Flat-panel TV reliability

Week 21, 2003  

Q) Do you know anything about the reliability of flat-screen TVs?
I am THINKING of getting one. It’s a 20-inch LCD (whatever that means), made by Sharp. The main reason I’m thinking of getting it (not because of what it COSTS) is because it won’t take up much space; my space is limited. But I won’t get it if it’s not reliable. I wonder: if you have to have it worked on, does the repairman say, “We don’t know enough about these yet to even know how to fix it”. They’ll probably hit me with the inevitable extended warranty too.
Just wondered what, if anything, you know about the quality of flat-screen TVs in general, and, this brand in particular. It’s not a decision I want to rush into.

-Mindy Cecero

A) Flat-screen TVs come in several forms.   One example is a television with a flat-faced picture tube, such as the Sony Wega series.   These use a conventional picture tube, but with a flat front.   Plasma televisions, and LCD models such as the Sharp you are considering, are more properly called flat-panels to differentiate them from flat-screen tube TVs such as the Wega.     Plasma TVs use gas that reacts to changes in electrical current.   LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display.   In an LCD, special crystals making up the screen react according to the electrical signal, creating the image.   The screen is backlit so you can see the picture formed by the crystals.   These explanations are extremely simple and don’t fully explain the very complicated technology at work, but should give you an idea of the different ways flat-screen TVs work.

Your main concern seems to be the reliability of LCD televisions.   Though TVs such as the 20-inch LCD Sharp Aquos are a relatively new offering, the core technology behind them is the quite mature.   The Sharp Aquos LCD TV and other products like it are similar to an LCD computer monitor, but include circuitry for receiving and displaying television broadcasts and video signals from DVD players and VCRs.   Millions of laptop computers with LCD displays have been sold and have proven reliable in use.     As long as the TV does not have a design or manufacturing defect, there is no reason an LCD TV will not prove to be reliable.

In terms of the Sharp brand in particular, Sharp is an industry leader in LCD technology and has been for years.   Their Sharpvision brand of LCD video projectors is very popular with home theater enthusiasts, and used examples sell briskly on eBay.   If you want to buy an LCD product, Sharp is one of the safest bets you can make.

Extended warranties are largely a matter of personal choice.   My personal opinion is that they are unnecessary, offer very poor value for the very high prices charged, and misleading or false information is often used by salespeople in an effort to sell them.   Modern solid-state electronics are very reliable and if the product is defective, it is likely to fail while under the manufacturer’s warranty.   Even products with moving parts such as DVD players will likely last at least five years, beyond the extended warranty coverage most retailers offer.  

One final consideration:   the 20-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV retails for $1,399.   The examples I have seen do not match the picture quality of other types of television.

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