How Retailers Use Lighting To Confuse HDTV Buyers

August 6th, 2009 · 40 Comments · LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, News, Plasma, Reference Materials


Value Priced LCD HDTV With 50 lux Home Light Level (Above) Same LCD HDTV With 500 lux Retail Store Light Level



(August 6, 2009) It may be difficult to believe, but just a decade ago cathode ray tube-based TVs (CRTs) were the biggest sellers. CRTs have excellent viewing angles, outstanding black levels and high contrast ratios. The technology’s Achilles heel (aside from sheer bulk) was a lack of brightness compared to today’s flat screen sets. However, for most indoor viewing environments, the light output was adequate.

Not surprisingly, store lighting in the TV departments of major retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City a decade ago was subdued to better emulate home ambient lighting conditions so the sets wouldn’t look dim and washed out.

That’s hardly the case today, with store lighting levels purposely cranked up as much as 50 times typical home lighting conditions. Why the change? Because these intense levels can make the best displays with the blackest black levels and highest contrast levels look inferior to cheaper, lower performance displays. Not surprisingly, this leads consumers into buying the cheaper sets because they think they’re getting as good a set, if not a better one, for less.

Contrast, Brightness and Resolution

A TV’s native resolution, black level and brightness (called white level) controls its perceived image sharpness. Resolution of almost all HDTVs falls into two categories, 720p and 1080p, so from a static resolution standpoint, almost all large screen TVs today are about the same (either 720p or 1080p).

“Contrast ratio, for example 1000:1 (or 1000 to 1) indicates how many times greater is the highest intensity white signal than the lowest intensity black one (the number 1 is the black signal). While that gives you a ratio it tells you neither how bright are the whites, nor how dark are the blacks.

Here is where stores utilize intense lighting to manipulate your judgment. In a typical home environment, the set that will appear to have a better picture and be seen as sharper will be the one with the blackest blacks and reasonably white whites (around 30 ft lamberts) rather than one that’s similarly bright but with lighter black levels.

Viewers perceive just the opposite in a high ambient light showroom. Invariably they choose the set with the brightest picture as having the clearest image, even if the set has poor black levels because the bright ambient lighting masks poor black level performance.

The Measurement Methodology

Last month, using a Konica Minolta T-10 illuminance meter, HD Guru measured the amount of ambient light in the TV sections of national retail stores and warehouse clubs located around Long Island (Sears, Best Buy, Target , Walmart, Costco and BJ’s.).

The measurement total depended upon the set quantity at each retailer; the more sets on display, the more measurements taken. See below for average reading per retailer. Daytime measurements in homeowners bedrooms, dens and living rooms also published below were taken with window shades and room lighting adjusted by the homeowners to their particular preferences. Not measured were kitchens, which tend to be far brighter than other rooms and where viewing time is limited and their smaller dimensions usually mean smaller screen sizes.

Store and Home Readings

Store averages (measured in lux) were: Walmart 411.66, Costco 742.77, Target 371.38, Best Buy 180.3, BJ’s 412.13, and Sears 236.58. By comparison, ambient light levels measured in 10 rooms of various homes ranged from just 1.2 to 110.1 lux, with all but two rooms reading less than 35 lux.

Why Do Stores Crank Up The Brightness?

Today, there are two basic retail categories: aided stores with salespeople, such as Best Buy and Sears, and unaided (self-service) ones like BJ’s, Costco, Target and Walmart. Price generally drives consumer purchases in unaided, brightly lit stores where the lower priced, poorer performing sets can appear to be as good as, or better than the more expensive sets. Get the set home and with no reference point, you’ll end up assuming you’re getting the level of performance observed in the store.

Management directs aided store salespeople to maximize profits. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it does conflict with making the right HDTV choice. How? Let’s assume you have a budget of $1500.HDTVs pricing is very competitive and store margins are low. Stores maximize profits by convincing you that a $1000 TV looks as good, if not better than the $1500 set placed next to it. That leaves you with $500 to purchase high profit margin items such as service contracts, “high speed HDMI cables and power conditioners, when a perfectly adequate HDMI cable can be had on-line for under $10 and a relatively inexpensive surge protector is all you really need. Read this before buying a service contract: (link).

Vizio TVs offer retailers lower profit margins compared to other brands according to industry sources. Not surprisingly, with the exception of Sears, which is an aided store, Vizio’s retailers are unaided stores, where high lighting levels and Vizio’s low prices allow it to compete with and beat Sony and other established brands to win top sales positions.

