Model Change Time-Should You Purchase a Demo HDTV?

April 5th, 2010 · 4 Comments · LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, News, Plasma

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With major HDTV makers releasing their 2010 models now in a concentrated burst instead of spreading new model roll outs through late fall as they’ve traditionally done, Best Buy and other retailers are discounting dozens of 2009 display sets to make room for the new ones. Should you buy last year’s model at a discount or pay the difference for the new one? To make the right decision you need to consider a number of factors.

Changes

Many below 40” 2010 LCD models are very similar to last year’s, with changes limited to internet connectivity and cosmetics.  However, set makers have added more LED-based LCD sets in this range for 2010.

The larger 2010 screens employ many changes compared to last year’s sets, including more features, thinner profiles, better black levels with local dimming  (in selected models) and of course 3D capability in the top three or four model series.

New plasma HDTVs offers better black levels and higher energy efficiency in the mid-end series compared to last year’s models. High end 2010 model lines add improved anti-reflective filters, faster phosphors and 3D capability.

Overall prices are lower than they were last year at this time.  If you are looking for a higher end model or want 3D (all 40″ and larger), we recommend going for a 2010.

Wear

Though flat panels don’t have any moving parts, one component does wear whenever the TV is on and that is the light source. The TV industry rarely provides lifespan display specifications but when it does, the spec is based upon the length of time it takes the display to reach one-half brightness. What’s never stated though, is if the brightness spec refers to at home (standard) or store (maxed out) output. We presume it’s the home mode spec. The lifespan shortens considerably, the brighter the display is cranked.

The back-light control setting determines LCD and LED (LCD) wear. The contrast control and picture mode settings determine how long it takes a plasma set to reach one-half brightness. Showroom modes like Vivid or Dynamic, referred to as “torch mode” by salespeople, max out brightness in order to attract the attention of inexperienced buyers, much as moths are attracted to a flame.

Unfortunately, because of this and because of bright store lighting generally, most demo sets run at or near their brightest setting, which accelerates wear by a factor of four and of course these sets are on almost constantly.

(We have an article in out archive link that explains how store lighting can skew your buying decision).

LCD

All LCD TVs use a form a fluorescent tubes (called CCFLs) that look and behave like miniature versions of the lamps found in many American kitchen ceiling fixtures. They use phosphors to produce the light, and as they wear the TV image slowly darkens. Some HDTV makers’ tout 60,000 hour lifespans.  HD Guru’s been unable to get any LCD TV manufacturers to provide data to substantiate their lamp life claims.  However, we’ve seen a set maker’s internal wear study of a major brand LCD TV. It reached half-brightness in just 15,000 hours.

LED (LCD)

LEDs do not use phosphors to produce white light, and reportedly do not dim like CCFL-based LCDs, or  like plasma displays.  No TV maker provides a lifespan claim, though LED TV bulb makers rate the time to failure spec range from 30,000 to 100,000 hours. Instead of fading out, when an LED light reaches the end of its lifespan it simply goes out. Just one dead LED lamp will produce an annoying dark area that may result in the TV becoming unwatchable.

Plasma

Plasma HDTVs, like CRTs, use phosphors to create the red, blue and green light. They are rated to reach half brightness after up to 100,000 hours, depending upon manufacturer. However, we presume this is in home mode and not store “torch” mode, which can be two to three times brighter and therefore reduce phosphor lifespan to one-third of the rated 100,000 hours.

In addition, uneven phosphor wear is likely if the retailer kept the plasma on a single broadcast channel that employs a corner screen logo or used a letter-boxed movie with black bars on the top and bottom 100% of the time, especially if the set was in “store mode” throughout, which is also likely. Check by lighting up the entire screen using the remote control’s aspect ratio control in “zoom” mode to stretch the image. This type of severe uneven wear is not repairable, so if you see it, don’t buy the set.

