Beware the Demo

In my review of Samsung’s flagship UN75ES9000, 75-inch LCD-LED HDTV, I remark that potential buyers should beware of bad demos of this very expensive set ($9000). Such a demo could make it very difficult to justify the expense.

The factory default mode for many HDTVs, including this one, is the Dynamic picture mode. I almost never spend any time in this setting; I sometimes make an exception for 3D, where you typically need all the brightness you can get, but not always. Shortly after I had determined decent starting settings for our sample of the Samsung, including the Movie mode, I was browsing for something or other in my local Best Buy, which has in-store, higher-end Magnolia department offering amenities not available on the main floor. These include a more subdued lighting environment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to encourage more sensible settings on the sets, which still appear to be demonstrated in their factory default store settings. A curious policy, since Best Buy offers its customers ISF calibrations as a purchase option.

The Magnolia had the Samsung UN75ES9000 on display. Two comfy seats were positioned in front of the set, encouraging passers-by to sit and stare. Unlike the rest of its demos, however, the set was located at the Magnolia’s open entrance, facing outward where it had to fight the lighting on the main showroom floor.

The picture on the set was teeth-gritting—glaringly bright with Crayola colors, overly enhanced sharpness, and interpolated motion. I knew that the set could look far better than this. The remote was sitting nearby, and I eagerly reached for it. Unfortunately, it had no batteries.

Take Two. On my next visit I brought along a note with the basic video settings I had chosen for the review sample, along with a couple of batteries—obsessive, I know! The remote was still there. I dialed in my settings. It was clear that the set could still profit from a detailed a color calibration, and I had to increase the backlight a few steps above optimum to deal with the store’s bright lighting. But the improvement was significant, and closer to what I knew by then that the set was capable of, if not quite there. I left it that way.

Different modes on most sets can be adjusted separately, so the Movie mode settings I had put in had no effect on the Dynamic mode’s factory settings. So I wasn’t surprised to find, on returning to the store a couple of weeks later, the Samsung back in its pug-ugly Dynamic factory mode. Either the store’s sales staff didn’t know a decent picture from a bad one, didn’t care, or assumed that the average consumer is similarly oblivious. Not encouraging.

This experience reinforced a fact I’ve long been aware of: With rare exceptions, a store showroom is the worst place to evaluate an HDTV. Small, specialist video stores that actually care are a disappearing breed, squeezed out by big box retailers better able to generate the volume needed to feed the public’s taste for bottom-feeding prices. Your local mass-market video store may be a decent place to experience a set’s cosmetics, features, and size (hint: it will always look bigger at home), but a poor place to judge its performance. A store with a generous return policy might help, but don’t underestimate the task of dragging home that 65-inch HDTV, unpacking it, setting it up, deciding it isn’t for you, repacking it, and hauling it back to the store.

Your best source of information about an HDTV is a good review, supplemented if possible by seeing the set at the home of friends or relatives. While there’s no substitute for an eyes-on experience, a personal audition will help only if the set has been properly adjusted in an environment that doesn’t compromise its performance— better yet if that environment is similar to yours.

jes182's picture

Manufacturer representatives will often make visits to stores like Best Buy and reset the picture to factory default and leave it on Dynamic. They think this is what will sell and they're usually right. The average dummy wants his/her picture "dynamic" and complains that movie mode is "too dark". Sad but true.'s picture

I have seen this same TV on display at Magnolia. The picture sucked (for the asking price). No way would I in my wildest dreams if I had a fat wallet would I ever buy this TV based on what was on display at Magnolia. The same situation existed at other Magnolias for the Sharp Elite display resulting in the same conclusion. Then, I saw a Sharp Elite properly set up at a Magnolia in Tempe, AZ (way to go guys!) and could finally see what all the fuss was about which made want to buy the TV. All the other Magnolias that have had the Sharp Elite on display did not do the TV justice and I think their sales probably take a hit. Face it, either this Samsung or the Elite is an expensive TV and the regular working guy is going to have to finance the purchase of either TV. That's the advantage to buying at Best Buy, you can finance the purchase vs. some other retailer. Problem is Best Buy is not negotiable on their pricing and will only discount the TV if it is on sale. That is where they lose out to another seller which is more flexible on pricing and is only compounded by the bad set up of TV in their show room. Bottom line, you want an exemplar product spending that kind of coin on a TV. The showroom doesn't do it justice. Why hassle with buying the TV thinking you can tweak the settings, be wrong, then have to prep your self with what you are going to say when you return the TV knowing the resistence you are going to encounter?

jnemesh's picture

Well, if you are shopping for a higher end TV these days, don't go looking for a discount. Both the Elite and Samsung sets are price protected. Authorized dealers CAN'T discount these sets beyond sale prices that the manufacturer sets. And you DON'T want to buy from an unauthorized dealer (which can void your warranty, among other downfalls). Sony also follows a "Unilateral Pricing Policy" on their high end sets, and Sharp, already using this policy on their 90" sets is expanding their UPP policy to include all of their "8" (800?) series 60", 70", and 80" panels this year. So don't be disappointed that you can't get a "deal" on these sets, no one else is either.

Billy's picture

I saw the Sony 84 incher (4K) on display at a local Minneapolis BB Magnolia in the same fashion. It looked okay, but 25Gs? It had to fight the bright lights killing the contrast and I had to get down on my knees to get the proper viewing angle. (Magnolia does the same with the Martin Logan speakers, ya need to be on your knees for the sweet spot and they have them out in the middle of the store-who sets this stuff up? Do they have ANY idea at all what they are doing?) Despite a server running true 4K, it didn't look any better then the adjacent 1080P sets. I lament the loss of smaller specialty AV stores, places that treat equipment and customers right. Here we have a place called Halstens that I treasure but I am worried about the state of AV in America in general. BB and their ilk helpped close out most of the places where you could get a decent demo and now they themselves are on the run from the internet. Where will the masses go? Perhaps a business model could be made to work, but lets face it, a small store has expenses that Amazon never will. A big part of this has to do with integrety. If you get good advice and service from a small local dealer, is that not worth a small premium over the internet seller? We all need to support the small retailers that make our hobby great.

aleksandr's picture

The same story, here in Costa Rica Tom...

Jarod's picture

Nice right up. I had to chuckle cause Ive done similar things at my local Best Buy with settings. Only to find them back in the bad settings when I return. It's a joke really how incompetent workers are at these stores. It's a shame

DetroitRadioKnight's picture

Maybe you should write them up for that.........

kent harrison's picture

I Most retailers keep there tv's on torch mode to impress the consumers

jeremyquam's picture

Feeling very under appreciated, I work at a MHT, and just so everybody knows manufactures pay big bucks for those spots front and center so when people are looking for cameras a 75 inch is staring them in their face. The manufactures also have representatives going from store to store setting all their panels on their brightest mode. I have to fend them off from the Elites and other sets that my team has ISF calibrated. I totally agree how terrible these situations are, but at least some of us "incompetent workers" (thanks Jarod) care about sound and picture and get cast in with all of these bad experiences.
In situations where the position of a speaker is placed funky or the TV settings are jacked, ASK. I am sure they will reposition, hand over remote, etc.

catman's picture

Well I have all the equip, Epson 6020 projector, Oppo 103 blueray plyer, 110 inch stewart firehawk screen and a rotel five channel amp with the Oppo analog out running directly to the amp. (All is good)
But I cannot find a really good demo disk for vidio and audio without all this full action, loud bunch of noise that is popular with most today. Any suggestions out their? A really good demo that's mellow but still has a lot of surround sound and superior picture quality.
Probably sounds silly but I can't find one in my area.