The MHT Exception

Best Buy’s Magnolia Home Theater division (MHT), located within many Best Buy locations, sells the best and most expensive HDTVs, including top of the line plasmas and LED backlit LCD flat panels not found on the main showroom floor.In order to demonstrate the best displays rich inky blacks, guess what MHT does? Correct! They match the store’s lighting  to about the same levels found in a typical home environment. Measurements taken at our local Best Buy’s MHT measured from 24.4 to 49.2 lux with an average level of just 34.7 lux! Yes, Magnolia understands that for its customers to see and appreciate the deep blacks, high contrast ratios and superior image quality produced by the more expensive sets it sells, it needs to duplicate home light levels.


Setting optimal black level for a given display requires adjusting user controls via the TVs remote control, with ambient lighting set to levels similar to what’s found in your similar level found in your home and specialized test signals.

Unfortunately, these conditions are not possible in the big box retailers and warehouse clubs listed above, so you’re stuck with the store’s showroom mode settings. However, you can get a relative idea of the black level of a given display regardless of the stores high ambient light levels by using this trick.Cup your hands forming a tunnel with your thumbs and index fingers making the front opening. Place the pinky side of your cupped hands against the TV screen and place your eye against the front opening. You will need to find or black area of the picture, if you’re lucky, black bars will be present at the top and bottom of the screen on a letterboxed demo material. This will give you an idea of just how light the blacks are on different displays.

Contrast Ratios Specs Are Useless

No accepted TV industry standard exists for measuring contrast ratios. Numbers provided by manufacturers are meaningless. The fake spec race is getting worse with many vendors now providing two contrast ratio specs, standard and dynamic. “Standard” is with white and black areas on the screen at the same time. “Dynamic contrast” is measured using a black screen with no content, versus brightness with a white area on the screen, resulting in a useless number. Who cares how dark a blank screen looks? HD Guru continues to get stonewalled when we query set makers for the methodology of their respective published contrast ratio numbers. The current record absurd claim is a published dynamic contrast ratio spec of 7,000,000 to 1. To add to the confusion, there is a natural maximum eye contrast resolution of just 300:1, according to a paper published by Siemens Technology (PDF link) (

In an effort to rebut these published specs, HD Guru will be using a newly acquired Konica Minolta meter to make its own contrast ratio readings and will publish the results in all future HDTV reviews.

-HDGuru® with Michael Fremer


Have a question for the HD Guru?

Copyright ©2009 HD Guru Inc.All rights reserved. HDGURU is a registered trademark.  The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission. The content within is based upon information provided to the editor, which is believed to be reliable. Data within is subject to change. HD GURU is not responsible for errors or omissions.


40 Comments so far ↓

  • Gallium Arsenic

    The author of this article is exactly right. Dissenters, mostly salesmen it seems, are forgetting to think like pressured store managers and forgetting, also, to do some simple arithmetic: There are at least 5000 large retail outlets in the US. Each probably sells twenty big-screen tv’s every day. By steering the customer, as directed by the store managers, salesmen will generate a few hundred dollars in added profit for ext-warranties, and all the stuff mentioned by others, with each sale. A (very) rough estimate here is 20 units per day X $200 in add-on profits–this comes to $4000 per store per day. So each store collects these profits at a rate of $28,000 each week. This times 52 weeks/yr yields around $One-and-a-half Million dollars per store per year. This times the estimated 5000 stores nets $7.5 BILLION dollars per year for the large retailers. Anyone who thinks this pervasive fraud is not organized is not thinking logically.

  • Melany

    I totally agree with it – Please dont buy Samsung and Vizio, both suck, better buy a Regza Led, cause its really an awesome setup.
    I try Samsung and Vizio – it’s suck…

  • mal shepard

    I’m not sure why TV display areas are so bright, but what I do know is that HD Guru is right that it is deceptive and leads people to draw erroneous conclusions about the picture quality of the tvs they see in the store.

  • StaINdrOcKs

    Get your tinfoil hats on, folks!

  • Adam

    The logic is most people buy the cheaper sets. They think the ones in a brightly lit store are better from the comparison to pricey sets in that store. I don’t think that’s what’s going on, but it isn’t laughable logic, either.