In the home use mode, plasma HDTVs are practically immune to uneven phosphor wear.

What You Need To Learn About Demo HDTVs Before Buying One

Many retailers (including Best Buy) demo larger flat screen sets on the wall, which makes retailing sense. What doesn’t make sense is Best Buy’s wasteful policy of discarding cartons, packing materials, owner’s manuals, cables, accessories and, incredibly, sometimes even the remote controls and table stands!

You’ll need to buy a replacement table stand if you’re not wall mounting your set and most people don’t. Replacing the original stand, assuming it’s even available from the TV manufacturer is usually expensive. Generic aftermarket stands cost around $200 but don’t match the original cosmetics.

To assure full remote control functionality you will need the one that came with the set. If the original’s been tossed expect to pay around $40 for a replacement.

You should have the owner’s manual in order to learn how to operate the set and use all of the features and controls. Most get tossed. Fortunately, many can be downloaded for free from the set maker’s site.

Age Matters

As already stated, the useful lifespan of an LCD TV could be as low as 15,000 hours in showroom mode. Retailers power on demo TVs before the store opens and shut them off after the store closes. You should figure on around 90 hours per week use. However, if the TV was on display during the Christmas holidays, stores generally open for extended hours so estimate 100 hours a week total demo usage.

To check the age of the TV, ask the salesman to let you examine the back where you’ll find the date of manufacture. Assume the set was put on demo within a few weeks of that date. To calculate the usage, take the number of months from that date to the current date and multiply by 4.3 (the number of weeks in a month) and multiply that by 100 hours. So,  for example, a 10 month old LCD will have about 4300 hours on it or less than 72% of its remaining brightness lifespan.

Screen Defects

We have seen demo sets with scratches, small chips, cracks or scuffs on the screen’s coating.  This type of damage is not repairable under warranty and requires replacing the entire panel at a cost equal to the price of a new unit.  Examine carefully the set you’re considering. Don’t buy it even if you discover just a tiny screen blemish because you’ll find over time that the small scratch will become a big viewing annoyance.

What Is the Right Price?

Best Buy initially offers 15% off for a demo set The discount increases the longer the demo remains unsold.  Add the purchase of a table stand and the demo model may cost you more than the new unit does. If you don’t need the stand, are you willing to pay 85% for a TV that may have less than 75% of its useful life remaining?  The HD Guru advises “no deal”.

HD Guru recommends purchasing a new factory sealed closeout model if it’s at a substantial discount or go for a 2010 model. A demo unit should only be considered if you do not need to purchase replacement accessories and are offered a 40% discount (offer to pay less to the Best Buy store manager, who has demo price discretion)  and even then only buy after you’ve checked the TV’s age and verified there’s no screen burn-in, scratches, chips, scuffs or bulb burnout.

A Best Buy salesman told us you can return a demo set for up to thirty days. You must check each store’s policies as demo units are often sold “as is” with only the manufacturer’s warranty. Set maker’s factory warranties do not cover wear and tear or physical damage.

Edited by Michael Fremer

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Abhue

    Now when you say 40% discount, are you reffering to a discount from the non sale (regular) price or from the sale (clearence) price? In my sales practice I sometimes go 10-15% off the clearence price on (open TVs). However this is also in a effort to get an otherwise “cheap” customer to also purchase other neccesities with there product. I mean it does take more than just a TV to get a good picture right?

  • Liam

    Sorry for the typo.

    That should read: U22 models

  • Liam

    I notice that Panasonic’s 2010 U23 LCD models have EEFL Backlight.

    How does it compare to CCFL backlights?

  • Mark

    Wondering if the fluorescent lighting in LCD sets is replaceable like projector bulbs, where I assume the LED’s are not.

    From a technical point of view the answer is yes. However, it is not practical as you would need to replace all the bulbs at once or suffer from uneven screen brightness. The many bulbs plus the labor costs would be prohibitively expensive.

    HD Guru

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