HDTV Buying Guide 2008
When Phil Harris of Washougal, Washington, brought home a 42-inch Vizio plasma set from Costco, the TV had issues from day one. "The colors went out, and there were white spots all over the screen," says Harris, a retired engineer. Vizio sent techs, who "changed a bunch of components, but that didn't work."
The vendor then sent a refurbished model, which also didn't work properly. Finally, Vizio shipped a new 42-incher--a higher-quality set than Harris's original--which has worked fine for over a year. Would he buy Vizio again? "I guess if I bought another one, it'd be at Costco, and it probably would be a Vizio," he says.
While Harris's story isn't exactly a glowing tribute to Vizio quality control, it illustrates a key point: An HDTV vendor can earn a customer's respect, and repeat business, by correcting its mistakes. The story also suggests that buyers might show a bit more patience and understanding to a low-cost manufacturer like Vizio.
Readers Rank the Best HDTV Brands
PC World's annual Reliability and Service survey lets our readers rate leading vendors in several tech-product categories. This year more than 16,000 respondents shared their likes and dislikes about their high-def TVs and the companies that sell them. Participants rated each company and its products relative to competitors by nine measures, such as customer satisfaction, quality of phone service, severity of hardware problems, and ease of use (our chart here shows five).
Sony HDTVs Win Big; Mitsubishi Struggles
The big winner was Sony, which was better than average in seven of nine measures. The electronics giant, known for high-quality, high-end HDTVs, earned praise for hardware reliability and customer service. It received average marks in ease of use and phone hold time. Five companies--LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, and Vizio--had two high scores each. Overall, readers reported greater satisfaction with the reliability of Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony sets. They also gave credit to LG, Sharp, and Vizio for making TVs with fewer serious issues.
Mitsubishi fared the worst, with four below-average scores. Readers reported a higher-than-average incidence of severe problems (and problems in general) with the TVs, and lower-than-average satisfaction with the sets' reliability and ease of use. Hitachi and JVC didn't do well either: Each had three low grades.
Sony's HD sets may be well made, but seldom are they a bargain. Why the rave reviews? "I've gone with Sony for many years. I find them to be reliable and high-quality, and they last a long time," says Alan Ronkin, who bought a 40-inch Sony Bravia LCD a year ago and is pleased with it. He considered Panasonic and Samsung sets, too, but "at the end of the day, brand loyalty was probably the most important factor," says Ronkin, who manages a nonprofit in Brookline, Massachusetts.
"What Sony has going for it is years of brand image and brand building," says iSuppli TV analyst Riddhi Patel. That brand loyalty may be well deserved and might be based on more than just hype. Like most HDTV makers, Sony doesn't manufacture its own LCD panels but rather buys them from suppliers, says Richard Doherty, research director for The Envisioneering Group. But there's more to it. "One reason Sony's able to keep their high prices and profits is that they have different electronics," Doherty says. In other words, Sony's experience with HD technology means that it can produce a better picture.