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Evaluating Your Next Television Purchase

 

Whether it's a brand or off-brand option, the following items should definitely be on your checklist.

 

Picture Quality

When assessing television picture quality look for: color depth, sharpness and overall clarity.

Make sure it’s the television quality and not the settings that are making the difference.

No two people see color tones and color depth in the same way; I have some friends whose televisions I cannot bear to look at; they are sooo… orange!, or green! to me. So find one that can be adjusted to your eyes. Sony appears to be the benchmark for many in picture quality, so line it up side by side.


Adjustment Settings

Checking in store how easy [or how difficult] it is to adjust the settings is an important part of evaluation. Remember, when you get your set home and hook it up to VCR’s, DVD players, set top boxes and cable, you WILL need to make adjustments. Check there is also a good range within each setting.

Test the blacks – this is where the quality really shows. LCD screens have typical black fade in the corners. Others are not even black, but barely gray. Look for detail in dark parts of the screen.

 

Home Check

For higher priced models, ask if you can do a home check. Unfortunately, most stores won't let you do that for lower cost models, but $2000+ investments warrant a test drive in situ.

If they don’t ask them to note on the purchase that they warrant that you will see exactly as you do here and if you are not happy you can return it within 14 or 30 days, for a full refund. Make them stand up to their claims.

 

Consistent Quality Over Multiple Configurations

Check the unit with various configurations – A typical multimedia configuration would be:

  • HD Digital Cable ATSC tuner box provided by a cable company
  • Blu-ray Disc Player
  • Region free standard definition DVD player
  • DVD Recorder
  • HD DVD Player
  • Media Center PC

and you should still have free slots to add more stuff.

EXAMPLE:

A 1080i HDTV gives great quality high definition images on HD digital cable, with ATSC tuner used to get HDTV signals, HD DVD, Blu-ray Disc, up-converted DVDs.

Standard definition digital cable channels look a bit washed out though. This is because the contrast ratio is low at 550 to 1.

AV Feature Set

At a minimum look for the following:

Visual Features

  • SD digital comb filter
  • 1080i maximum HD resolution through two sets of HD component video inputs
  • D-sub 15 pin VGA
  • DVI with HDCP
  • RF input to a built in NTSC tuner.

Audio Features

  • D-sub PC anolog sound input
  • Individual sets of composite audio inputs dedicated respectively for the 2 HD
  • Component Video Inputs
  • 2 S-Video Inputs
  • 2 Composite Video inputs
  • 10 watt side stereo speakers
  • Composite audio output for external left and right channel speakers
  • A powered subwoofer.

 

Technology Supported

Make sure the television supports new HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats.

Be realistic though with technology compatibility; televisions built for HD will not display analogue to the same quality.

Make sure all your software versions are compatible.

Test the television in the configuration you will be using, even if it means taking your hardware into the store.

Technology Compatiblity Case Study:

One customer had an extremely irritating problem with A TH50XP600U 50" Panasonic television “humming” in the television speakers when connected to DVR. The problem did not occur playing DVD through a cable box, but on DVR. It appears fine connected to a HD box that was not DVR and to a DVD player which causes no hum when playing DVD's. The humming will only stop when the DVR is unplugged. Replacement cables and DVR box made no difference. Other readers suggested:

  • Try isolating the TV speakers, by hooking up a surround sound.
  • Check the TV software version, it may need an upgrade to accept the DVR signal.

 

Component Manufacturer

Find out who actually makes the generic brand. Many are made by the same big brand makes, or use use the same components.

 

Warranty

Many off brand televisions have the same warranty as well known ones. For instance, ILO Plasma [Available at Wal-Mart] has a picture quality better than some well known brands, and a warranty that equals brand names.

In the USA, Lemon Law applies in most states to goods other than vehicles. More information on Lemon Law can be found at Lemon Law Review.

Check for Three Strike clauses in manufacturers warranties. Most extended warranties have them. This version of Lemon Law means the manufacturer gets three shots to resolve your problem. If the problem recurs after repair attempt #3, you get a full refund.

Make sure the warranties are long enough. In some countries like NZ, the length of the warranty is overpowered by Consumer Law, which states that the unit must be fit for purpose. That is, it must last, problem free for a reasonable time. Good luck defining what that period is in Court, but you can be assured it will be longer than the six months many manufacturers offer.

A 32 Vizio flat screen LCD purchased mid 2006 from Sam's Club for $999 didn’t fare well. Two weeks after the warranty expired, the sound and picture started cutting off randomly for about 3-5 seconds, then come back again. Sam's Club would not take the television back because the one year warranty had expired.

Westinghouse, on the other hand offer a 5 year – In Home warranty.

 

Customer Support

To many, a 42 Samsung Plasma TV exemplifies the best in TV technologies, but in this instance, Samsung appear to have assembly quality issues.

Poor assemby results in many common and not so common failures for the customer. It is how it manages those instances that upholds or kills a good public perception.

Support Case Study 1:

A Samsung customer who bought a 42" plasma television found that after a couple of month, he had problems with the cable terminal. When trying to connect the cable to the terminal on the back, the terminal came undone.

  • Calls to Samsung sent him to the "Warranty Company"  [ cost an extra $160 at the time of purchase] only to be told that it wasn’t covered, as it was considered as caused by "abuse" and not malfunction.
  • So back to Samsung, who now sent them to an Authorized Repair Center. The Repair Center said it will cost about $300 to $400 to repair.
  • Emails and faxes to Customer Satisfaction went unanswered.

Now it could be fair to claim that this is an isolated incident, very badly managed by a good brand [ they make fantastic cell phones, that never seem to fail!!]; but with the media available today, these instances can badly damage brand image.

In this case, the disgruntled customer immediately set up a new blog: samsungsucks.blogspot.com.

One would expect more from Samsung and perhaps they need to be stricter in the outsourced selection of their Warranty Companies and Authorized Repair Centers. In this instance the problem was eventually fixed, after the second attempt by the repair center, but at a cost more than the $$$ cost to the customer.

After a most insistent trail of attempts all the way to the executive suite, this customer eventually got a partial refund[about 50%]for the repair cost from Samsung. It probably cost Samsung 10 times that in personel time and processing costs, than if they had validated the complaint in the first instance.

But Samsung are not the only quality brand to come under the spotlight of poor customer service.

Support Case Study 2

One review we read claimed that “JVC has the worst Customer Service”. A JVC DVD-R recorder broke soon after purchase, and they had a “tough time getting help from JVC over the phone”.

Another with a Sony SXRD break down was sent to a Sony Authorized Service Provider who “were incompetent to the error message that my TV was displaying”.

Fortuanately the vendor, Crutchfield.com, was a little more quality conscious and sent a brand new SXRD with no questions asked in exchange for the broken one.

The lesson here is to only deal with honest, experienced independent dealers. Even if it costs you 10% more for real service, it may end up being a bargain.

Where possible ALWAYS try to get a return/exchange from the retailer, not the manufacturer. If you order online, use one that has superior customer support such as Crutchfield.com or Vanns.com

If the manufacturer does not support the unit locally, check that the vendor will ship it back for you. For example, a 32" Tatung widescreen flat panel HD ready TV can be purchased from Wal-Mart for < $900.

Tatung, make parts for other Korean brand televisions like Samsung, but only recently entered retail flat panel TV. Servicing requires shipping the unit back to their Texas factory at your expense. Wal-Mart will provide a box to send the TV back to them at their expense and then once they received it, they sent me a new one. The immediate replacement by Tatung and shipping handling by Wal-Mart proved a good experience.

More In This Series:

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