Updated February 16, 8:45 a.m. ET
A couple of weeks ago a colleague at CNET walked into my office and told me his TV had died.
It was a Samsung LCD from 2008, and according to my colleague--let's call him "Bill" since he said he'd rather not be identified in this story--a quick Google search revealed hundreds of other Samsung TV owners with the same problem. Here's the 2010 story Bill found that "started the whole thing" for him.
Bill told me the TV simply wouldn't turn on despite repeated presses of the power button. The red power indicator would flash on and off, accompanied by a clicking sound. At first a picture would eventually appear after ten minutes or so, but after a week or two the TV wouldn't not turn on at all, although it did continue to click.
Online stories and forum posts mentioned a bum capacitor that wasn't properly suited to the job. Bill even found YouTube videos like this one of intrepid users replacing their capacitors--a $5 part--and fixing the problem.
Bill said he planned to call Samsung but was wondering if I wanted to write something about it. I told him I'd heard about problems like this before, and in fact he wasn't the first co-worker to describe a TV "up and dying" to me (for the record the other, making two in ten-odd years of doing what I do, was a Vizio). I said such stories are tough for me to write, mainly because getting a TV maker to say anything worthwhile on the record is basically impossible.
Then I heard about a report on the exact same issue from newscaster CBS4 in Miami (CNET is a property of CBS corporation).
Widespread issue, class action settlement
In a February 9 report entitled "More than 7 million Samsung TVs plagued by possible power defect", consumer advocate Al Sunshine and his team tracked down disgruntled owners and interviewed a pair of local TV shop owners who pointed to the bum capacitor as well.
Even more interesting, CBS4 uncovered new court documents as part of a class-action lawsuit in Oklahoma where Samsung hinted at the extent of the problem. In a hearing on February 1, Samsung attorney Phillip G. Whaley said "Well, I think there'll be as many as seven-and-a-half million of them out there. So it could be a big class."
In this context, according to a statement from Samsung, Whalen's "them" refers to the total class of consumers affected, not the number of TV sets with the capacitor issue.
When I initially asked Samsung to comment on the report, I was sent a statement that said in part "We are unable to provide specifics on the actual number but can say that it is a small number given the volume of Samsung TVs in the US."
A follow-up statement got a bit more specific. " "Based on the most current data available, we can confirm that only a small percentage-approximately 1%- of all TVs sold in the US during those three years could exhibit the faulty-capacitor problem."
I followed up by asking how many total TVs Samsung sold in those years, but the company again didn't provide that information. I also asked for the number of TVs affected by the issue, the number of repairs performed to date, exactly what models and model years had the bum capacitors and what Samsung TV owners should say when they call customer service with the symptoms mentioned (clicking, power failure).
These questions were not answered directly, although Samsung's statement did say that "The models affected by the settlement are 2006-8 TVs, listed below" and then listed select models of LCD, plasma and DLP TVs.
There are concerns that the number of affected TVs could be larger than just the older ones listed in the Oklahoma settlement. I've seen numerous complaints describing the same symptoms on other, often newer TVs, at places like consumeraffairs.com for example. To my knowledge however the 2006-2008 models on the list are the only TVs Samsung has publicly promised to service.
What should you do?
If your TV, Samsung or otherwise, stops working, your first step should be to call the manufacturer.
Bill did exactly that with his broken TV (without mentioning any affiliation to CNET). He made sure to mention the capacitor failure and request the free fix he'd heard about online. He was advised that if Samsung determined that the problem isn't associated with that known issue, he'd be responsible for fees.
Soon afterward a repair tech came to his house, swapped out some components and had the TV working again in about 20 minutes. Bill wasn't charged a dime.
Samsung's statement promises as much for "affected TVs," and judging from Bill's experience the company deserves some credit for responding. Samsung's spokesperson also pointed out that the Oklahoma court found Samsung's response to the issue appropriate for the situation.
