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The Mysterious Shrinking TV
Date: 2008/12/29 21:42 By: KatiePery Status: User  
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Pick up a Sunday circular for Best Buy, Circuit City or some other electronics store, turn to the TV section, read the fine print, and discover that the TV you’re considering buying –- or the one you already own –- is smaller than you think.

A considerable number of TVs are smaller by as much as a half inch than what the big print in their ads says.

Take, for instance, a Toshiba listed in a recent Best Buy circular. The TV is advertised in bold, black font as “32″ Class.” The fine print reads: 31.5″ measured diagonally.

Or the Sharp advertised as “19” Class”. The fine print: 18.9” measured diagonally.

Or the Sony. The big print reads “32” Class,” while the fine print tells you that it’s actually “31.5 measured diagonally.”

What gives?

There has emerged a new class (no pun intended) of advertising aimed at disclosing the actual size of televisions. But just when and why this trend emerged has been difficult for me to pin down.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve repeatedly pinged the retailers and TV manufacturers to try to find out when they started disclosing the actual size of their flat-panel sets. I’ve gotten incomplete answers, and, in some cases, no answers at all.

Sony and Best Buy have been the most forthcoming. Best Buy said that six months ago it changed its advertising in two respects. It started to point out that TV screens are measured diagonally, and:

“We also started using the word “Class” to describe the size of the television if the screen size was not, in fact, exactly the size at which that television is classified,” a company spokesman, Brian Lucas wrote in an e-mail message.

Mr. Lucas said the company wanted to be transparent with customers.

“If a 32″ television is actually 31.5″ we think a customer might want to know that even though it might not seem like a big deal to some people,” he wrote.

I called the spokesman back and asked whether there was any other impetus for the change, or its timing –- something still felt unexplained to me about the decision. He said that Best Buy was following the moves and wishes of TV manufacturers.

When I spoke to Sony, the company said that it started making the change in 2007 to the way it advertises and classifies the TVs to consumers. A company spokesman said there were three sizes of TVs in particular, including the 32-inch, that are generally a few fractions of an inch smaller than the class they belong to. I asked what is the reason behind the fact some TVs are generally smaller and the spokesman said that the reason has to do with manufacturing processes, but could not be more specific.

I got far less satisfying answers from Sharp and Samsung. Despite asking them repeatedly over a few weeks to explain when and why they changed their TV classifications and advertising, neither provided an answer (United States-based public relations representatives said they were having trouble getting information from the companies they represent).

Does any of this matter?

Certainly it does for the sake of truth in advertising, particularly for an industry that heralds the importance of size. Does it actually matter in terms of viewing pleasure? I spoke to several electronics industry analysts who said it probably does not — that consumers won’t really notice much of a difference between 32-inches and 31.5.

For me, the change in advertising tactics and classification, remains a bit of a mystery. It was suggested to me by people in the TV industry –- with whom I spoke off-the-record –- that there have been lawsuits or threats of lawsuits from consumers, who felt cheated by the previous lack of disclosure and that’s why things changed.

But none of the companies was forthcoming about when, if, and by whom they have been sued.

So this story remains, itself, a little bit shy of its full size. I’m still asking the questions, and am about half an inch shy of all the answers.
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