    My local Best Buy keeps the lights off above the tv wall.

  • Ian Clue

    My budget: $1500

    So instad of buying a $1500 high-end set I buy a $1000 low-end set of the same size and $500 in cables?

    No. I buy the larger $1500 low-end set.

  • Toshiba Regza

    Please dont buy Samsung and Vizio, both suck, better buy a Regza Led, cause its really an awesome setup

  • Floor monkey

    Ben- “I think it’s funny how everyone bashing this article is a floor monkey, or sales person. “I worked here, or there”.
    Ok, sure. You don’t work at the corporate level however. All of this stuff goes on way above your heads. I’ve worked for Corporate Fred Meyer, and endcaps, adverts, colors, patterns, it’s all meticulously planned to get consumers to buy more stuff.
    Just because you order the TVs from biggest to smallest (great accomplishment there… like wow) doesn’t mean this type of thing doesn’t happen. ”

    Likewise, just because you sit at a desk and plan these displays, it doesn’t mean they work or they look good.

    Of course it’s all planned for people to open their wallets, but you can’t track the number of people that are turned off by these displays and don’t spend, because you can only track the sales and not the lost sales.

    After months of customers complaining about the bright lights at my store, we convinced our store manager to take out half of the bulbs so customers could get a better feel for the TVs. Afterwords, no one complained about how dim the area by the TVs were, except of course for the district manager that came in once a month.

    You are the people that made us literally greet the same customer every 30 seconds, causing them to leave because they felt pressured into the sale. The same person would have to say, “Just looking” 10 times before they left 5 minutes later. We’d always have customers tell us to leave them alone, but if we didn’t talk to them literally every 30 seconds, management would yell at us because you’d yell at them.

    So while you look down on the “floor monkeys”, know that we look down on the “headless suits”.

  • Greg

    John said – “But on to the holes in the story, If anyone thinks a Best Buy or Sears or whoever employee doesn’t pump the Samsung’s and the Sony’s and Panasonics is absolutley crazy. Don’t take my word for it go to your nearest Best Buy or whatever and act like a clueless customer and see what brands they push. I will guarntee you it aint no Insigna or Dynex. It will be a Samsung or Sony.”

    That is the most moronic thing I’ve read about retail in a while. Of course retailers push these TVs, because they are better. In the article it talks about how the even levels make terrible TVs look like the good ones. Experienced salespeople know which TV is better and Sony, Samsung and Panasonic top the list.

    It also doesn’t make sense because the margin on a house-brand like Insignia is 10-12% and a Sony or Samsung is 14-18%. That’s not a huge difference, $50-$100 for a similar sized TV with slight difference in price.

    I would try as hard as I could to convince people to get a Sony or Samsung over a Vizio, Polaroid, or Element TV at Circuit City because they looked awful, not because the margin was low.

    If a customer is completely clueless and asks about the best TVs, why would I even mention a “budget” brand? They don’t compare to the even lowest end models of the Sonys and Samsungs.

  • Branden

    I hate to say this but i am an employee in the Majors department of a costco warehouse. Majors stands for Major Appliances and i am here to tell you that you have your facts a little messed up. Instead of assuming that the lighting is bright so we sell more TV’s why not ask an employee or a manager of that store. I can promise you are lights are not high to trick people into buying lower priced televisions. Vizio is a very competing company in the market today because they offer a substantial product for the money. And the Vizio most definitely does not look just as good as say the Sony or Samsung. And when people come in looking for a cheap TV, Chances are they do not want to spend extra money on home theaters and such. And the fact that i sell as many as 20 televisions a day at least i realize that when people go more for the lower end televisions (a.k.a. cheaper) they don’t normally buy any extra accessories. “Stores maximize profits by convincing you that a $1000 TV looks as good, if not better than the $1500 set placed next to it. That leaves you with $500 to purchase high profit margin items such as service contracts, “high speed” HDMI cables and power conditioners” This is not the case with Costco because our televisions have the highest profit margins in the store. Lighting conditions in the warehouse are like that for safety for our members. Also the fact that pretty much all Costco locations have a large amount of skylights in the ceiling may have something to do with the extra amount of light as well. Please when writing an article like this don’t assume. Actually ask around. See if people know why.

  • dennis

    what a tricky , we must be careful if buy hdtv..

