PhotoIt's clear from complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com that flat-screen TV manufacturers have a few quality issues yet to be ironed out ... and also that consumers are investing way too much money in home entertainment systems.

“We contacted Samsung because our 40-inch Samsung flat screen, purchased on June 23, 2008, would not power on,” Gayle, of Ivroyton, Conn., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “We paid $1,000 for this TV, a little more than 3 years ago, and it is no good to us unless we spend more money on it. That, I believe, is throwing good money after bad."

And it's not just one brand of TVs that are causing consumers heartburn.

“I purchased a Sony in September 2009,” Kevin, of East Setauket, N.Y., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “Within 15 months, lines started to appear on the bottom of the screen. After a few minutes of warm time, the issue would resolve itself. The warmup time has been getting longer every day until it is now a persistent problem, interfering in viewing the screen.”

Capacitor plague

Then, there is the issue of capacitors going bad after two or three years of use, a condition known in the repair industry as “capacitor plague.” While the replacement of capacitors is not a hugely expensive repair, consumers are understandably irked that the TV set they purchased for more than $1,000 needs a repair after a few months of use.

As long as consumers continue to purchase these expensive, large screen TVs manufacturers have little incentive to improve them. But what if consumers decided it just isn't worth trying up that kind of money in a device that could become useless after a few months? Can you say no to a giant TV that takes up half the wall in the den?

Here are a couple of inexpensive options.

1.  Small is beautiful

While it won't provide a “theater” experience or impress your friends, a small HD set can at least allow you to watch your favorite shows, sports and movies at a fraction of the cost.

Craig produces a 15 inch 720p HD set, for example, that sells for just $79. You can get them at CVS, Best Buy, and a number of other chain stores.

While Craig is not known as a top-end manufacturer, the 15-inch CLC501 produces a remarkable high-definition image and very good audio. We have tested one over the last few months with surprisingly good results.

Best feature

The best feature about the TV, however, is its price. At $79, there is no investment in a set that could require a future repair costing hundreds of dollars. If and when the Craig blows a capacitor, you simply dispose of it and buy another one.

As for its small size, it all depends on how far you are from the screen. After all, people are now watching movies on their smartphones and tablets these days.

Yes, it's nice to watch a game or a movie on a theater-sized screen, but at what cost? Until manufacturers are able to reliably produce sets that give eight to ten years of trouble-free use, maybe consumers should sit a little closer to the screen and pocket the savings.

2. Use a monitor

Here's an alternative suggestion from our Truman Lewis: use an LCD computer monitor.  It's basically a TV without the tuner and usually with only a marginal sound system. We don't hear about capacitor plague in monitors, and have never experienced it, perhaps because their internal electronics are simpler -- not as many heat-generating parts crammed into a small space.

Assuming you have a cable or satellite TV box, you don't need a tuner, since the channel selection is taken care of by the cable box.  Most decent monitors come with HDMI and component video inputs and many will deliver 1080p resolution, which is "true" high-def. 

You can find a 24" or 25" monitor for less than $150 at sites like Geeks.com and Amazon.com. Remember to search for "computer monitor," not TV.  Be sure to check shipping charges; some sites charge much more than others for shipping.

This photo shows Truman's video set-up at his Burbank, Calif., apartment.

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A notorious cheapskate, Truman uses an ASUS computer monitor that he bought for less than $200, a compact Denon stereo system (about $200) and an LG DVD player which also receives Netflix and other streaming video sources (less than $100).  A Charter Cable DVR  and an IKEA cabinet (less than $100) round out the package, which does  everything Truman wants it to do. 

Truman likes to say he assembles most of his work-related and entertainment packages out of the junk box.  In this case, the ASUS computer monitor was used in Truman's office for a year or so before being conscripted into providing evening entertainment.  The stereo system is a few years old and the DVD player was picked up cheaply during a going-out-of-business sale at a local retailer.

The advantage of building a system this way is that if one component fails, you can simply pitch it and buy another one for a few hundred dollars.  You don't have to throw out the audio system because the LCD screen dies, in other words.

This does require a little tinkering and, until you figure out which cable does what, you may find yourself trudging back and forth to Home Depot to buy the right cable but it's basically pretty foolproof.

You may have to manually switch between your cable and DVD feeds using the switch on the monitor instead of a handheld remote but this is a small price to pay for the cost savings.

Three final hints from Truman:

  • Skimp on everything else but buy a good battery back-up/surge protector (not shown in the photo).  Electronic equipment is delicate.
  • Keep it cool.  Don't stack components on top of each other and don't put the system in direct sunlight.  Heat kills circuit boards and components.
  • Buy cheap cables.  The pretend geeks at Radio Shack will tell you you need an $80 HDMI cable.  Hogwash.  Amazon has HDMI cables for less than $5 and so do stores like Home Depot, Best Buy and PC Richard.  
Truman admits his screen is a little smaller than some of his neighbors'.  The consolation, he says, is that his bank account is quite a bit bigger, thanks to his thrifty ways, enabling him to comfortably furnish his rooftop balcony, which provides big-screen views of the nighttime sky over Los Angeles.  Hey, it beats the Jersey Shore. 

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