J.D. Power and Associates sent an army of more than 600 mystery shoppers into major TV retailers during the second quarter of 2011 to learn what salespeople push and demonstrate to their customers. Not surprisingly, a mere 7 percent of shoppers were offered a demonstration of Smart TV streaming and Internet application capabilities, while only 44 percent got a 3D demo.

J.D. Power surveyed the major national and regional retail chains including ABC Warehouse, Best Buy, BrandsMart, Conn’s, Costco, Frys, hhgregg, PC Richard & Son, PRO Group retailers, Sears and Walmart.

While this is the first time Walmart and Costco were included in the survey, it should be noted that unlike the other stores researched, these two companies have “unaided sales floors” often referred to as “grab and go,” meaning there are no salespeople, just department personnel.

HD Guru interviewed major chain store management and asked why so many demos don’t include showing consumers “Smart TV” since this relatively new feature really needs to be seen, to be thoroughly understood.

Typical answers: we don’t want our salespeople spending the day surfing the Internet plus consumers may go to inappropriate websites (meaning adult content that store systems can easily block). The other oft-cited excuse is that the company doesn’t care to spend the money to wire the store for Internet access. “After all,” HD Guru said to himself upon hearing that, “it’s 2011 and the worldwide web as we know it today has only been around about 20 years.”

While we’re on the subject of wiring, HD Guru continues to ask why stores won’t upgrade to HDMI connections to provide the highest quality signal to all HDTVs on the sales floor, thus allowing customers to discern picture quality differences among the displays. All major chain stores in our area continue to use very long lengths of obsolete component video cable that lose fine image detail on their way to the sets. This diminishes in the store the real in-home HDTV picture quality differences consumers would experience among the various technologies and allows the salespeople to push their technology choice.

Plasma vs. LED/LCD vs. LCD

The report also reveals salespeople recommend LED lit LCD 55% of the time, followed by LCD at 25% and plasma 16% respectively. No wonder, LEDs are the most expensive TVs in the store, but they are not the best.

Contrary to what salespeople are telling consumers, for overall image quality, including such factors as contrast ratio, viewing angle and image uniformity, plasma provides the best HDTV performance. HDGuru.com is not the only website claiming this. Other well known and respected sites and the reviewers that write for them concur.

LED lit LCD HDTVs and LCD (cold cathode fluorescent lit) perform less well in terms of white and black and color uniformity (on and off axis), motion resolution and black level due to LCD technology’s inability to darken individual pixels, which plasma can. The step-up LED and LCD models use 120Hz or 240 Hz refresh rates to improve motion resolution.

The most expensive LED LCDs place the LEDs behind the screen, which allows the set to dim the image in zones; however this sometimes creates halos around bright objects.

LED TVs are the most energy efficient. However, for most consumers, energy savings throughout the set’s lifespan will not be sufficient to offset the set’s higher initial cost.

LED TVs also produce a brighter image, but unless you prefer viewing in unfavorable, uncommonly brightly lit rooms (similar to store conditions that favor the brightest most expensive sets) plasmas put our more than adequate brightness levels.

See our article on how store lighting levels affect perception of picture quality here to learn more.

For an examination of “buy from a brick and mortar store” vs. “on-line” go here .

To learn how to negotiate the best hdtv deal go here.


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