August 29, 2006

CD & DVD Warranties:

Only Sony is willing to back its optical disc products with multi-year warranties, and only its high end units benefit from the five-year coverage. Everyone else issues manufacturer's warranties of one year or less.


Compact Discs and Digital Video Discs have an aura of immortality about them. Unlike those scratchy old vinyl records or those blurry and muffled videotapes, optical discs are not supposed to wear out. Evidently, the same cannot be said for their players and recorders.

In this weekly installment of our product warranty tour, we surveyed 23 manufacturers of CD and DVD players and recorders, and canvassed 160 of their products for features, price, and warranty period. What we found was that almost 10% of the units carried only 90-day parts warranties, despite selling prices up to $550. Fifteen manufacturers offered at least some units with only 90-day labor warranties.

Only Sony provided parts or labor warranties longer than one year, for some of their top of the line "ES" units. Most of their CD and DVD products carried one-year parts and labor warranties, though some of the low end DVD/VCR combination units carried 90 days for both. And rather surprisingly, one of Sony's high end digital video recorders, the DHG-HDD250 with a 250 gigabyte hard drive, its own television tuner, and High Definition TV compatibility, carried only 90 days of labor coverage, despite its $800 list price.

Parts Warranties vs. Labor Warranties

So what's wrong with 90-day labor warranties? Nothing, if the unit fails out of the box, or shortly thereafter. But if a repair is required after the three months are up, it may turn into a consumer disposal rather than a warranty claim once the customer discovers that they'll have to pay for repair time, not to mention shipping in both directions. And we do mean discover: some retailers still neglect to mention that there even is a warranty, despite pre-sale disclosure laws that have been on the books for three decades. Others will list only the parts warranty period, neglecting to mention that the labor warranty period is far shorter. We suspect not all of these omissions are inadvertent.

If you'll recall last week's column on hard disk drive and flash memory warranties, 90-day periods were much less common for those product types, and five-year or even lifetime warranties were more plentiful. In fact, with computers, printers, and monitors, it wasn't necessary to use separate columns for parts and labor warranty periods. One could wonder if shorter warranties mean optical disc drives are more or less reliable than magnetic media, especially since some of the same manufacturers sell both.

There are, of course, mitigating factors. First, CD and DVD are more a part of the home audio/consumer electronics branch of the family, while hard disk drives and USB drives are traditionally classified as computer products. Second, when your CD or DVD drive fails, you don't lose all your data, even if you do toss the unit in the trash. Third, it's only the internal hard drives that get the longer warranties. A year is more typical for the external units. Still, it's puzzling that none of the internal CD-ROM or DVD-RW drives we surveyed carried anything longer than a year's warranty.

The End of the CD Era?

Digital cameras and MP3 players, which we covered two weeks ago in an August 15 column, are hastening the emergence of the home computer as an entertainment hub. CDs and DVDs are also part of that convergence, but what's even more interesting is the crossover of computer technology back into the TV and music recording businesses. For instance, some of the latest digital video recorders are built around huge 250 gigabyte disk drives. And most of the CD and DVD players we surveyed now support a long list of digital image and audio file standards from the computer world.

One surprising conclusion we've reached is that it's becoming more and more difficult to buy a non-portable CD-only piece of consumer electronics, especially in regards to recorders. Many of the CD recorders can at least play the DVD format, if not record in it as well. We found only a handful of CD-R-only or CD-RW-only units for sale as a computer drive, although we're sure the refurbishers still have many of the older models on their shelves. On the consumer electronics side, most of the CD-only units were either very-low-end portable Walkman-like devices or high-end multi-disc duplication towers.

We are going to assume that all DVD recorders and players can also play CDs, so we're not going to make any mentions of that attribute in the product descriptions that follow. Most of the current DVD units can also play CD-R, CD-ROM, CD-RW, MP3, JPEG, WMA, bitmap, and many other formats that come out of the PC world. So we didn't really pay attention to all those acronym-laden specs, because they're becoming somewhat universal. What's becoming unusual is finding a CD player that doesn't support either MP3 or WMA, or a DVD player that can't play CDs. We also didn't get too deep into all the various read, write, and rewrite speeds, except when they seemed to have some bearing upon warranty.

The Next Generation: Disk vs. Disc

Where it gets interesting is when the DVD recorder also includes a hard drive, allowing for both the incidental and temporary taping of weekly TV programs and the permanent archival to disc of "important" content. Some units include their own TV tuner and/or a satellite TV receiver, allowing them to operate independently of the viewer and his current viewing choice. A few can even record two different signals simultaneously, while the viewer watches yet a third. And then there are all the DVD units that also include a video cassette recorder/player function, almost always in the standard VHS format.

