There was a time when Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Circuit City (NYSE:CC) were promising rivals in the seemingly lucrative realm of consumer electronics. The dueling superstore concepts seemed to be winning over mainstream shoppers while expanding their respective empires.

But history can be cruel. If you go back to early 1997, you will find a shocking divergence. Best Buy's stock has gone on to become a 20-bagger. On the other hand, Circuit City's capital appreciation has been flat. Best Buy earned its shiny moniker when Short Circuit wasn't just a corny Ally Sheedy movie. It was a sound investing strategy, too.

While Circuit City figured it had a proprietary hit on its hands with DivX and a properly motivated sales force that worked on commissions, the country saw it differently. DivX bombed as a video format, and patrons got sick of being stalked and hassled by transparently greedy, incentive-seeking employees.

Cruelty keeps a quarterly calendar, though, and its wicked sense of humor has both companies reporting earnings come Wednesday morning. Other companies, such as Monsanto (NYSE:MON), American Greetings (NYSE:AM), and Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) will also be showcasing their earnings this week, but the two techie home retailers' same-day release is where the real drama lies.

Fellow Fool David Marino-Nachison and I went back and forth -- and back again -- on the state of consumer electronics a few months ago. There was still a consensus within the disagreements. Best Buy's stock may not exactly be cheap, and Circuit City's shares have the ultimate upside if the struggling company can get back on track.

Circuit City is a wild card. Wall Street can't come to agreement on the retailer's prospects. More than two dozen analysts are chiming in with earnings expectations for the new fiscal year, and the range is from as low as break-even to as high as $0.50 a share. That kind of disparity breeds opportunity, one way or the other. Will folks looking to dive into plasma TVs or trying to decide between XM Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:XMSR) and Sirius (NASDAQ:SIRI) save the day or squash it?

Best Buy is the more stable alternative, with investors looking for earnings to come in between $2.70 and $2.90 a share in the coming year. So, let's see if Circuit City finally pulls through to the upside this year. If not, let's hope it has enough self-decency to find a different date on which to report its quarterly earnings in the future.

Are you ready to upgrade your living room with the ultimate home theater but have no idea where to start? Are you counting on the Best Buy or Circuit City clerk to have all the answers? Is it time to start buying widescreen DVDs instead of full-screen ones? All this and more -- in the Help With This Home Theater discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz, by his own count, has been to Best Buy twice as often as Circuit City over the past year. Still, he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.