Vizio Addendum Added April 16, 2009

(April 15, 2009) Dozens of “no name” brand HDTVs currently flood the US market.  Buyer beware! Many cost more to repair than they’re worth and some brands don’t offer any warranty.

To ascertain warranty and post warranty policies, HD Guru contacted the customer service departments of a number of these “off brands,” some of which have no local repair service.

In order to obtain in-warranty repairs, owners of those sets must pay for shipping cartons and freight charges. HD Guru always recommends keeping original packing material, whether you buy a name or  “off brand’ set.

Which are these “no name” brands and how do their warranties differ from the traditional TV makers? Manufacturers like Sony, Toshiba, Sharp, Panasonic and Samsung often produce key components and assemble TVs in their own factories.  These set- makers work hard and spend a great deal of money to maintain a reputation for quality and reliability.

Local authorized service centers handle these set repairs.  The HD Guru called Samsung (1-800-Samsung) customer service to learn about its warranty policies.  All Samsung HDTVs (32” and larger) include in-home authorized service.  The customer service representative (CSR) said Samsung makes all warranty repair arrangements.

This is generally not the case with “no name” brands like AOC, Apex, Coby, Digital Lifestyle, Dynex, Element, TruTech, Viore and Vizio. In fact, many of these “TV companies” are not manufacturers at all! They’re really importers, often using contracted Chinese TV design and assembly facilities.  Buyers have no way of knowing who built the set or of the parts quality.

These companies do not have longstanding brand reputations to uphold.  The contractors build the sets and the “off brand” companies simply market and sell them to independent dealers, national and regional chains and home shopping channels.  The HD Guru and other websites list hundreds of complaints from angry consumers with failed “off brand” TVs with no repair route, yet unwary or naïve consumers mesmerized by what seems like a lower price, continue to buy them.

Below are some of the good, bad and ugly “off brand” company policies beginning with the most egregious examples.

Sears, Kmart and some independent dealers currently sell Element HDTVs.  Circuit City sold them for years until its recent bankruptcy and liquidation.  The Element website (Link) contains a notice informing owners of certain model Element HDTVs and other products (such as digital picture frames and MP3 players) and about its agreement with Circuit City, which it claims absolves them of any warranty responsibilities.

A call to an Element customer service representative (CSR) confirmed the Circuit City situation.  The Element CSR said the models listed were sold to Circuit City without a warranty and that Circuit City assumed this responsibility, though how consumers were supposed to know that the purchase did not include a manufacturer’s warranty was not explained.

What about the Element sets currently sold by Kmart and Sears?  According to the CSR, they have one-year in-home service.  What about parts and labor after the warranty period?  “You’re on your own,” the CSR told the HD Guru.

Corian USA imported and distributed Digital LifeStyle HDTVs.  According to its CSR, Corian stopped selling LifeStyle HDTVs.  The Corion rep added it no longer honors the warranty and provides no parts or service.

Apex Digital HDTVs include a 90-day parts/1-year labor warranty.  You must ship to its Walnut, Ca. facility for service and pay freight both ways according to the CSR and after 90 days, pay an additional $50 parts charge. Post warranty service costs $205 for parts and labor.  Best Buy currently sells the Apex 19” HDTV for $199.99.  Apex’s CSR warned there’s no warranty on any Apex HDTVs purchased from Amazon.com.

AOC offers a one year parts and labor warranty.  However, you are responsible for shipping in a suitable carton and pay the return freight.  The cost of a carton, shipping and insurance for its 42” LCD (using a UPS store shipping from NY to AOC in Freemont, CA) is about $181.00.  The cost of its latest model 42” HDTV at Target today is $699.99, making freight and box over 25% of the replacement cost!  Post-warranty parts and labor flat-rates at a whopping $590. Add the shipping cost and the price exceeds that of a new set! Repairing a TV with a defective panel is flat rated at $950.

Dynex and Insignia are not really TV manufacturers. They are brand names used by Best Buy on the models they contract to import. A call to the Best Buy Insignia/Dynex customer service number revealed owners must return it to a Best Buy for warranty service. Only Best Buy in store personnel can answer post-warranty questions.