  • Dee

    I must say this appears to be a controversial subject.While I am no lighting pro I am a retail pro and I am here to say that yes the stores are laid out to flatter all the merchandise.Low level in dressing rooms flatter the figure.Bright in electronics stimulate the eyes drawing it to where ever they want you to look.
    The HD Guru (to date) has not given me any bad advice so I am going to have to agree.

  • Cro

    I think some of you conspiracy theorists are missing the point about the employee accounts. If there was a master plan from upper management that has to be passed down to employees who actually do the work. The people putting up end caps and mid aisle displays are told where to put them. If no one is telling the employees in the Electronics dept to put them in a specific spot then there is no plan. My Best Buy is not layed out like others. All the LCDs and Plasmas are along one wall and the lighting is all the same. I actually couldnt get anyone to help me, probably because I was in the Insignia aisle. I had to actually go to the register and ask someone to get a TV for me.

  • andy

    while the technical information in this article is exellent,there is a couple of holes in his argument. I feel that selling a service contract that is 30% of the price of a television set is difficult at any pricepoint. The only advantage to me selling a off brand product is the abillity to use lower reliabillity fears to entice buyers into purchasing extended service coverage. The reality of the situation is that most “sales people” at best buy and sears, are high school and college kids who care about other things that overly complicated sales pitches.

  • Steve

    As a former best buy employee I can tell you that the article is 100% accurate. Also take special notice to how the plasma area on the main floor is kept dim so as to avoid seeing your reflection. Most people can’t tell the difference between LCD and Plasma in stores because of the lighting difference between LCD and Plasma sections.

  • John

    There are a ton of holes in this blog. First off I had to laugh because I knew somewhere in this blog he had to take his usual shot a Vizio. and sure enough bam he does. LOL What he failed to mention was that Vizio was also sold at the now defunct (aided) Circuit City as well.
    And also how does he explain Vizio’s strong review perfomances from the Cnet’s and the likes, I am quite postive they are not doing their reviews in Walmart.

    But on to the holes in the story, If anyone thinks a Best Buy or Sears or whoever employee doesn’t pump the Samsung’s and the Sony’s and Panasonics is absolutley crazy. Don’t take my word for it go to your nearest Best Buy or whatever and act like a clueless customer and see what brands they push. I will guarntee you it aint no Insigna or Dynex. It will be a Samsung or Sony.

    the other holes are, as another poster noted, stores like BJ’s and Costco’s are Warehouse stores, they have Warehouse lightining. It wasn’t some secret board meeting in how to “fool” the TV buying customers.
    And with Target and Walmart, they are Super sized department star that has this lighting. Plain and simple, the Walmart’s near me have the last few rows of lights turned off around their TV’s for a dimmer look. But again, there was no secret “let’s screw the customer meeting” to install all these harsh lights to make these cheap TV’s look outstanding.

    This blog is a joke, it really is. Everyone wants to sell the Samsung and Sony’s first and formost. LOL I’ve seen HDGuru go to some lengths to go after the Vizio’s and such but putting out this piece basically saying it’s a conspiracy out there to sell Vizio’s sets by messing with the store lights so you don’t buy expensive sets is right up there with BigFoot and Area 51.

    Again go try for yourselves, go to your Best Buy and act like a clueless customer and see which brands he/she points you out too.

  • amman shird

    i agree with ben;just because you’re not involved with that aspect of planning,doesn’t mean it’s not true.while parts of this article may seem like theories,a lot of this ideology holds else do you account for more people geared towards lcd over plasma?i’ve been reading lots of online comments lately and you’d be surprised to see how many people still cling to the old plasma myths(i.e.burn-in,low black levels).i’ve read comments where people go to those big-box stores,see the bright lighting on a particular lcd and compare it to plasma.not realizing they’ve been bumped up to the vivid setting to compete with the lights and think it’s such a superb’s not fair to say this article is based entirely on hyperbole and theories;judging from some,there is truth in it.

  • Ben

    I think it’s funny how everyone bashing this article is a floor monkey, or sales person. “I worked here, or there”.
    Ok, sure. You don’t work at the corporate level however. All of this stuff goes on way above your heads. I’ve worked for Corporate Fred Meyer, and endcaps, adverts, colors, patterns, it’s all meticulously planned to get consumers to buy more stuff.
    Just because you order the TVs from biggest to smallest (great accomplishment there… like wow) doesn’t mean this type of thing doesn’t happen.

