So what about that TV?

In my quest to post things as much out of order as I possibly can — nothing like keeping you on your toes, Constant Reader –, allow me to regale you with the somewhat epic tale of how the LG plasma TV I referred to previously came into our possession.

I awaken that fateful Sunday, and my lovely wife has that look about her that means two things:

  1. Something good is going to happen.
  2. This good thing might require a significant amount of work on my part.

As it turns out, she has found an amazing deal on a 42″ Panasonic Plasma EDTV. If I recall correctly, we are talking $1,100 for a sizable, ATSC built-in bargain. Before I leave on the epic journey to Fry’s, the store who had this bargain and which for maximum inconvenience is situated at the other side of town, I of course inquire about wants, price limits and sundry to make sure my purchasing bonanza does not get out of hand. I am sent off with a mandate to find a “good deal”. Fair enough.

I get to the store, and make a bee-line for the TV section. Whilst looking for the advertised model, I see incredible deals on Mitsubishi 50″-62″ 1080p DLPs that cause me to kick myself for not fully exploring the allowable physical size of the unit.

Anyway, I stroll along the lines of HD units, most plugged in to a Blu-Ray player to really show off the prowess of each unit, while others are simply plugged into over-the-air HD. If nothing else, that experience has taught me that investing in Blu-Ray or HD-DVD at the moment is a very silly thing to do: over-the-air 720p upsampled PBS content slaps any HD player available at the moment like the proverbial red-headed step-child. If you don’t believe me, come on over and bring your HD player with the very best HD movie you own, and I will show you.

I wander down, down, down the line and finally find the advertised model. And wow. The thing looks like unmitigated, pimply, cellulite-infested ass — pardon my French. There is no way that I can bring that thing home and not get stabbed in the immediate future for wasting money.

So I look to the next one over, a $1,300 actual HD Panasonic 42″ Plasma. As a random aside: EDTV means “pretty good, and better than the standard crap we’ve been putting up with for a long time”. EDTV means “about as good as a standard, $40 DVD player can crank out”. HDTV means “as good as over-the-air HD, or HD DVD players, or nice up-sampling DVD players can do”. Up-sampling DVD players means “we’ll take your DVD signal and pretend it is better than it really is, which works really well since DVD signals are usually better than what your standard DVD player can actually output”. Anyway, I am looking at the “true” HD offering from Panasonic at the moment. Myeh. Better, but not very good. I circle the isles. There are about 50 models on display, so this takes a goodish amount of time.

To make a short story just a little bit longer, I finally find a model that looks absolutely stunning, fits the other criteria we have (built-in ATSC and speakers) and isn’t over $3,000. It is a 46″ Samsung LCD so crisp, bright and, well, hot that I feel confident in spending and defending the $2,499 it costs.

I order the TV (for the uninitiated, at Fry’s that means that you signal your intent to purchase the item, they print up a request and notify the stocking crew that they should have the actual item waiting by the front door) and proceed to check-out. They ring everything up…

…and the payment is refused.

Uh, what? I know the money is there. Try debit. Try credit. Nope. Refused. “Would you like to call your bank?”

No, actually, I would very much prefer to firebomb their head office to a smoldering heap of cinders, but sure, calling them will do. It also cuts down on the being-throw-in-jail-for-terrorist-activity part of my original plans. You heard it here first folks: fire-bombing of local bank branch office foiled by check-out girl at Fry’s. So yes, after all, I pick up the phone offered and call my bank in an attempt to clear up this obvious misunderstanding.

As I have bored you with verbatim accounts of my encounters with automated voice response systems, allow me to condense the twenty minutes of homicidal frustration into simply stating that it is impossible to get an actual, live, breathing person working for my bank on the line on a Sunday morning. And as such, I did not and was forced to leave my judicious, impressive pick at the door.

So I return home, thoroughly embarrassed and frustrated with the non-experience of bringing the set I truly felt would have been not just satisfactory, but would have impressed because of my impeccable technical judgement. It did not help that the other purchases I made failed to function or were simply unavailable. On the way home, I confirmed that the money was actually there — it must have been a daily limit imposed by our bank, which my wife confirms is the actual case when I get home.

I fumed. I fargled. I bargled. I paced. All in all, not good.

When it becomes obvious that I need to go out to get lunches for our daughter, I offer my wife to have a look at CostCo’s offerings on the HDTV front. She agrees that doing so might not be a bad idea, and I set out to do just that.

I go to CostCo, and they have nothing whatsoever below $3,000 even worth sneezing at. So much for that idea. But wait… aren’t there other stores selling TVs in the neighborhood?

Our local Best Buy, if at all possible, has more models on-show than Fry’s, and has better show-off signal going into each set. This, of course, caused another 45 minutes of instant Consumer Reports-style side-by-side comparisons on my part, but given the daily credit limitation now very much present in the frontal lobes, combined with our stated requirements left such evaluations to be nothing but examining the factual evidence of image quality between qualifying sets. And yes, doing so (relatively) quickly led to a winner.

