Rich Warren: Lots of questions about 4-year-old HD TV

Cue Alan Cumming to introduce this PBS "Masterpiece" Mystery. While you're at it, send a cup of strong coffee to the Federal Trade Commission. This is one of the more unusual letters we've ever received from a reader, edited to fit:

"I bought a 32-inch Samsung high-definition LCD TV from Best Buy in 2008. The model number is LN32A330J1DXZA C.

"I bought the TV after spending many weeks looking at TVs. I knew I wanted a 1080p TV, not a 720p. I had noticed the difference in clarity and was well aware of it. I spent a half-hour with the Best Buy salesman before I chose my Samsung. It had a beautiful picture like all Samsungs.

"This TV still works fine. More recently, I bought a bigger Samsung 1080 TV, so I listed the 32-inch on Craigslist as a Samsung 32-inch HD 1080p. I got several inquiries, but one of the first was from a guy who wanted the serial number. He emailed back that according to that serial number this TV was only a 720p TV!!!

"I told him he was wrong due to several factors. First I knew what I had obtained and paid for it (1080 is more expensive).

"I spent half-hour talking with the salesman about the benefits of 1080. THE BOX IT CAME IN SAID 1080P right on the box, and most important, I know the difference in clarity and marveled at the beauty of the 1080p.

"After researching that model number myself, I see where the guy's info seemed accurate and I was dumbfounded. Virtually everywhere I checked showed this model number being only a 720p TV, although on one Web page the guy said he did get 1080p from it, but that was one out of 50 that even mentioned 1080p. All the rest, even from Samsung itself, said this model was only a 720p TV.

"Now I was really confused and adamant to the contrary as I KNOW what I bought. I have decided just to hang on to the TV as I know the picture is 1080 quality and I am not willing to sell it for $150 when I paid $700 in 2008 and it's in perfect condition.

"So my question is: Have you ever heard of such a thing? Did I get cheated by Best Buy? Did they sell me a 720p TV after telling me it was a 1080p? How could the box say 1080, and how could my eyes be deceived? I know what I saw all the years I watched it, as did others."

First, don't believe everything you see or read on the Web. There's plenty of misinformation posted there.

Second, legally if the box says 1080p, the product inside must be 1080p. (Hello, FTC?)

Third, while some stores' electronics sales people frequently are undertrained and/or misinformed, I doubt that the salesperson was lying or that Best Buy was perpetrating a fraud.

Here are two possibilities. Sometimes manufacturers make running changes in a product, so while very rare, Samsung could have upgraded that model TV from 720 to 1080 (or vice versa). Or it might have produced a special run just for Best Buy with slightly different specifications than the version you'll find at Sears or h.h. greg.

Incidentally, even if it is 1080p, a 4-year-old 32-inch TV would only be worth $150 used, if that. If you can find a 1080p 32-inch TV new (most 32-inch models are 720), it would be about $400 today.

I notice that most of the 32-inch 1080p models have been discontinued.

From what you write, I am convinced you have a 1080p TV. However, we all can be fooled into seeing what we think we should see. In a double-blind test, most viewers would not see much, if any, difference between 720 versus 1080 32-inch model.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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xb wrote on January 03, 2013 at 1:01 pm

My guess is since the native pixel resolution of that model's screen is 1366 x 768, (which is higher than 720p but less than 1080p) is that the display is capable of handling a 1080p input signal, and it displays it on its 768 line screen. This would be the difference between a TV that "supports 1080p" and one that has "native 1080p resolution".

Sort of similar to the reverse case, where  game consoles will output a 1080p signal from their HDMI even though the native resolution of the game is 720p.

jdmac44 wrote on January 03, 2013 at 3:01 pm

What you want to look for in all of the documentation is "Native Resolution".  My first projector was an Optoma H31 that I bought used and at first glance I thought I was getting a 1080 projector, but it turns out that the native resolution was 480!  It was compatible with a 1080 source, but that doesn't do you any good where performance is concerned.