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Analysis TVs

Is the price on that OLED TV too good to be true?

You can get used, open-box and even "new" OLED TVs available for huge discounts under dubious circumstances. Are the savings worth the risk?

Sarah Tew/CNET
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OLED TVs may look great, but they cost a pretty penny.

Sarah Tew/CNET

OLED TVs create some of the best-looking images of any TV on the market. They're also really expensive.

The LG B6, which CNET called the best TV it ever tested, costs $2300 for the 55-inch and $3500 for the 65-inch at Amazon right now. And its the cheapest 2016 OLED you can buy.

At least if you stick to authorized retailers like Amazon. Any wider web search quickly reveals a potentially seedy underground of open-box, used or older-model OLEDs at steep discounts compared to shiny new ones.

On one hand, I'm all for saving money, especially on TVs. On the other... there's a lot that could go wrong with a TV. Enough that buying a stranger's used TV or something that's out of warranty is potentially risky.

To put it simply, be super wary. Here are some pros and cons of those tempting deals.

Pros

Price: Obviously, right?

OK, that's the only pro. But it's a big one. A few hundred or thousand saved is nothing to sneeze at.

Cons

Warranty (or lack there of): Though the repair rates on modern TVs is quite low, it's not zero. Many problems are ones you'd see in the first 30 days, during which a normal retailer would let you return the TV for replacement or refund. In most cases, buying used means you have zero warranty. Maybe this won't be an issue. Maybe the TV you're buying has been kept in mint condition. Or maybe it hasn't.

How used is used?: All TVs are fairly robust, but they can still be damaged with misuse -- with normal use, not so much. When you buy a non-new television you have no idea how many hours it has been watched.

Lifespan specifications for OLED TVs are about 50,000 hours, which works out to 22 years of "normal" use at 5 hours per day. But what about a TV that's been left on for 12 hours a day in a store, or continuously for days or weeks at a time? That's not "normal."

It's also possible to cause image retention if a stationary image is left on screen for long periods of time. OLED tends to be safer than plasma in this regard, but a careless owner or negligent retailer could burn something in. Maybe watching it with other content will fix the screen, but maybe not. Which is to say, why is the seller selling a great TV? TANSTAAFL.

Note that if you're using a TV normally, you shouldn't worry about image retention on an OLED or an LCD screen.

Shipping: TV boxes are like eggs. They're fairly protective when intact, but as soon as you crack one open, you'll never get it back to 100% structural integrity. A manufacturer once told me that they would get, at most, two reviews out of one TV. As in, once the first reviewer boxed it up, sent it back, and the manufacturer sent that TV on to another reviewer, that was it. It wouldn't survive the return trip. Plasmas never lasted more than one. So even if the owner kept all the little pieces of the box, that doesn't mean the TV will arrive at your house intact.

But what about...

Third-party retailers: Occasionally you'll see deep discounts on new or slightly-old TVs from a retailer you've never heard of. While this isn't exactly like buying used, manufacturers often have strict policies to make this unappealing.

Manufacturers want to protect their main retailers, so nearly all major retailers set prices according to "unilateral pricing policy" or UPP. Buying from an unauthorized retailer might save you money, but the manufacturer doesn't have to honor the warranty.

Check out What is UPP? Or, why do TVs cost the same at every store? for more details.

"New in an open-box": Similar to buying from a third party is buying a new TV that's just had its box opened. A colleague decided to roll the dice and bought an open-box OLED from a fairly well-known online retailer. It was listed as an open-box item online, but when he called the seller they told him that for all intents and purposes it was a new TV. When he opened it after it arrived, it did indeed appear identical to "new," and after a year it's still working great.

In theory this could be great. Lower price, yet you get a new TV. But you can't count on it working out, which is why I won't mention which retailer my colleague bought the TV from. How much do you trust a random retailer online that wants your money and is prepared to get it by doing something the manufacturer would find dubious?

Extended warranty: A few retailers will offer an extended warranty on a TV. Like any extended warranty, check what it covers and what it doesn't. Does it take effect immediately or after the (likely void) factory warranty?

Bottom line

Be super wary of the lack of a warranty, potential for damage, potential for loss during shipping and so on. All these factors mean you should think twice before buying a used OLED TV. It's slightly more risky than buying a used LCD, but perhaps not quite as risky as buying a used plasma.

As always, if something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. A nameless seller on the internet can say anything they want. All they want is your money.

It's likely you'll hear from people who bought a used TV who have had tremendous luck with it and saved a lot of money. That's great, but it is luck. It's also possible to get something broken or bad, and that's not a good deal at all.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics such as why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. OLED, why 4K TVs aren't worth it and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his sci-fi novel and its sequel.