The Best Buy visit revealed there is no post warranty service available on Insignia and Dynex TVs. However, according to the salesperson with whom we spoke, you may purchase an extended warranty.  This came as no surprise considering the recent recall of an Insignia 26” HDTVs (due to a possible fire hazard) required the return of the TV to Best Buy in Minnesota in exchange for a gift card (Link), not a replacement of the set’s possibly defective power supply.

Target and some independent dealers sell TruTech.  According to a Target CSR, the store offers a one-year in store exchange warranty on TruTech sets.  After the warranty expires, you must deal with Target’s supplier, Proview Technology.  Good luck with that endeavor. Six calls over a two-day period to its customer service line (during its business hours) yielded the same result: no answer.  A quick Google search of TruTech revealed posts by around a hundred TruTech HDTV owners complaining that their sets couldn’t be repaired because there are no parts available.  TruTech HDTVs are truly toxic assets and disposable HDTVs.

Coby Electronics offers only 90 days parts and labor on its TVs with no local servicers. You must ship your set to its Brooklyn, NY facility at your expense.  The company offers no post-warranty parts or service, according to Coby’s CSR.

Broksonic offers a 90 days labor/one-year parts warranty.  You ship your set to its Brooklyn NY facility for service.  After the warranty expires, there is a flat $80.00 labor rate. Parts prices are determined after receipt of the TV.

On the plus side, Curtis-Mathes provides an advance replacement unit during its one-year parts and labor warranty and picks up all freight charges.  Its CSR added they have a national authorized service network for post-warranty parts and service.

Newcomer Honeywell offers three years of parts and labor and a five year parts warranty.  You can find its warranty information at (Link)

Bottom line: websites list hundreds of complaints of poor “off brand” TV reliability and a lack of parts and service. Don’t add to the list by getting suckered into buying one because you think you’re saving money. In the short run, maybe you are. In the long run, you’re not.

Today, the price difference between an “off brand” HDTV versus a name brand is often $50-$100 (depending on screen size).  HD Guru recommends spending the extra dollars for a proven brand name HDTV manufactured by a company that values your business and is invested in its reputation, customer service and local repair programs.

If you are considering an “off brand” HDTV, do not make the purchase until you investigate the company’s warranty and post warranty services.  Otherwise, you may find out too late that “no name” brands like Astar, Niko and Norcent (still offered for sale on websites and retailers) are out of business!

Vizio Addendum

After HD Guru’s first Vizio article appeared, the company updated its warranty and parts sales policies. You can search the site for subsequent Vizio coverage, but to summarize what you’ll find: Vizio (like the other no name ‘toxic asset” brands above) is not a television manufacturer, though it now bills itself as “America’s HDTV Company.”

According to an authorized spokesperson, foreign contract manufacturers produce all Vizio HDTVs. Like many of the “off brands,” Vizio imports, distributes, markets and sells its branded HDTVs to resellers.

Vizio’s current warranty (Link) includes in-home service for sets 30 inches and larger.  However, the warranty’s wording is vague and uses “generally,” a conditioner not seen in tier 1 manufacturer’s warranties reviewed by HD Guru.  Here is an excerpt from the Vizio warranty.

“Repairs required on displays which are thirty (30) inches and larger will generally, but not always, be made “on-site” where the display is installed.  However, the decision to perform an on-site repair is dependent upon the manufacturing defect and is at VIZIO’s option and sole discretion. Repairs required on displays which are less than thirty (30) inches generally will be performed at a VIZIO service center.”

By comparison, here is an excerpt from the section of the Panasonic 2009 model warranty dealing with in-home service (for displays 37” or larger):

“On-site service where applicable requires clear and complete and easy access to the product by the authorized servicer and does not include removal or re-installation of the installed product.  It is possible that certain on-site repairs will not be completed on-site, but will require that the product or parts of the product, at the servicer’s discretion be removed for shop diagnosis and /or repair and then returned.”

Regarding parts availability, Panasonic and other tier 1 name brand manufacturers maintain their own parts inventory and sales. Independent distributors supply parts to Vizio service providers. Both Vizio and Panasonic have independent post-warranty service networks.

-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.