We've tried to note some of these specs in the descriptions that come after the brand and model numbers below. But what we really searched for were players and recorders that conform to any of the newer high-fidelity or high-resolution formats. For instance, HDMI is the High Definition Multimedia Interface, which identifies video players equipped to be compatible with High Definition TV. SACD is the Super Audio Compact Disc format, which provides better sound quality and more storage space per disc. And then there's Blu-ray, so named because it uses a blue laser beam to read high-resolution video discs that have larger capacities than today's DVDs. If one is concerned about superior picture or sound quality, these would be the acronyms that identify the superior players, changers, and recorders.

Then there are the "underground" formats. As MP3 is to plain CD audio, DivX is to plain DVD video. As a compressed format, it requires less storage space per minute, so that a full-length DivX movie could quite possibly fit onto a CD-R (also known as a video CD). Plus, DivX has the added cache of its pirate origins, just like MP3. While the DVD format was locked up by Hollywood until a teenager broke the copy protection code, DivX began in Europe as a quasi-legal modification of Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Now it's supported on DVD players sold by LG Electronics, Philips, Toshiba, and others.

The following lists represent a cross-section of each manufacturer's respective DVD and CD player and recorder product lines. It wasn't our intent to list each and every unit available from these 23 manufacturers. Instead, we looked for some representatives of the low end, the midrange, and the high end of each of their product line. First we listed the manufacturers alphabetically. We then listed each of their product lines based on warranty period, from shortest to longest, and then on price, again in ascending order.


Digital Video Recorder Warranties

  Brand, Make, Model & Description  Parts  Warranty  (years)  Labor  Warranty  (years)
  Aleratec Copy Cruiser Pro LX DVD 1:2 CD, DVD duplicator 1 1
  Aleratec Copy Tower Dual 1:3 CD, DVD duplicator 1 1
  Aleratec Copy Tower Dual 1:7 CD, DVD duplicator 1 1
  Aleratec Copy Tower Pro 1:7 CD, DVD duplicator 1 1
     
  DirecTV R15 satt receiver, 100 hr DVR 0.25 0.25
  DirecTV HD-DVR250 DVR, 200 hr, 30 hrs HDTV 0.25 0.25
     
  EchoStar Dish Network DVR 625 satt, dual DVR tuner, 100 hr 1 1
  EchoStar Dish Network ViP622 satt, dual DVR tuner, 200 hr 1 1
     
  HP DVD840RI 16x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW EIDE 1 1
  HP DVD Writer dvd740i 6x DVD recorder 1 1
  HP DVD840RE 16x external DVD-RW/CD-RW USB 1 1
  HP DVD Writer dvd840e 8x DVD recorder 1 1
     
  Insignia NS-DVDR1 DVD recorder 1 1
  Insignia NS-DRVCR DVD recorder, VHS 1 1
     
  JVC Everio Share Station CU-VD10US 8x external, USB 1 0.25
  JVC DR-MV7S DVD recorder, VHS, HDMI 1 0.25
  JVC DR-DX5S DVD recorder, 250 GB DVR 1 0.25
     
  LG DR1F9H DVD recorder, HDMI 1 0.25
  LG LRM-519 DVD recorder, 160 GB DVR 1 0.25
  LG GSA-H10L 16x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW ATAPI 1 1
  LG GSA-2164D external DVD writer 1 1
  LG GSA-E10L 16x external DVD-RW/CD-RW USB 1 1
  LG GSA-5169D 16x external DVD-RW/CD-RW USB 1 1
     
  Lite-On HD-A760GX DVD recorder, 230 GB DVR 1 0.25
  Lite-On LVW-5045 DVD recorder, 160 GB DVR 1 0.25
  Lite-On LVW-1107HC1 DVD recorder 1 1
     
  Panasonic Diga DMR-ES15S DVD recorder 1 1
  Panasonic DMR-ES45VS DVD recorder, HDMI 1 1
  Panasonic DMR-EH75VS DVD recorder, 80 GB DVR, VHS 1 1
     
  Philips DVDR3400/37 DVD recorder, HDMI, DivX 1 0.25
  Philips DVDR3455H/37 DVD recorder, 160 GB DVR 1 0.25
     
  Pioneer DVR-710 16x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW ATAPI 1 1
  Pioneer DVR-640H-S DVR, 160 GB, DVD recorder 1 1
     
  Plextor PX-750A 8x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW EIDE 1 1
  Plextor PX-760A 18x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW ATAPI 1 1
  Plextor PX-755SA 16x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW SATA 1 1
     
