Floor-model plasma TVs and extended warranties

Week of April 9, 2006

Q: I have an opportunity to buy a Floor-Model Panasonic TH50PX50U Plasma HDTV. This is the same one recently rated highest by Consumer Reports. It has been a floor model for only about 4 months. The list was $3999, and it is marked down to $2999–BUT the manager of that department (of a major department store chain) will let it go for 10% off of that, AND my wife gets another 10% discount as a store employee–bringing it down to $2429 (plus tax). My concern is it has been on for about 12 hours/day for that time period, and at the brightest levels. I believe Panasonic is a quality brand, based on past experience with their CRT models, but the use pattern concerns me.

Is the savings worth the possible shortened lifespan? Is the maintenance contract (3 years at $750 total) a worthwhile consideration? I have searched your back columns for any “floor model” suggestions, but I have not found any discussion on that topic.

They cannot hold it for me, so your immediate response would be appreciated!

– Jeff Cowan, Brackenridge, PA

A: Boy, this is a tough one. My gut feeling is no, I would steer clear of this TV. First of all “only on display a few months” is what you are likely to hear more often when not whenever a store wants to sell a floor model… are you sure it was not much longer? And even if it WAS only 3-4 months, that could be very hard wear on a plasma, the most fragile of TV technologies.

I would avoid the maintenance contract- your money would be better used to get a TV that is fresh in the box. For example, $3999 for a brand new unused TV less your wife’s 10% employee discount would be $3,600. The floor model’s discounted price of $2429 plus + $750 for the maintenance agreement is $3179. The contract wipes out much of the savings, the reason for getting a floor model. I’d rather spend a bit more for a brand new TV without the maintenance agreement than an unknown quantity with the maintenance agreement. Besides, you are not getting three years for your money… the TV has a warranty that overlaps it.   If you do decide to get this TV the value equation is better without the contract.

I’d keep looking… but if you really love the TV, I would look at it long and hard and make sure there is no burn-in damage. A plain blue screen from an unconnected input will let you examine it very closely. Turn down the contrast as you examine the screen to make sure, and dim the lights if possible.

If you are shopping discounted floor models to get a nicer TV for a given budget, it is much safer to buy a LCD, LCoS (typically called SXRD or D-ILA) and DLP model than a plasma or CRT set. They are not prone to burn-in problems and the time on the floor mostly means you will to need a lamp sooner than you would if you purchased a new-in-the-box set. Factor in the cost of a new lamp vs. the discount and you may have a nice buy.

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