Using the time-honored tactics of obfuscation, misdirection, and a little bit of fear, the people who try to sell you TVs can hit you with some heavy-duty lies.
Now this isn't to say that all TV sales people are bad, nor that any necessarily do this out of malice (there's plenty of misinformation out there confused as truth). But when it's your dollar on the line, being prepared with some facts can only be a good thing.
For a primer on all the jargon, check out "TV tech explainer: Every HDTV technology decoded."
'This TV has a million-to-one contrast ratio.'
No, it doesn't. Every TV manufacturer lies about contrast ratio. Not a single one is remotely accurate. So it's impossible to prescribe an exact number to any TV given only the manufacturers data. The fact is, plasmas have better native contrast ratios than LCDs (LED or otherwise). There are three local-dimming LED LCDs on the market this year (Elite by Sharp, Sony HX950, and LG LM9600), and they're all extremely expensive. These offer similar contrast ratios than the best plasmas, though not exactly. For more info, check out "Contrast ratio (or how every TV manufacturer lies to you)."
'This TV has better sound.'
You know what, let's say they're right. Let's say TV A has better sound than TV B. The fact is, no TV sounds good. So all they're really saying is, "This TV sounds less bad than this other TV."
The thinness that we all love in flat-panel TVs means the speaker drivers by their very nature have to be very small. Small drivers can't do much to create sound waves.
The wiser salespeople will direct you towards a sound bar or other home audio system. This is definitely where you should spend a few dollars. Pretty much every sound bar will sound better than the TV speakers, and the better sound bars actually sound pretty good.
'TVs break all the time. You need an extended warranty.'
Another example of this is "I see TVs come in for repair all the time." From a rhetorical standpoint, this is a rather brilliant argument. This person works at the store. They see lots of TVs coming in for repair. So as an "authority," this seems a valid point.
Except, it isn't.
'LED TVs have the best picture quality.'
Nope. First of all, there's no such thing as an "LED TV." Every LED TV is just a standard LCD TV that uses LEDs to create light instead of the "old-fashioned" cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL). LCDs have their positives, like light output and lower energy consumption, but when it comes to a direct picture quality comparison, plasmas have better black levels, better contrast ratios, and better viewing angles (for those not sitting directly in front of the TV). For example, four of the five TVs CNET picked for best picture quality are plasmas (the one LED LCD is also the most expensive TV you can buy per-screen-inch).
'If you want the best picture and sound, you need the best HDMI cable.'
This is the one that annoys me the most, and I've written four articles about it for CNET alone. This is the one that eliminates any guilt I have impugning the good name of some hard-working salespeople. There is no picture or sound quality difference between any HDMI cable. None. At all. So if you spend $3 or $300, the image and sound will be 100 percent exactly the same.
I could talk about this forever, and indeed I have. Check out "Why all HDMI cables are the same," "Why all HDMI cables are the same, Part 2," "Still more reasons why all HDMI cable are the same," and the "HDMI cable buying guide."
A commenter on one of the HDMI articles posted the above quote, and it's perfect. But look, be polite. Don't waste someone's time. This goes for both sides. They're just trying to make a living, you're just trying to keep as much of your living as possible. When I sold electronics at Circuit City, I was given all sorts of information, presented as truth, to tell customers. Much of which I know now to be false, or at least "truth adjacent." But as an 18-year-old, long haired (yep, believe it), wannabe guitar god, I didn't know any better. So give the poor guy or gal the benefit of the doubt that they're not knowingly lying to you.
Except for that HDMI cable stuff; man that bugs me.
How about you? Been told any doozys?
Got a question for Geoff? Send him an e-mail! If it's witty, amusing, and/or a good question, you may just see it in a post just like this one. No, he won't tell you which TV to buy. Yes, he'll probably truncate and/or clean up your e-mail. You can also send him a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.