  RCA DVR10 DVR, HDTV, 80 GB, FireWire 1 0.25
     
  Samsung DVD-R135 DVD recorder, HDMI 1 0.25
  Samsung DVD-VR345 DVD recorder, VHS, HDMI 1 0.25
     
  Sony DHG-HDD250 DVR, TV tuner, 250 GB, HDTV, HDMI 1 0.25
  Sony DRU-820A 16x internal DVD-RW/CD-RW ATAPI 1 1
  Sony DRU-830A 18x external DVD-RW/CD-RW USB 1 1
  Sony RDR-GX330 DVD recorder 1 1
  Sony VRD-VC20 16x external DVD-RW/CD-RW USB 1 1
  Sony DVDirect VRD-MC1 16x external DVD-R/CD-R USB 1 1
  Sony RDR-VX530 DVD recorder, VHS 1 1
  Sony RDR-HX715 DVD recorder, 160 GB, HDMI 1 1
     
  TiVo Series 2 TCD540080 80 hr. DVR, USB, satt 1 0.25
  TiVo Series 2 TCD649080 80-hr DVR, USB, iPod, dual record 1 0.25
  TiVo Series 2 TCD649180 180 hr DVR, USB, iPod 1 0.25
     
  Toshiba D-RW2 DVD recorder 1 0.25
  Toshiba D-R5 DVD recorder, DivX 1 0.25
  Toshiba D-VR5 DVD recorder, VHS, HDMI 1 0.25
  Toshiba Symbio 160HD4 DVR, HDTV, FireWire, 160 GB 1 0.25
  Toshiba RD-XS35 DVD recorder, 160 GB DVR 1 0.25
     

Careful readers will notice that some of the units in the above list aren't DVD recorders at all. Instead, they're satellite television receivers equipped with a hard disk drive that can capture programming much like a VCR, holding it in memory until a playback is requested. Some also include DVD recorders, but many don't. However, since the line between DVD recorders and digital video recorders (DVRs) is blurring so quickly, we decided to combine them into one chart.

Not a One-Year Warranty?

On the list above, JVC has a combined DVR/DVD recorder that sells for $1,500. Incredibly, its labor warranty is only 90 days. However, that doesn't mean it's likely to get tossed out if it breaks after 91 days. What it means is the owner is going to pay. Either they can pay up front by purchasing a service contract that covers labor charges, or they can pay later when they discover the labor isn't really free, despite their mistaken impression that their unit carried a one-year warranty.

On the list below, five products sell for $1,000 or more, including two DVD players from Sony, one from Onkyo, and a top-of-the-line audiophile unit from Denon that carries the incredible list price of $3,800. But the biggest surprise is that the brand new Samsung BD-P1000 -- the only Blu-ray unit currently shipping -- carries only a 90-day labor warranty despite its $1,000 list price. So obviously, the most expensive units don't always have the longest warranties.

On the list below, Sony has a 400-disc DVD player that carries a five-year parts and labor warranty -- the longest warranty period in the optical disc market. But it also sells two DVD players at the opposite extreme. For instance, on the SLV-D370P and SLV-D560P combination DVD player and VCR units, Sony issues a warranty that provides for free replacements up to 90 days after purchase. From days 91 to 365, Sony will replace the unit with a refurbished unit "for a replacement fee," as its warranty card explains. What is that fee? We had to call Sony to find out. The technician said the fee would include all charges for parts, labor, and shipping. In other words, it's a 90-day warranty, dressed up as a one-year warranty.


DVD Player Warranties

  Brand, Make, Model & Description  Parts  Warranty  (years)  Labor  Warranty  (years)
  Audiovox D1420 portable DVD player, 4.2" LCD 0.25 0.25
  Audiovox VE726 DVD player, TV tuner, 7" LCD 0.25 0.25
  Audiovox D2016 portable DVD player, 10.2" LCD 0.25 0.25
  Audiovox VE926 DVD player, TV tuner, 9" LCD 0.25 0.25
     
  Denon DVM-1835 5-disc DVD player 1 1
  Denon DVD-756S DVD player, SACD, HDMI 1 1
  Denon DVD-5910CI DVD player, SACD, HDMI 1 1
     
  Harman/Kardon DVD 27 DVD player 1 1
  Harman/Kardon DVD 47 DVD player, SACD 1 1
     
  Insignia NS-VDVD1 vertical DVD player, HDMI 0.25 0.25
  Insignia NS-M10OHD portable DVD player, 10.2" LCD 0.25 0.25
     
  JVC XV-N332S DVD player 0.25 0.25
  JVC HR-XVC38B DVD player, VHS 0.25 0.25
  JVC HR-XVC19S DVD player, VHS 0.25 0.25
     
