Rich Warren: Offer too good to be true? Read the fine print

Many times readers send email questioning services from their cable, satellite or telephone provider. The provider bills extra for programming the readers thought was included in their packages or for multiple installations around the house that seemed to be included when they signed up.

Every provider, whether cable, satellite or the telephone company, snares you with teaser rates. I receive at least a solicitation a week from one of the three promising me the world. They offer a very rich package for 90 days, a year or even two years. These packages might be a generous array of video programming, combined phone-Internet-TV or numerous cable boxes with DVR.

The seductively low rate entices you to sign up. Then one day, that $30, $50 or $100 monthly rate suddenly doubles or triples. Or the rate might remain the same, but two-thirds of your channels vanish. When you call customer support, the people in the Philippines, India or elsewhere, working from a rigid script, might be as confused as you.

My advice: Always read the fine print. Sometimes this literally requires a magnifying glass, which you can purchase for a few dollars at a pharmacy. It's cheaper than signing up for services you can't afford.

In the "olden days" of Bell Telephone, the phone company took responsibility for your indoor wiring, although toward the end it billed you $1 a month for that service. Now, whether it is phone or cable, the provider's responsibility ends at the network box on the side of your house.

A lot of homes are poorly wired with coaxial cable in the walls. The original installation may have been sloppy, with cheap, low quality coax, and/or insects or rodents might have chewed on the coax. Sometimes the wrong splitters were installed at the wrong places along the cable, degrading performance.

Before calling your provider to scream about the poor quality TV picture or the sluggish Internet speed, check your own wiring. If you ask your provider to check your wiring it could be costly. The cable/phone company need only deliver an acceptable signal to the network box outside your house. They often will inspect that without charge, although of late, they seem to bill for anything that requires sending a technician.

A reader asked our help for a low signal issue with Comcast. After extensive back and forth with a senior technician at Comcast he agreed to check the wiring in his home. When he resolves the issue, we'll report on the solution. While a provider certainly might be deficient, that's not always the case.

After suffering problems with my cable service and my checking the house wiring, the cable technician admitted that my subdivision had been wired with substandard cable from the boxes at the curb to house network boxes. He replaced that cable, dramatically improving my service and Internet speeds. I've rarely experienced a problem since then.

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Here's a much simpler reader query: "What is the maximum size TV that would work well for watching from about 10 feet and from about 15 feet. What would you recommend for the type of TV for that use?"

HDTV fosters close viewing. Thus, at 10 feet I'd recommend a 46- to 56-inch screen and from 15 feet a 55- to 65-inch screen.

Since all TVs now offer 1080p resolution with most programming in that resolution (and nearly all TVs upconvert standard DVDs to 1080p), there is no longer a difference in resolution between sets and thus, no single right TV set. Choose an LCD set with LED illumination, commonly called an LED TV.

Brand-name sets generally provide the best quality, although what is a brand name these days is dubious. Many great brands of the past are nothing but a name sold off to a manufacturer of cheap sets. Stick with Samsung, LG Electronics, Sony, Sharp, Panasonic and Vizio for the best performance.

Rich Warren can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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