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Users Reveal Their HDTV Problems

Of course, poor reliability and service drive away customers. When Jim Giblin of Wayne, New Jersey, paid $5000 for a 73-inch Mitsubishi Diamond Series set three years ago, he expected a top-of-the-line, rear-projection HDTV that would last for years. "I had owned Mitsubishi big-screen TVs in the past, and I would've sworn by Mitsubishi," he says.

Within 18 months six bulbs burned out; lucky for Giblin, all but one of the $239 bulbs were under warranty. The DLP light engine (a pricey component that produces the color images) failed too. Customer support said he'd have to wait months for a new engine.

After seeing the name of a Mitsubishi product manager in a magazine, Giblin e-mailed the man and described his plight. "I pleaded on a human level," says Giblin, a self-employed small-business coach. "I said, 'What if you spent $5000 on this thing and it was sitting in your house for six months, useless?'" To Mitsubishi's credit, the product manager responded within 5 minutes. The next day Mitsubishi authorized shipment of a brand-new 73-inch HDTV, which arrived two weeks later.

Still, the experience has shaken Giblin's faith in the company: "I haven't run them off my list, but I would no longer just blindly go get a Mitsubishi."

Charles Chaney of Westlake, Ohio, purchased a 57-inch Mitsubishi DLP set two years ago and had to replace the light engine after the warranty expired. He tried ordering the $256 part on the Web site, but never saw a confirmation.

When he finally reached a rep on the phone, she said the part was out of stock, but changed her mind after asking a supervisor. Chaney received the part, but the experience "was a pain in the ass," he says. "I'm still reluctant to go with Mitsubishi the next time."

Not all Mitsubishi buyers have tales of woe. Steve Smith of Houston got a Mitsubishi rear-projection set in 2004, and it has been flawless. He may buy the brand again, but he plans to shop around since prices are lower. Mitsubishi declined to comment for this article.

Readers griped about Hitachi, too. After Bernie Wheaton of Tom's River, New Jersey, bought a 42-inch Hitachi plasma set two years ago, his wife heard a distorted, scratchy sound coming out of the speakers. Hitachi subcontracted the case to a local repair shop. For the company to make a diagnosis, the TV set would have to be sent to a service center--but Hitachi refused to provide a replacement. "That was a disappointment," says Wheaton, who intends to buy a Panasonic plasma next time.

Lower HDTV Prices Mean Challenges

What's ahead for HDTV? Even lower prices and more cutthroat competition, as vendors push for market share and consumers shop for their second or third set. "Now the 52-inch goes to the living room, and the 37-inch or 42-inch retires to the bedroom or den," The Envisioneering Group's Doherty says.

But will quality suffer? Possibly for a while, IDC's Haruki predicts, as vendors beef up manufacturing and support to handle increased sales and users. "Vendors will need to increase service, or they'll have a lot of dissatisfied customers," he says. Manufacturing will move to countries with cheaper labor, too. Vendors "may have issues...but only because it's a transitional period," Haruki adds. "As time goes on, they'll figure it out and become more reliable."

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