  LG DN191H DVD player, SACD, HDMI 1 0.25
  LG GDR-8162B internal DVD-ROM 1 1
     
  Onkyo DV-SP404 DVD player, HDMI 1 1
  Onkyo DV-SP1000 DVD player, SACD, FireWire, HDMI 1 1
     
  Panasonic DVD-S52K DVD player, HDMI 1 0.25
  Panasonic DVD-F87S 5-disc DVD player 1 0.25
  Panasonic DVD-S97S DVD player, HDMI 1 0.25
  Panasonic DVD-LS91 portable DVD player, 9" LCD 1 0.25
  Panasonic DVD-LX110 portable DVD player, 11" LCD 1 0.25
     
  Philips DVP642/37 DVD player, DivX 1 0.25
  Philips DVP5960/37 DVD player, DivX, HDMI 1 0.25
  Philips PET724/37 portable DVD player, 7" LCD 1 0.25
  Philips PET1002/37 portable DVD player, 10.2" LCD 1 0.25
     
  Pioneer DV-490V-S DVD player, HDMI 1 1
  Pioneer DV-F727 300-disc DVD player 1 1
  Pioneer DVL-919 DVD player, LaserDisc 1 1
     
  RCA DRC190 DVD player 1 0.25
  RCA DRC630N portable DVD player, 7" LCD 1 0.25
  RCA HDV5000 DVD player, HDMI 1 0.25
  RCA DRC622N portable DVD player, 8" LCD 1 0.25
     
  Samsung DVD-L25 portable DVD player, 2.5" LCD 1 0.25
  Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD player, VHS, HDMI 1 0.25
  Samsung DVD-HD960 DVD player, HDMI 1 0.25
  Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray disc player, HDMI 1 0.25
     
  Sony SLV-D370P DVD player, VHS 0.25 0.25
  Sony SLV-D560P DVD player, VHS 0.25 0.25
  Sony CRX320AE internal DVD-ROM 52x CD-RW ATAPI 1 1
  Sony DVP-NS55P DVD player 1 1
  Sony DVP-NS75H DVD player 1 1
  Sony DVP-NC85H 5-disc DVD player, HDMI 1 1
  Sony DVP-FX810 portable DVD player, 8" LCD 1 1
  Sony DVP-NS90V DVD player, HDMI, SACD 1 1
  Sony DVP-CX995V 400-disc DVD player, SACD, HDMI 1 1
  Sony DVP-NS3100ES DVD player, HDMI, SACD 1 1
  Sony ICF-DVD57TV DVD player, clock radio, 9" LCD 1 1
  Sony DVD Dream DAV-FX500 DVD player, SACD, HDMI, speakers 1 1
  Sony DVD Dream DAV-FX900W DVD player, SACD, HDMI, speakers 1 1
  Sony Platinum DVD Dream DAV-LF10 DVD player, SACD, speakers 1 1
  Sony DVP-NS9100ES DVD player, HDMI, SACD 1 1
  Sony DVP-CX777ES 400-disc DVD player 5 5
     
  Toshiba SD-3990 DVD player, DivX 1 0.25
  Toshiba SD-4990 DVD player, HDMI 1 0.25
  Toshiba SD-V394 DVD player, VHS, DivX 1 0.25
  Toshiba SD-V594 DVD player, VHS, USB, HDMI 1 0.25
  Toshiba SD-P1850 portable DVD player, 8" LCD, DivX 1 0.25
  Toshiba SD-P2800 portable DVD player, DivX, 9" LCD 1 0.25
  Toshiba HD-A1 HDTV DVD player, USB, HDMI 1 0.25
  Toshiba HD-XA1 HDTV DVD player, USB, HDMI 1 0.25
     
  Zenith DVB611 DVD player 1 0.25
  Zenith DVP615 portable DVD player, 7" LCD 1 0.25
     

We found five portable DVD players with built-in LCD screens that carried 90-day parts warranties. But we found twice as many portable units that carried one-year parts warranties. However, only two portables carried one-year warranties for both parts and labor, so perhaps there is some correlation between intended use and warranty period. Interestingly, both JVC and Sony tagged their combination DVD/VCR units with 90-day parts warranties, which supports the theory that these all-in-one units are somehow less reliable than the components are separately. Then again, Samsung and Toshiba extended their usual one-year parts warranties to their DVD/VCR units, so perhaps they're not so unreliable after all.

