Are Today's HDTVs Truly Disposable Electronic Components?

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Broken_oldTV.gifI have been waiting for a repair on my Panasonic Professional 50-inch plasma for six weeks, with no sign of the set being returned to my living room. When my wife and I completed the renovation of our house in 2007, flat HDTVs were more expensive, especially the best-performing, highest black level, hand-calibrated ISF tricked-out plasmas. I think when all was done, for a 50-inch set I paid over $4,000, including some modest industry discounts. Today a bigger, lighter, more power-efficient HDTV costs less than $1,300 at Costco, Wal-mart or seemingly even Walgreens.

After speaking to a record producer friend of mine yesterday, who is suffering through similar plasma repair issues, I am wondering out loud if repairing HDTVs isn't just an exercise in foolishness. For many homes, there aren't multiple flat HDTVs in every room and, with hours a day of entertainment being missed, how much would it be worth to simply have the best and brightest new set installed and the problem solved? If a repair is $400 and a new set is $1,200, could you justify a new HDTV for $800 without any waiting, grief or agony? Six weeks into waiting for the repair, I am thinking $800 might have been more than reasonable. The time issue speaks to the fact that local repair shops (who used to make house calls and fix your CRT right in your living room) don't stock any parts. They use a JIT or "just in time" model, which means that parts are shipped in (purportedly overnight) from one location and the set is fixed quickly. But what happens when the parts are available at the distribution hub from the manufacturer? This can cause undue delays in repairs and, perhaps more importantly, unneeded grief in your life. Porsche has mastered this JIT system, resulting in the car company consistently being ranked at the top of the big customer service studies. Porsche also has rental cars to offer while your twin turbo is getting a new intercooler installed. I have yet to find an electronics company that can offer you a loaner HDTV while yours is in the shop.

This brings me back to the idea of HDTVs being a disposable commodity. At today's prices, HDTVs are easier to kick to the curb when they break, but tell that to the couple who paid $12,000 for a 50-inch Fujistu years ago that their beloved set needs to be recycled and you might get an ugly look from them. New sets have lots of new features too woo you into spending. 3D is coming in a matter of weeks to nearly every top HDTV you can buy. Today's sets are easily half the width of HDTVs from a few years back. LED sets look better in daylight than plasmas do. LCD and LED sets use a fraction of the power of early HDTVs, specifically early plasmas. Compared to the prices of yesteryear, going back to 1990 when I sold Pioneer Elite, Sony and Mitsubishi "big screen" standard-definition TVs for $5,000 at retailers in Philadelphia, today's 50-inch-plus HDTVs are a downright bargain.

So the next time one of your sets decides that it's not going to work any more, maybe you just skip the $100 diagnostic service call and the $100 fee for in-home pick-up and just order the latest, greatest and most bad-ass new set and have it "white glove" shipped to your house and/or installed by your local dealer. Make sure that they recycle your old set, as that is the responsible thing to do and could prevent some nasty toxins from going into the old trash dump and/or ground water. Also, think twice before buying that extended warranty. Unless the price is a nominal fee and the retailer plans to replace the set, save the money for the next time the TV breaks and just buy a new one. In the savings of aggravation alone, it's worth the extra money.

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