HDTV “Tune-up” scam, Soundmatters MAINstage recommended

Week of October 19, 2003

Q: I have been looking at HDTV sets at my local big box electronics store. I was just about sold on a particular model when the salesman recommended a four year service plan for $300.00. He claimed that the HDTV sets are very high maintenance and require a technician to “tune them up” twice a year. If I don’t have the service plan the rate is $180.00 plus parts per visit. Do I really need to spend over $300.00 annually to keep a $2500.00 HDTV running properly?

-Jerry Helm, Ham Lake, MN

A: The salesman is lying in order to sell you a service plan. Sadly, this is not at all uncommon and it makes me angry when I read a story like yours. I receive many emails regarding unscrupulous sales practices used at big-box retailers in an attempt to sell these high-profit items. The “maintain the television/clean the television” is a common falsehood, and the twice-a-year angle takes it to new heights!

First, let’s dispel a myth or two. If you have ever purchased a new car, you know it came with an owner’s manual and a supplementary booklet detailing necessary scheduled maintenance. When you buy a television, it does not come with such a booklet. Nor will you find recommended maintenance in the owner’s manual, other than some recommendations for keeping the cabinet and screen clean. This is because there is no recommended maintenance. With the solid-state electronics and sealed optical system of modern televisions, you are inviting trouble if you open up a properly operating set.

This does not mean you should ignore your new television. If you have a rear projection television that uses traditional CRT tubes, you should re-adjust your picture brightness and contrast every thirty days for the first three months of ownership. This is because the tubes lose a little bit of their light output when they are new. Just use the picture controls that are accessed from your remote control.

If you own one of the new DLP or LCD rear projection televisions, the lamp will need replaced every five to seven years, depending on how much you watch television. The lamp is a user-replaceable item, so you do not need a technician for this, either. The lamps are likely to last longer than the term of the service plan, anyway.

I don’t know anyone who appreciates the service plan sales pressure you are likely to experience at a big-box store. You are really robbing yourself if you do not include some independent, locally owned television retailers and hi-fi stores on your shopping list. In my own experience, these smaller stores always offer a much better shopping experience. They have the same products as the big-box stores, and frequently the prices are lower. The setting is more intimate, the service is much more personal, and they do not push extended warranties. Visit a few and give them a chance to earn your business. I think you will be glad you did.

For more information on extended warranties and associated sales practices, read the March 20, 2003 column, linked at my website. (See below.)

Q: Don, I saw your column about the MAINstage unit. It sounds like something I definitely want. Have you tested it yet?

-Pete Christensen, Lakeville, MN

A: I received a MAINstage and tested it with both movies and music. Great product! The surround effects and sound quality are a vast improvement over a television’s speakers, and it sounds great with music, too. If you have been waiting to buy one, I am ready to say the coast is clear.

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