The following two lists are much shorter than the lists above, primarily because we could find only 13 manufacturers who sell units that either play or record CDs that don't also play or record DVDs. Take away the multiple disc CD changers and the Walkman-sized portable players, and these lists would be short indeed. Soon to join the LP turntable and the 8-track tape player in the museum: the single disc CD player. It may take much longer to kill off CD burners, though, especially since the MP3 and DivX formats can make such efficient use of the CD-ROM's 700 megabytes of available space.


CD Recorder Warranties

  Brand, Make, Model & Description  Parts  Warranty  (years)  Labor  Warranty  (years)
  Aleratec 1:7 CD Copy Tower 40 CD duplicator 1 1
     
  Denon CDR-W1500 CD audio recorder 1 1
     
  LG GCE-8525B internal CD-RW, ATAPI 1 1
     
  RCA CDRW120 CD recorder 1 1
     
  Sony CRX230AE 52x internal CD-RW ATAPI 1 1
  Sony Vaio PCGA-CDRWX1 internal 4x CD-RW 1 1
  Sony RCD-W500C 5-disc CD recorder 2 2
  Sony RCD-W2000ES 5-disc CD recorder 5 5
     
  TEAC CD-RW880 CD recorder 1 0.25
  TEAC GF-350 CD recorder, LP player, radio 1 0.25
     

The units on the list below range in price all the way from $16 for the Audiovox portable to $3,000 for the top-of-the-line Sony unit. They also represent the extremes of warranty, at 90 days and five years, respectively. But in between those extremes are a whole lot of one-year warranties on products price between $100 and $250. In fact, if you eyeball the list below and then go back to the three lists above, you'll see that one-year labor warranties are more common, and 90-day labor warranties are less common, with CD players than they are with DVD players.

We found a similar effect with computer monitors, where CRT screens had longer warranties than LCD units, and in computer printers, where the old dot-matrix machines had longer warranties than any of today's fancy technologies. So perhaps the old stuff lasts longer? Or perhaps it takes a few decades to get to the tail end of the pareto charts? Ironically, if any of the products on the list below were to break, they'd probably be replaced with units that offer more features, more formats, and less warranty.


CD Player Warranties

  Brand, Make, Model & Description  Parts  Warranty  (years)  Labor  Warranty  (years)
  Audiovox CE105 portable CD player 0.25 0.25
  Audiovox CE156MP portable CD player, MP3 player 0.25 0.25
     
  Denon DCM-280 5-disc CD player 1 1
  Denon DCM-390 5-disc CD player 1 1
     
  Harman/Kardon FL 8385 5-disc CD player 1 1
     
  JVC XL-FZ158BK 5-disc CD player 1 1
  JVC XL-MC2000 200-disc CD player 1 1
     
  Onkyo DX-C390 6-disc CD player 1 1
  Onkyo DX-7555 CD player 1 1
     
  Panasonic SL-SX480W portable CD player 1 1
  Panasonic SL-CT730 portable CD player 1 1
     
  Philips AX2411/17 portable CD player 1 0.25
  Philips EXP2581/17 portable CD player, LCD screen 1 0.25
     
  Pioneer PD-F407 25-disc CD player 1 1
  Pioneer PD-M426 6-disc CD player 1 1
  Pioneer PD-F1009 300-disc CD player 1 1
     
  RCA RP8070 5-disc CD player 1 1
     
  Sony ICF-CD543RM CD player, radio 1 1
  Sony ICF-CD553RM CD player, radio 1 1
  Sony CDP-CE375 5-disc CD player 1 1
  Sony SCD-CE595 5-disc CD player, SACD 1 1
  Sony CDP-CX355 300-disc CD player 1 1
  Sony CDP-CX455 400-disc CD player 1 1
  Sony ICF-CD555TV CD player, TV tuner, 7" LCD, radio 1 1
  Sony SCD-C2000ES 5-disc CD player, SACD 5 5
  Sony SCD-XA9000ES CD player, SACD 5 5
     
  TEAC CD-P1260 CD player 1 0.25
  TEAC AD-500 CD player, cassette 1 0.25
     

Summer Warranty Tour Continues

In future columns, we'll take a look at the sound cards, TV tuners, and graphics cards that are also helping to turn the PC from a fancy typewriter into a home entertainment hub. And then we'll take a look at a few of the more traditional sectors of the consumer electronics, office equipment and major appliance industries, before turning back to the automotive sector for a look at all the vehicles bigger than a pickup truck. Then, if there's enough weeks left in the summer, we'll take a look at aerospace, marine, medical, telecom, and sports equipment, not to mention new homes, fixtures, furniture, and building materials.


Other Stops on the Warranty Tour

Automotive Warranties


Computer Warranties


Consumer Electronics






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