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Beware the End of Sale – Don’t Get Tricked Into Buying Extras You Don’t Need

December 20th, 2010 · 10 Comments · 3D HDTV, Blu-ray Players, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, Plasma, Product Reviews

Believe it or not, that $1,000 TV you’re buying probably only makes the store a few dollars. The markup on TVs is very small. But that $100 HDMI cable the salesman sold you? That has $90+ of profit, easy.

In my former life I was an A/V salesman, but I’m feeling much better now. So I can offer an inside look at what’s really going on.

Let’s take a look at what the stores are pushing at the end of the sale, and if you really need it.

Extended Warranties

The perennial favorite. If you don’t use them, they’re 100% profit for the store. Think of them like any other insurance. For flat panel TVs, they’re not generally worth it. Both plasma and LCD TVs are extremely reliable.

For an in-depth look at extended warranties, check out our Extended Warranties – Total Ripoff or Partial Ripoff? article.

Cables

Sad to say, you’re not going to get the cables you need in the TV box. You will need HDMI cables (or component, but HDMI is that little bit better, and a lot easier).

What you don’t need is to spend a lot of money. There are only two states possible with an HDMI cable: it works, or it doesn’t. If you see a picture, and it looks good, then you are getting the best picture possible. If you don’t see a picture, or it’s messed up with speckles, then the cable is defective and you should return it.

$100 HDMI cables DO NOT offer any additional performance over a $5 HDMI cable.

Let me say that again: the video and audio quality from one working HDMI cable is going to be the same as any other.

There are some specific exceptions. If you’re planning on long cable runs (50 feet) then a better HDMI cable will be more likely to carry the signal without issue. Better doesn’t always mean more expensive.

Technically, standard HDMI cables are rated to carry 1080i and “High-Speed” HDMI cables are needed for 1080p, but personally I’ve never had an issue. If you have equipment that takes advantage of HDMI with Ethernet, then that needs a specific cable, as the Ethernet is over a previously unused pin and may not be enabled on older HDMI cables. For 3D, High-Speed HDMI is recommended.

So here’s a 6-foot HDMI cable for $3.00. Here’s a 10-footer for $2.00. Remember, if they work, and they probably will, you are getting 100% picture and sound quality. Paying more for a cable doesn’t increase picture our sound quality.

I also recommend monoprice.com. I’ve bought a bunch of cables there for next to nothing and they work great.

Check out Gary’s HDMI Cable Makers and Dealers Use Misleading Labels to Push Needless Expensive Upgrades article.

Power Conditioners

APC AV J10 Home Theater 1000VA Battery BackupI’m kinda split on these. Many are nothing but snake oil. Promises of better black levels, better picture quality, and so on are theoretically possible, but only if you have the worst power in the country. If the power in your home fluctuates to enough that you occasionally joke about living in the 3rd World, then ok, maybe a power conditioner can help. The catch is that every electronics product has a power supply built in that is designed to regulate the power… doing exactly what the power conditioner claims to do. Now, can it do a crappy job? Can it be overwhelmed? Sure. But not to the extent that the makers of some of these products would lead you to believe.

I look forward to your letters.

Some power conditioners have a built-in battery backup, so if you lose power you have time to power down your equipment. If you have a front or rear projection TV, these are great. A hard power off, with no fan-assisted cooldown, like what you would get during a power outage, can seriously reduce the lifespan of your equipment.

Occasionally you’ll find a power conditioner/surge protector that claims to be rated to trip before lightning can damage your equipment. If they say it, I guess I’ll believe it, but honestly if you’ve got 1.21 jigawatts coursing through your house, I doubt a $9.99 plastic box is going to help.

So in the end, we’ll cautiously recommend you put your A/V system on some sort of protection, though to what degree and to how much you want to spend, that’s up to you. Both Gary and I like APC products like this one as APC comes from a science/industrial background and leave the snake oil stuff to other companies.

Check out our Will A Line Conditioner Improve Your Image? article for even more info.

Others

Things like delivery and setup are up to you. Setting up a TV isn’t difficult, and if you get one of the setup Blu-rays I reviewed here, it’s even easier.

ISF Calibration, which you may get recommended in some higher-end stores, is often worth it. Many TVs come from the factory with a color temperature reasonably close to the D6500 standard. If you’re spending several thousand on your TV, it’s worth it to hire a professional to calibrate it to its ultimate performance.

If you’ve been pressured to buy something at the point of sale that I didn’t cover here, please post it in the comments and I’ll give you my $0.02.

—Geoff Morrison

(Note: Amazon prices may change; please keep checking our links. Amazon free returns, price protection and bundles only apply to Amazon direct sales not to affiliated vendors.)

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Mike Bauer

    I have to support the findings of this article. the distance a signal runs is an important factor in both analog and digital signals as there can be a degradation in signal quality over a great distance just as there is a voltage drop over a long run with household current and some heat build up due to resistance in the transmission media.