  • Steven

    This article makes no sense, nor does it have any references. Having worked at Circuit City, it makes no sense at all to push people to lower priced and lower margined TVs. People don’t generally have a “budget” such that they wouldn’t buy accessories if the TV were right at that budget.

  • john

    As an employee of the dreaded Walmart, I can state we change the lightbulbs along the ceiling once a year, just before the change the entire store is dim, after the change the whole store brightens up.

    The spacing of the lights is the same all the way across the store, from produce to dairy, to fabrics and hba, electronics is in the middle of the store, allowing loss prevention time to intercept shoplifters leaving in any direction.

    The tvs in our store, and in all Walmarts that have a properly set up modular, are organized by size and then by price, from biggest to smallest, most expensive in the size range to the cheapest, no gimmicks of putting low quality tvs around the one you want to sell, no fiddling with the which one is above the other to play games with viewing angle, it is just set up for maximum efficiency, give the customer the choices and then move them out. Thats why on blitz (what most people call black friday) we have customers getting 3-4 big screens at a time, we go for volume.

  • John Stracke

    Actually, the TV section at the Wal-Mart near me is dimmer than the rest of the store. Also, the Vizio on display looks *much* worse than the other TVs around it. It’s not a cable problem (I checked, and it’s using component), but maybe they deliberately cranked down the brightness, to guide people to more expensive sets?

    I’m not sure the TV section at that Wal-Mart counts as “unaided”, either; it’s the only place where I’ve had a store employee come up and ask if I had any questions. (She also offered the advice that the one number to look for to indicate quality was the contrast number. So helpful.)

  • jcp

    This is a great article, but it would be better if you recognized the possibility that the big box stores are brightly lit for reasons other than trying to sell more high-end cables.

  • Paul

    First, it’s amusing to me that you all think you had something to do with the way corporate laid out your store. You think they didn’t think about how to merchandise for the most profitable outcome? They spend millions on psyche analysis and spending habits. Every major retailer has teams set aside to watch what helps sell tvs with high margin accessories. They absolutely have planograms that are designed to drive buyers to hot products. Manufacturers spend millions with these companies to make sure endcaps are set in certain places. There is no conspiracy theory in this article. It’s absolutely true that the lighting is kept bright to avoid theft it is also true that it keeps you, the consumer, from making an unaided educated decision with out reading a million articles and expecting the extremely bias Consumer Reports to make your decision. It is also true that 90% of LCD’s will actually look worse with ambient light and wash out. Any tv will not hold up when you put it in a room with direct sunlight. I’m done.

  • Oleg

    Profit margins are two different things when expressed in percentage terms or in straight dollar terms. When i was purchasing my LCD (Sammy LN40A650), i waited weeks to find the right price and eventually picked it up on Amazon around 30% off, or $650 dollars off WITH free white glove delivery. While at the same time, BestBuy was selling it at full MSRP around $1800. Now, i know cables, accessories, and especially warranties are 50%-90% to near 100% (especially on the latter), but when in terms of dollar, it could amount to only a couple dollars/tens/twenties/hundreds (Depending on the item).
    Now in my case, $650 is a huge amount, it would of taken one hell of a salesman to get a customer to cough up that much money on accessories and service agreements. (I know, i used to be one of them).

  • Ryan

    I work for Costco, and I must say that TV’s are not an unaided area for us. That is my department, anywhere from TV’s back through jewelry. We set TV’s based on size, and it has nothing to do with lighting. I’m sure that when the building was built 10 years ago, they had no idea about the LCDs and Plasmas coming out. It just so happens to be a highly lit store. And since most of us in my department will just try to get the people what they want within their budget, we don’t care about selling the accessories as much. If we can get them something that looks as good in the same lighting within the store at a lower price, then so be it. I will never push someone towards something that is unneeded. Also, as stated before, if someone is unhappy with their purchase, they have 90 days to get a FULL REFUND. No restocking fees or strings attached, just bring back everything the TV came with.
    Also, I agree with the former TV supervisor, especially with the fact that we just set the TVs on what looks best for that TV in the area. There may be a lighting “conspiracy” in other stores, but not at Costco.

    Just my 2 cents on the subject.

