A number of on-line dealers and retailers offer HDTVs labeled as “refurbished” or “recertified”. One of the largest sellers of these sets is a company called Systemax, which consists of a group of on-line dealers that includes Circuitcity.com, Compusa.com. and Tigerdirect.com.

When we last looked, Circuitcity.com lists over twenty refurbished Vizio HDTV models and just three Sharps. We made several calls to Systemax corporate communications to ascertain why there are so many Vizios available. We never received a return call. We spoke to a Vizio management person and he confirmed Vizio’s core retailers Wal-Mart, Target and the warehouse clubs don’t sell open box returns and do not have service facilities, therefore Vizio needs on-line outlets to sell the defective, damaged and other store returned HDTVs after repair.

A Circuit City customer service phone representative confirmed they have hundreds of each model available, not surprising considering Vizio is consistently the number one or number two LCD sales volume leader in the USA.

Recertified HDTVs

We researched the phrase “Re-Certified TV”. No one we contacted was familiar with the term (we do not mean THX Certified link which has nothing to do with this). A search of “Recertified” turned up only definitions for “Refurbished”.  Our research indicates there is no difference between a Recertified and a Refurbished HDTV, the former it is just a classier term like pre-owned automobile meaning a used car.

We found how Systemax defines its refurbished products (including HDTVs) at its Tiger Direct website. We copied it and post their statements in italics below, followed by an examination its statements and the many risks and pitfalls of buying refurbs.

What Qualifies As Refurbished?

“When we think of a refurbished item, we think of something that has been opened up, torn apart, and rebuilt, like a rebuilt auto part, for instance. But, in the electronics world, it is not so obvious as to what the term “refurbished” actually means for the consumer.

An electronic or computer product can be classified as refurbished if it meets ANY of the following criteria:

1) A Customer Return – Most major retailers have a 30-day return policy for their products and many consumers, for whatever reason, return products within that time period.  Most of the time if there is nothing wrong with the product, a retailer will just reduce the price and resell it as an open box special – still having the new product warranty. However, if there is some sort of defect present in the product, many retailers return the product to the manufacturer where it is inspected and corrected, and then specially repackaged for sale as a refurbished item.  These will typically be sold through outlets or through the largest of the manufacturer’s resellers

2) Shipping Damage – Many product packages can be damaged in shipping, whether due to mishandling, the elements, or other factors. In most cases the product in the box may be in perfect condition, after all manufacturers spend vast sums of money on packaging to protect their product during shipping.  However, the retailer has the option to return the damaged boxes to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, then, inspects the products and repackages them for sale. But since they were returned, they cannot be sold as new products, so they are relabeled as refurbished units.

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3) Cosmetic Scratch or Dent – Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a product may have a scratch, dent, or other form of cosmetic damage that does not affect the performance of the unit, but it does detract from the “newness” of the product. If the cosmetic defect occurred at the manufacturer, there are two options: sell the unit with its cosmetic damage visible or fix the damage by placing the internal components into a new cabinet or casing. Either way, the product qualifies as refurbished.  Plus it has the added bonus that the internal mechanisms that were unaffected by the cosmetic damaged are still checked once again.”

4) Demonstration Units – At the retail store level, most retailers sell their old demos off the floor, some manufacturers will take them back, inspect and/or repair them, and send them back out as refurbished units for sale (though this is less common). This may also apply to demo units used by the manufacturer at trade shows, returned by product reviewers, and internal office use.  All of these are considered refurbished units.

5) Production Defect – In any assembly line production process, a specific component can show up as defective because a faulty processing chip, power supply, disc loading mechanism, or other factor. Most of the time, this is caught before the product leaves the factory, however, defects can show up after the product hits store shelves. As a result of customer returns, inoperative demos, and excessive product breakdowns within the warranty period of a specific element in the product, a manufacturer may “recall” unsold products from a specific batch or production run that either exhibits the same defect, or is expected to show this issue. When this occurs, the manufacturer can repair or upgrade all the defective and non-defective recalled units, and send them back out to retailers as refurbished units for sale.

6) Opened Box – Some times, a customer asks to see what is inside, then decides not to buy.  Realistically, there is no issue here other than the box was opened and was sent back to the manufacturer for repacking (or repacked by the retailer), the product can be considered refurbished (though not always – it depends on the degree of unpacking that occurred). This is because it required “factory” repacking, even though no refurbishing has occurred.




