No Guarantees

1/09/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

I’m shopping for a new HDTV this

Not by choice — my barely three-year-old Sony
Bravia 46-inch TV is dying. That was the official
prognosis from the authorized Sony repairman
who charged me $100 to deliver the death notice,
after I reported symptoms including pixelation.
“The LCD panel is bad,” he said with a shrug.
“There’s nothing you can do but call Sony.”

The conversation with Sony customer service
was one that could be scripted by any consumer
who dared dream for service for a broken appliance
after the one-year warranty expires.

“Aren’t TVs supposed to last more than three
years?” I asked.

“There is no guarantee of life expectancy,” the rep said,
without emotion. Pause. “I’m sorry yours didn’t last long.”

I could smell defeat on the telephone line.

But after a few days of talking to friends and neighbors,
I found that few were as stunned as I was. Their reaction:
“So? Nothing lasts forever,” they said — “move on.” I know
we live in a disposable world — diapers, lighters, even
phones — but it strikes me as odd to throw away such an
essential item as a TV, especially after such little use.

I can already hear the techies and number-crunchers
lecturing on the fragility of today’s finely tuned electronics
and how thin the margins are for TVs in such a competitive
market. But I can remember a time when my grandparents
— heck, my own parents — owned TV sets that lasted for
decades, the best affirmation of brand loyalty.

If TVs have become such a core part of our
existence as U.S. consumers, they should last at
least as long other major appliances, like refrigerators
or dishwashers.

I’m not picking on Sony here (OK, I am) because
I could tell a similar story about the unexpected
device death throes of my laptop, Black-
Berry and iPod over recent years. Is it me, or has
the entire consumer-electronics industry turned
into one big toaster company?

My mind raced with conspiracy theories about
the designed obsolescence of electronic goods,
much like the famous run-free pantyhose and
the 100-MPG gas engine that corporate America
is still holding from the public. Lower a consumer’s expectations
and pretty soon, he or she won’t think twice about
shelling out $1,000 for TV sets that die in a couple of years.

After three days of soul-corroding conversations with
Sony customer service, with detailed explanations of the
autopsy, Sony gave me a choice: fix it myself (cost: $1,000-
plus) or buy another 46-inch Sony HDTV (at a discount).

I seriously considered life without a big-screen TV for a
while. What would it be like with me, my wife and my two
kids huddled behind my laptop screen with a big bowl of
popcorn, waiting for the start of a movie? Sitcoms on my
smart phone? Could I adapt to a smaller screen?

The choice is clear. Sony is sending a new TV. But there
is no guarantee of life expectancy.

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