LG, 42″ Plasma, built-in ATSC, built-in speakers, HDMI-In, best picture quality amongst 42″ sets, be they Plasma or LCD, $1,499. I was so sold, it was not even funny. I buy it, they load it up in my truck, I strap it in, and gingerly drive home. Victory lap, right?

Umm, well, no. I get home, revel in the fact that a plasma is light enough (well, light, not-insanely-heavy) to lug into the house by myself, study the unpacking process, and proceed. Take the top of the box off, lay the unit front-down on the couch to lock the base in place, and… wait. The corner of the TV isn’t supposed to look completely crushed, is it?

…keep breathing…

No, it is not, and knowing that I had nothing to do with it (I treated the thing like a 100lb carton of eggs all the way, and have the sore back and scratched hands to prove it, thank you very much). So here comes the fun part: returning the TV. Which consists of several smaller fun parts:

Calling the store and warning them I will be on my way. They have one identical set left, and reserve it. Excellent. That part actually was somewhat fun.

Repackaging the TV. This particular set comes in a sturdy base (well, judging by what happened to the darned thing, not quite sturdy enough), on which the set rests. No problem there, just reseat the thing. Then come the 8 large now-disintegrated pieces of styrofoam to protect the sides and the top. About two are usable. Well, who gives a rat’s behind, the thing is busted anyway. We’re going for the appearance of care in repackaging, no more and no less. So now we have a somewhat packaged set sitting on the base of the box, over which slides the top of the box. A bit of juggling later (and a few retries, after remembering that the remote, attachments, cables, manuals and warranty cards need to go as well), we’re good to go.

Loading the TV back on the truck. There are of course a few minor differences between the box as it came, and the way it is going now: there are no longer three of those nasty will-cut-you-to-the-bone plastic straps holding the box together, so there is absolutely no way to move it other than worming one’s hands underneath the entire thing and deadlifting it; secondly, since only a few of the styrofoam blocks survived the initial unpacking, the set is not held in it’s place inside the box quite as firmly as the packaging designers obviously intended. To put it another way: the thing sways in the box like no tomorrow, and that is not very helpful when you are on a 30 yard deadlift walk. The damage so far is packaging damage, but if I drop the darned thing flat and the screen disintegrates, well, I might have a bit of a time explaining how I had nothing to do with it. I therefore take extra-special care in strapping the box down (oh, did I mention you cannot transport plasma TVs laying flat?).

Driving back to the store. It’s only a few miles, I take the back roads, no problem. Well, after the first mile or so I look in my rearview and can see the set swaying INSIDE THE BOX and threatening to break through. Yikes. I ease off the gas and endure the remaining miles of bumpy no-pass two-lane at 20mph, fervently hoping that none of the twenty drivers behind me has the combination of a bad day, short temper and a .357 in the glove box. They do not, and I arrive safely.

Doing the exchange. Everyone is very, very curteous, professional and lightning-quick about it. To wit, within three minutes they have unloaded the old set, put the new one in the back of my truck and are in the middle of processing the exchange. This, of course, is the moment where a supervisor walks up and decides that there is not enough box damage to warrant an exchange without inspecting the set. Well of course there isn’t enough box damage to show that the set inside has a crushed corner — I would hardly accept such a box, now would I? But I understand, from the look of the box it either got damaged from a freakishly flat drop, or I dropped it after it came out of the box. Heck, everything else I did today has taken forever for no discernable reason or gain, so I judge it par for the course, and watch them take out the set. And yes, the supervisor’s suspicions (not-so-subtly transmitted on a continuing basis by withering leers) all pan out. See? The bottom blocks are okay… how could the corner have been crushed? This actually goes on for several minutes, extensive mumbling and sideways glances galore. It seems that they are actually going to decide that it was my fault and not allow the return! Well, that too would be about par for the course of this lovely day. Heck, what’s $1,499 amongst friends right? But then, as they gather things to pack the set back up, one of the nicer employees notices something not a soul, including me, saw before: a large, square dent in the side of the set. They all gather around, take a two second look, and the glances start over again… but now of an apologetic rather than an accusatory nature. The supervisor walks up to me and points out the dent: “Yep, that’s a forklift dent. They screwed up in the warehouse. Sorry ’bout that. Got the new set yet?” Yes, in the truck. This time, they send out someone with me to open the box, on my truck, to inspect. Looks mint. Box goes back on, and I’m all set.

The victory lap. The rest is history, including the drive home with the drizzle which started when I was exchanging the set slowly building to a nice shower and getting the set back into the house (remember they took the top of the box off for me?). The set has been very impressive, especially with over-the-air HD broadcasts — although we have now moved it to a new spot where hooking it up to the outside antenna is impossible.

So, for all those of you who were curious: there you have it.

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