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Exclusive: Retrevo to launch gadget model decoder

Gadget review site is collecting and presenting data on what that string of letters and numbers in the model number means.

New Retrevo service deciphers TV model numbers.

What is a P65VT30? It's a Panasonic 65-inch TV. Is it better than a P65VT25? Yes, it is: the model number ending in "30" means it's a 2011 model. The "25" means 2010.

Gadget review and shopping site Retrevo is launching the Model Number Decoder on Thursday to make it easier for consumers to read the coding embedded in gadget model IDs. Because unlike on car tires, the product codes you see stamped onto the product labels are not based on any agreed-on standard.

The service will cover flat-screen TVs at launch. Other product categories will be added later.

Once you find the page on Retrevo that breaks down the coding on a particular product, you'll also see a rundown of the model line differences. For example, Retrevo tells us that a Samsung 6000-series TV has Wi-Fi built in, but the 500-series does not.

Retrevo is also tracking how versions of products sold only at big-box retailers like Costco and BestBuy map to products sold elsewhere. With this useful information, you can price-compare the Panasonic PX34 series HDTVs you see at Costco to Panasonic's X3 series sold elsewhere. They're the same thing.

While the data Retrevo presents is useful, the company could have done more on the usability front. It would be nice to be able to enter in a code, especially on the mobile Retrevo site, and get a letter-by-letter description of the precise product you're looking at based on its model code, as well as pointers to related products from the same brand and perhaps products from other manufacturers with the same features. Instead, Retrevo just gives you a static page that leaves you having to do a lot of mental cross-referencing.

CEO Vipin Jain told me he's "thinking about" offering the model number decoding feature as an API-accessible service. I think this would be smart; it would increase the possibility that a Retrevo service would find its way in front of more consumers, which in turn would generate potentially valuable information about what consumers are curious about across multiple, possibly competing, gadget sites.

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