    It’s like speaker cables, speaker cables carry a slow (from an electronics standpoint), low voltage analog signal, hence the real expensive cables are often overkill and definitely overpriced. Connectors and connections are important as they play a big part in determining signal quality.

    Extended warranty? No. Yes, there will always be some horror stories but in general they don’t pay for themselves. I always use my Amex card and they will extend (double) the manufactures warranty when you use it.

  • SaulGood

    Great article. As a response to both the other commenters as well as the article itself, I think that if someone wishes to “buy local” it’s important to remember that large chain retailers’ only responsibility is to deliver that margin up the chain to corporate. No one outside of that corporate building really, fully, and totally knows what economy that profit margin will benefit (Wall Street). As a former big-box electronics retailer employee, there’s no question that those margins practically only exist to be cut during holiday sales to create a massive influx of spending.

    I waver on the service plan issue, but my approach when I used to sling electronics to customers was this: “If you want to know someone’s going to fix your product during this time period without paying out of pocket or having to ship to a vendor service facility, buy this service plan. If you’re not worried about that, then don’t.” It’s a choice for each individual. A lot of customers need to remember that some of these large retailers will also honor the manufacturer warranty and service the product, or at least ship it to a vendor repair facility. That question is one that a smart customer would ask. A smart customer also listens to the pitch (if for no other reason than to let the salesperson wear themselves out singing beatitudes to its value :) because some devices (like my e-reader – replaced twice at no charge other than the cost of “the plan” due to a cracked screen) get dropped more frequently. That’s when you just have to know yourself – and make a commitment to not dropping your stuff. That “accidental plan” really came through, but if I wasn’t a stinking klutz, I wouldn’t have needed it.

    In terms of HDMI, the bulk of sales pitches are glossy spews about eliminating “ghosting, trailing, jitter” and so on. Again, it’s a choice. It’s important to know that you will need to evaluate different cabling if you are planning an in-wall wire-routing setup to hide the unsightly “rat’s nest” – if I am incorrect, I would love to see a write-up on that for all our benefit. I personally did not notice a difference in performance between a basic cost-cutting store brand HDMI and a high-bandwidth premium cable on my TV.

    Also agree on calibration. As a former salesperson it is frustrating that the offer to have the device legitimately calibrated by a tech gets lumped in with the other margin-rich offers…and summarily rejected. The statement that if you are finally buying the entertainment center of your life’s ambition, that might be the occasion to have it fine-tuned for ultimate beauty, is correct. Heed!

    Keep watch for these big-box fat cats to have to rethink the attachment strategy soon, though – it may actually get worse. Articles like this may not be enough to prepare us for the outright margin slam us consumers will probably get hit with. And without my employee discount, no less.

  • MikeP

    Most of the time I like your advice…But articles like this are why America is bankrupt!!….

    basically everything I read on this website is designed to NOT support your local retailer and by default your community…Sure, by the time a TV goes out the the door there is a pathetic 5-8% profit……and by the rest online supporting Amazon!!?…it’s apparently a crime for a retailer to make a few bucks…once everyone is out of work due to advice like this then maybe we can all shop at wal-mart and amazon…it’ll be the only places left we can afford!!….

    Geoff: So let me get this straight, your advice is that consumers should be ripped off so you and your employers can make more money? I fail to see how that is a logical position for an argument. It’s not a crime for anyone to make a profit, but if the way you’re doing that is by lying to your customers, then you deserve to be out of business.

  • MyCustomerWins

    For one that sees “flat panels lined up in the repair dept,” that still doesn’t impugn what Consumer Reports publishes. When tens of thousands of people are surveyed and statisticians review and summarize the results, there is no better way to summarize the incidence of repairs. For all the major brands, the rate of “having at least one major issue in the first four years” is between 3 – 5%. Since the one poster works for an “authorized” service facility, you may see a lot of those 3-5%.
    The fact remains that MOST extended service contracts are not needed and certainly not financially feasible.
    The ONLY reason these plans are offered is that the ratio of plans used to plans sold is exceedingly low.
    Think of this – the industry always offered + 4 years for the tube tvs – um, which lasted 10 – 18 years.
    Guaranteeing years 2 and/or 3 is of minimal risk, to those offering it, even for flat panels. Think of this – the same two or three companies are behind the scenes for many of the retailers. The risk of failure is the SAME for any product across different retailers, yet the pricing of the plans varies widely.
    Do you as a consumer really have to worry about years 2 and 3?
    If you could only talk to the engineers at Sony and Panasonic. Their marketing divisions have always been silent and allowed the retailers (and themselves) sell plans even though their products are of fine quality.