  • Joel Cairo

    Actually most commissioned retail staff these days aren’t interested in how TV’s are merchandised or lit. What they care about is which manufacture is spiffing the most. I’m a sales rep. and I can tell you that right now a very popular Korean TV manufacturer is practically throwing money at at sales staff to push their sets. It’s how they gained their market share and there is no sign of their spiff program going away. Backed by the bank of Korea they have an unending supply of cash that they can use to keep the spiffs going and going. At a dealer sale last year, said Korean company was giving $50.00 per panel sold to each and every sales associate on the floor. If they sales associate sold 4 panels they made two hundred dollars along with there salary and commissions. This meant they were only interested in pushing the Korean manufacturers panels and would bait and switch customers away form other brands to get the spiff. This is the real underbelly of electronics.

  • john p

    If you buy from Costco with their bright lights and don’t like the picture when you get it home, you have 90 days to return it and try another TV. No restocking fees are charged, just make sure you return everything.

  • Marty G

    “I’m confused; wouldn’t the store want to trick me into purchasing the more expensive set rather than the less expensive one?”

    Cut him some slack, he’s an HD Guru, not an Economics Guru.

  • Ian

    “Vizio TVs offer retailers lower profit margins compared to other brands according to industry sources. Not surprisingly, with the exception of Sears, which is an aided store, Vizio’s retailers are unaided stores, where high lighting levels and Vizio’s low prices allow it to compete with and beat Sony and other established brands to win top sales positions.”

    This contradicts most of the rest of the article. If Vizio offers lower margins than most why would the unaided store light the place in such a way for them to compete? They’d be purposely pushing people to a lower margin product.

    And I’m also not buying the budget arguement. If I have a $2k budget that’s what I have for the TV and accessories. If I can get the whole deal for $1500 then awesome but your article suggests that I have a 2k budget and because I bought the $1500 tv I’d spend the other $500 on other merchandise. I’d need those cables/warranty with the $2k tv too, I’m either going to spend $500 on accesories I need or not. I’m not going to *only* buy them if I buy a cheaper TV.
    Do people really go shopping with a budget and when they find what they want for less go ‘well, might as well spend the rest of the money’? I sure don’t.

  • Ken

    As someone who works behind the scenes, this article is off-base. I am the person who, according to you, is perpetrating this.

    The lights are bright to make the store appealing and inviting, especially to woman (who hate dim places like Magnolia, or dim stores in general). It has nothing to do with the conspiracy that retailers hate plasmas and good black levels, and want to a new world order of LCD displays.

    Sorry, while the end result is true, the cause (reason FOR the bright lighting) has nothing to do with what is discussed here. Your readers comments speak the truth, your article is pretty ‘out there’.

  • FormerTVsSupervisor

    Yeah, I have to agree with LightingGuy about the fact that most of the article sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, or just that your digging for something to complain about.

    I was a supervisor for TVs at Circuit City (quit after finishing school, about a year before they died) and I can tell you that at Circuit City at least (and this also generally holds true from what I know of Best Buy and Sears), none of what you said above was anywhere in the minds of anyone that helped set up and maintain their TV department(s).

    Now, I hated Circuit City, and I’m highly suspicious of every major retailer and their promotions, advertising, displays, etc, especially the big box stores, but this one just doesn’t work. I mean, it might look good on paper to draw up this conspiracy, but it doesn’t play out in the stores, for a number of reasons:

    Firstly, you have half a dozen sources, each being split off several dozen times. This alone makes it almost impossible to predict what any given TV will look like even if everything WAS planned down to the inch (which it may be–I doubt it–but which also never happens); we had switches and cables dieing and being replaced weekly, and were often swapping around TVs that were made to look like crap because of a bad switch or feed.

    Secondly, have you ever noticed how many lights are burned out in a big retail store? It would be an easy bet that at least one-tenth of ours were out on any given occasion. It was actually somewhat embarrassing when customers noticed, because we looked so apathetic toward our store’s look–but we had to call in a guy just to replace them, 30 feet above our heads.

    Thirdly, the employees just don’t care. There’s no commission, and no incentive to maintain such a charade. If there’s a whole on the wall or on display, then you’d run and get a TV to fill it, and if it looked bad, the employee (me, often) would put it on the setting that looked the best in that spot, which was usually vivid.

    I could write anecdotes forever showing how ludicrous it is to think that the stores can actually maintain such a conspiracy, but really, I WISH the store I worked for had been as organized as you give them credit for. For us, we were lucky to have the right TVs on display at all.

