lines. The new UWAs and SWAs are an evolutionary step from the previous version. They're reported to be better then the old lines but the specs remain fairly similar (with some new focal lengths added).

The Plössls are a different story. Once again, about 12 companies sell Plössls with cited differences being the coatings and color of the barrel (starting to see a trend here?). Meade decided to expand the field of view of the Plössls from the traditional 52-degrees to 60-degrees. They also made the smart decision to make their 32mm and 40mm Plössls 2" eyepieces instead of the traditional 1.25". This greatly expands the FOV and makes their new Plössl line distinctive in a real world way.

As a community of consumers such innovations should be expected from the companies that sell to us. We shouldn't settle for a decade of stagnation in product lines. Instead of hailing a tweak to a GOTO SCT as a groundbreaking product, let's have a collective yawn and question "Is this the best they can do?". Let's not lower our expectations to the lowest common denominator.

Well done Meade.. well done.


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