    Stop the nonsense. The entire retail consumer electronics service contract industry is a sad hoax on the American consumer. Anyone who understands probability and risk understands this. The service contract industry preys on the gullible and this is reinforced by the myths told to you at the retail level.

    Geoff: Excellent comment.

  • SB

    I work for a NY based electronics and appliance retailer with our own repair facility. If you are dropping a grand on a TV, and won’t spring for a measly 99 bucks for 5 years coverage, then you are a cheapskate. I have been to the repair center, and you would not believe the amount of flat panel TV’s and computers that are lined up for repair. Spending 150 bucks for 5 years on a TV over a thousand dollars is well worth it. They do break despite what Consumer Reports tells you.

  • Ben

    I’m not so sure about extended warranties any more. In the days of CRT sets, I could see where a warranty might be a waste of $. But after reading lots of buyer reviews on sites like Amazon, and tons of threads on sites like avscience, I think it is a good idea on sets made now. You can find post after post where someones set gave out after like 13 months or so, just after the warranty was up. My last CRT set lasted me 11 years. But it seems like a lot of buyers are back shoping for a new LCD or Plasma after 2-3 years.

    I’m not looking to promote any company, but after reading people’s postes about SquareTrade on sites like Slickdeals.net, and seeing the warranty for sale on Amazon, I’m thinking of getting one. The review from other people that have had to use the warranty after their TV broke are overwhelmingly good. And it only adds about $150 to the price for up to 4 years.

  • Anthony

    Should calibration be done right out of the box or after some sort of “break in” period? Is there even such a thing for today’s displays?

    Also, once properly done, will the calibration deteriorate as the display ages? If so, is there a suggested re-calibration schedule?

    Geoff: Plasma phosphors age, as do the CCFLs (which also are technically phosphor based) and to an extent LEDs as well. Generally, this isn’t going to be severe enough to notice. After the first hundred hours or so, the aging becomes much slower and for the most part more linear. So if you’re worried, let them break in that long, then get it calibrated. In 5-10 years will it drift away from perfect, probably, but there’s no way you’d see it.

    In the olden days, CRTs would drift severely over time. In the case of CRT projectors, they’d need calibration every few months. Not so with with today’s digital displays.

  • Will

    I tried to list some sites for you but this site’s “Spam filter” said my message looked like spam

    Here are some pages to get you started:

    eHow.com – Copper Vs. Silver Wire Conductivity

    HDMI on Wikipedia

    The Truth About Monster Cable, Part 2 (Verdict: Cheap Cables Keep Up…Usually)

    Geoff: Fixed your links.

  • Will

    Jason although it seems like your intentions may be good. ie yes Silver is a better conductor than copper but not by much (~7%)
    Since HDMI is a digital standard it doesn’t matter if your actual signal is a little bit better or worse because it’s all 1’s and 0’s which makes the signal integrity less important. Shielding and wire gauge are slightly important for longer cable lengths but still not a big deal unless you are running a very long cable. This topic has been gone over many times in numerous publications and online journals. Please inform yourself before making misleading statements.

  • Jason

    Unfortunately, you could not be more wrong about HDMI. Silver content is a better conductor for video. Thus, cables that are more expensive, you guessed it, have more silver content then others. I agree that extended warranties can be somewhat useless, but why take a chance of your equipment going out after a year and a day. Is it really more economic to pay hundreds of dollars for some guy to work on your set post warranty or call a WARRANTIED technician to work on your set for free. Just my two pennies.

    Geoff: Yes, silver is a better conductor than copper. In the case of analog component video, there may be a case, especially over long runs. HDMI is digital, and therefore a completely different beast. It is error-corrected, packetized data. It is not possible to be better or worse, it either is or isn’t.

    Think of it as a train. Each car on the train represents a packet of data; the first car is a portion of the video, the second car is a portion of the audio, the third car is error correction and other data, the forth car is more video and so on. The data inside each car is a unique bundle, and thanks to the clever and robust error correction, always complete. If some bit gets dropped (say a window falls out, in our example) the error correction will be able to correct this, making that car whole again. When each train pulls into the station, it is always a complete train. 100% data.

    If somehow significant enough damage had been done to it en-route, whole cars may be missing, which aren’t represented in a decrease in picture quality, they’re represented in an absence of picture. Video or audio dropouts, sparkles, etc. This is signal failure, and could indicate a faulty cable.

    So you see, if the cable is working, it’s 100%. If it isn’t working, it’s 0% (the nature of digital data). If you buy a cable of any price and there are dropouts or macroblocking, return the cable.

    Like I said above, a better cable will be more likely to be able to transmit over long runs, but this has more to do with the impedance of the cable than necessarily what it is made of.

    Read the warranty article I linked at the beginning of the piece. It is highly unlikely anything will go wrong with a flat panel, and if it does the cost of replacement could be only marginally more than the cost of the warranty.

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