  • LightingGuy

    From someone who does lighting design for a living, I’m even NCQLP certified.

    If you’d like official reference on typical lighting levels for just about every space type you can imagine ref Illuminating Engineering Society of North America ( A little research would have helped the validity of your article immensely.

    For a typical retail application i would be designing for somewhere in the range of 20-30 footcandles (~200-300lx) for general circulation. Display areas would be much higher within the range of 50-75 footcandles. All values for all your tested retail outlets are not surprising in the slightest and I guarantee if anyone doing the lighting design had a clue how to design for retail they would REDUCE the lighting level in TV areas (lamp glare off direct sources being the issue).

    Your tips are very appropriate but the rest of this article is little more than a very amusing conspiracy theory.

  • CB

    The warranties are closer to 50-60% profit, which is still a lot.

    Think about it like this, if a store makes $200 profit on a $1500 tv, and $300 profit on a $2000 tv, they’d rather have you buy that $1500 set and then $500 on the warranty and cables they make anywhere from 50-80% margin on(meaning another $250-$400 in their pockets).

    They’re “doing you a favor” by directing you to the cheaper television, and getting accessories because they won’t tell you that you can get a $10 cable online to go with the $2000 tv.

  • Oz

    “Warranties are almost 100% profit. Back when they paid commission on these things, the salesman could easily take home 20% of the warranty price.”

    Um, no, they’re not almost 100% profit. While they are profitable, there is a cost that must be paid to the company that actually insures the service contracts.

    As for lighting levels, most retailers I’ve been to have lower lighting in the television area. However Wal-mart and Sam’s Club may hold true to what HD Guru says as I don’t buy from Wal-Mart and haven’t even been in their nearby remodeled location.

  • Kevin

    For those that aren’t familiar with markups, cables are generally marked up _at least_ 100%. I suspect HDMI cables are marked up more than 400% for store brands (which are typically much less than Monster, but still 40 bucks or more for a couple of meters).

    Warranties are almost 100% profit. Back when they paid commission on these things, the salesman could easily take home 20% of the warranty price.

    Bottom line is if you didn’t get your HDMI cables from monoprice, you probably paid too much for a lower quality cable.

  • Mike

    I worked at some of these stores. While I dont doubt that some pull these tricks to direct thier bottom line. I can assure you that most of them simply thow sets up generally in size order to display what they have. Pretty much willy nilly.

    The lighting is more often than not a result of trying to pull you in from the isle to the tv dpet area in places like sears. I know for a fact thats what we used to do. trist me the idiots that generally manage the departments really arent this smart.

    The other thing that contributes to the brighter light is theft. you cannot afford to have an area with low light like that in sears walmart target. you can perhaps in a smaller store monitor a magnolia area. but in larger retail stores theft will kill you. If you have one low lit area thieves WILL find it.

    Again not saying that this light use doesn’t happen. I am sure especially in your area NY N Jersey. But in most other areas of the county not nearly as much.

  • Bob Stone

    Thanks to HDGuru for this long overdue expose.

    However, on the high end, if we accept that most viewers will have a few lights on in their living room, doesn’t this negate the minor differences we see in black levels between the best HDTVs such as the Kuros and Panasonic Plasmas.

    My question is: doesn’t any light in a room wash out (to some degree) these ultra deep blacks.

    I’m not suggesting that there is not a great deal of room for improvement on almost all HDTVs. I’m simply questioning how meaningful black level numbers are for the best ones if there is any room lighting.

    At some point lower black levels will NOT be meaningful for most viewers who do not have a completely blacked out room

    HDGuru – Am I correct?? Your thoughts??

  • Jeff

    No, like he explained, they don’t make much profit on tvs. So if your budget is, say 2000$, they would rather have you pay 1500$ on the tv and spend the remaining 500$ on stuff they make more profit on like cables.

  • Nick

    I’m confused; wouldn’t the store want to trick me into purchasing the more expensive set rather than the less expensive one?

  • Gary

    Have you considered that maybe stores like walmart and costco just want to have bright stores in general and don’t tailor their lighting to selling TV’s? That seems likely to me, but what do I know?

    Modern successful national retailers such as Walmart and Target plan displays and merchandising down to the square inch. Selling TVs requires decisions on what goes where, how its displayed (shelf or bracket), picking the demo on-screen content, signal distribution, background design, lighting etc. Nothing is left to chance.

    HD Guru

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