7) Overstock – If a retailer has an overstock of a particular item they simply reduce the price and put the item on sale or clearance. However, sometimes, when a manufacturer introduces a new model, it will “collect” the remaining stock of the older models still on store shelves and redistribute them to specific retailers for quick sale. In this case, the item can be sold either as “a special purchase” or can be labeled as refurbished.


8) Buying Refurbished Products

We are always looking for great bargains, no matter what the product category. It is very hard to resist those Special Clearance sales. However, another way to save money throughout the year is to buy refurbished products.  Refurbished products in many cases can be a better product purchase than a “new” unit, since it goes through much more extensive testing, and the issues were known and resolved.”

Based on our experience and speaking with industry sources, we find many of Systemax’s explanations somewhat misleading and its conclusions questionable. Below is a point by point rebuttal to each statement.

(1) Vizio’s major retailers simply ship back customer returns to the vendor, as they do not offer returns for sale, assuring you always get a new factory sealed, unused HDTV, a policy we like. Stores like Best Buy don’t carry Vizio, but they do sell customer returns as open boxes and these products my not contain all factory supplied parts and accessories and may have been used by the original purchaser up to 30 days.

(2) We’ve seen retailers offer new HDTVs and other products in boxes that are dirty or torn. If there is a hole through the box, odds are the set is damaged and unsalable and must be repaired and should be sold as a refurb.

(3) Vizio’s major retailers listed above don’t sell damaged inventory, they return it to the vendor.

(4) Is an accurate statement

(5) If a unit defect is caught prior to shipping to dealers, set makers will repair the sets prior to shipping to dealers as the goods are still (and properly) new and unused. Dealer returned, resealed goods are considered used and are repaired and sold as refurbished.

(6) Functioning HDTVs returned to a store and resold must be sold as “open box”. Vizio retailers simply don’t offer customers open boxes (except possibly a demo unit) and simply return it to the set maker.

(7) We have never seen new, factory fresh discontinued TV sold as refurbs, they are offered as closeouts or overstock and carry a full warranty. Why would a retailer devalue new, factory fresh merchandise as refurbished?

(8) This statement contradicts our experience.  We’ve visited many TV factories and each one puts every part through numerous quality assurance tests from the circuit board creation all the way through finished product testing after final assembly, prior to packing for shipping.

Tiger Direct goes on to state sets could also be refurbished dealer demos which by their nature run up to 12 hours every day. Or they could be refurbished sets that had a “production defect”.

Sets that are returned to the vendor for warranty exchange due to a product defect can be up to one year old as almost all HDTVs including Vizio come with a one year warranty. The prospective purchasers of a refurbished don’t know if prior to vendor return if a given set was run 24/7 for a year or just an one hour a week. Neither does the prospective refurb buyer know the type of viewing environment the TV was subjected,  such as a smoke filled of bug infested viewing room. Yuck.

Bottom Line

Buying a refurbished set is usually a case of buying a TV that was someone’s  problem during the first year of its life. Did the refurbishing rectify the problem? If the answer is yes, it’s probably a used TV that could have thousands of hours on many of the parts. For taking the risk to save money and you would expect to get a reliable set. However, Vizio and others makers have such little faith in the long term reliability of their refurbished products they only offer a three month warranty on refurbs.

Here is a price comparison of refurbished 55-inch 2010 120Hz Vizio LED LCD HDTV compared to a new, factory fresh 55-inch 2011 Toshiba 120 Hz LED LCD with similar features from Amazon direct.

As appears at the Compusa.com website:

“Refurbished Vizio M550NV 54.6” Razor LED Backlit LCD HDTV. Enjoy all your favorite movies and shows with brilliance. The 1920 x 1080 resolution allows the intensity of the colors to come thru in your images. With the Vizio M550NV 54.6″ Razor LED Backlit LCD HDTV you get 2 HDMI inputs, Component, S-Video, RF Input, and VGA. The Vizio M550NV 54.6″ Razor LED Backlit LCD HDTV has a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 with a 120Hz screen refresh rate. Original New Retail $1700 (2010 model)” CompUSA.com $1178.99 ($1099.99 TV + $79.99 shipping) 3 Month Refurbished warranty

Toshiba 2011 Model 55SL417U 55-Inch 1080p 120 Hz LED-LCD HDTV with Net TV, Black Retail $1600 Amazon Direct $1228.39 New.   One year in-home warranty. Free Shipping.

The cost difference between the refurbished 2010 Vizio and the 2011 Toshiba is just $49.40. Take the new 2011 every time. Stay away from refurbished HDTVs. They are bad values.


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