If you don't receive similar treatment to Bill, your options are unfortunately limited. My first advice would be to call back a few times to get a different rep. If that doesn't work, I'd recommend calling around to local repair shops, although that might get expensive. One Florida resident cited in the CBS4 story paid $150, for example.
If nothing else, leave a comment on this article and we'll to bring it to Samsung's attention.
It's worth remembering that Samsung TVs aren't alone in suffering manufacturing defects that can affect long-term viability. I'm only singling them out here because the cause seems pretty clear-cut, the problem is widespread over multiple years and models and a confluence of information from different, unrelated colleagues brought it to my attention. It would be unfair of me to let this story affect my judgment of Samsung TVs in the future as a TV reviewer (long-term reliability testing is problematic in numerous ways), but I think it's also unfair to readers not to mention it. Samsung says current TVs aren't affected.
Samsung's updated statement promises to extend the warranty to "more than 7.5 million customers' TVs" nationwide as a result of the Oklahoma class-action settlement. The company will announce additional details on February 20. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, what do you think? If you're a Samsung TV owner, let us know how your TV has performed over the past few months or years. Does this news, and Samsung's response, make you more likely or less likely to buy a Samsung TV? Let us know in comments.
Samsung's initial statement to CNET (February 13):
A small percentage of certain models of Samsung televisions have experienced performance issues caused by a component called a capacitor. We are unable to provide specifics on the actual number but can say that it is a small number given the volume of Samsung TVs in the US.
Since originally confirming this issue in early 2010, Samsung has voluntarily provided free repairs for U.S. customers with affected televisions. Customers who believe they have an affected TV should call 1-800-SAMSUNG to speak with a customer service representative.
The Oklahoma settlement reaffirms that Samsung's efforts to voluntarily repair affected products for consumers since early 2010, have been appropriate for the situation. The settlement will be final on February 20, 2012, at which time we will make a nationwide announcement to explain next steps to customers. Once the settlement is approved, a process will also be put into place to compensate consumers who have already paid for a repair.
The models affected by the settlement are 2006-8 TVs, listed below. The asterisks represent the size and series of the TVs.
LCD TVs: LNT******/XAA; LN**A******XZA; LNS4041DX/XAA; LNS4051DX/XAA; LNS4052DX/XAA; LNS5296DX/XAA
Plasma TVs: HPT5034X/XAA; HPT5044X/XAA; HPT5054X/XAA; HPT5064X/XAA; PN42A410C1DXZA; PN42A450P1DXZA; PN50A410C1DXZA; PN50A450P1DXZA; PN50A460S4DXZA
DLP TVs: HLT5087SAX/XAA; HLT5087SX/XAA; HLT5089SAX/XAA; HLT5089SX/XAA; HLT5687SAX/XAA; HLT5687SX/XAA; HLT5689SAX/XAA; HLT5689SX/XAA; HLT6187SAX/XAA; HLT6187SX/XAA; HLT6189SAX/XAA; HLT6189SX/XAA
Samsung's follow-up statement to CNET (February 15):
"The 7.5 million TV sets mentioned by Samsung's attorney in court was in reference to the size of the total class of consumers who will receive the benefit of an extended warranty on the capacitors at issue in this case; specifically, it includes all of those models included in your current article.
The number of class members included in the settlement has no bearing on the potential number of TVs that may be affected by the faulty capacitor.
Based on the most current data available, we can confirm that only a small percentage-approximately 1%- of all TVs sold in the US during those three years could exhibit the faulty-capacitor problem."
Although the problem affects a relatively small percentage of TVs, Samsung has decided to extend the warranty for 18 months on this part in more than 7.5 million customers' TVs in order to ensure that any customer who has the problem will continue to receive a free-of-charge repair.----
CORRECTION: The headline of this article originally read "Samsung TV power defect could affect millions of sets" but that headline was changed in response to a follow-up statement we received from the company, clarifying a statement made by a Samsung attorney.
Editors' note: The embedded CBS4 Miami video present in an earlier version of this story created an HTML glitch that prevented the comments from being accessed or viewed. We have removed the video embed (available here) so that comments are accessible on this page.