Compiled by Steve Linke
When the liquid crystal microdisplay TVs were being sold, they were promoted as having superior reliability and longevity relative to competing large-screen technologies, such as plasma and DLP, which were represented as having short (less than 10-year) lifespans due to fading tubes and moving parts. Sony has a "white paper" that claims that microdisplay technology offers an even longer life than old cathode ray tube (CRT) technology. A marketing piece from Sony New Zealand describes how a lamp can last 8-10 years, and how you can simply replace the lamp to restore your TV to its original condition, presumably for another 8-10 years of use. A marketing piece from Sony Canada actually claimed that, with lamp replacements, these TVs could be the "last one you ever own".
Despite these claims, Sony's liquid crystal microdisplay TVs turned out to be defective. They have been plagued by the development of significant discolorations on the image due to the premature degradation of heat/light-sensitive parts within an assembly called the "optical block" (also known as a "light engine"). In addition, the area around the projection lamp is subject to melting on some models.
The discolorations include blue blobs, blue haze, blue star pattern (also known as blue dots or stuck blue pixels), bluish tint to blacks, green blobs, green tint, purple/magenta tint, yellow stains, purple or pink blotches that resemble fingerprints, stationary scribble (also known as squiggly, random line pattern, or road-mapping), red bands, and others (see the Optical Block Problems by TV Model section below for details).The image discolorations tend to worsen over time as the high-intensity mercury-vapor arc lamp shines on the parts--particularly those in the blue light path. They usually become evident after about 4,000-10,000 hours of usage--typically about 2-6 years after purchase, depending on the frequency and conditions of usage.
Sony has denied that they should have known there would be problems. However, scientific literature, patents (many of them issued to Sony), and longevity studies on liquid crystal projection technologies make it clear that inventors/engineers had been aware for many years that high-intensity light, heat, and dust contamination are top concerns affecting life span of optical blocks. Sony had patents as early as 1997 that described inventions intended to reduce the detrimental effects of light, heat, and dust. Yet, these inventions were not used in the optical blocks in Sony's production TVs, and Sony apparently did not take sufficient measures to test their longevity.
In fact, independent longevity studies on 3LCD and SXRD optical blocks showed premature development of discolorations exhibited by Sony TVs. However, these studies were called misleading by Sony, and Sony Vice President Ronald Wasinger threatened legal action in October 2006 to suppress one such study, despite the fact that Sony had been working for months to try to correct the exact defects revealed by the study when that letter was written.
Notwithstanding Sony's denials, they settled several class action lawsuits by extending the optical block warranties on some of the models, and they voluntarily extended warranties on other models. A number of customers, including me, filed small claims lawsuits against Sony for selling the defective TVs--many were successful, and some were not. There was never an official recall requiring notification of owners.
In addition, Sony ran an accommodation program for some affected customers under which they offered discounts off newer direct-view LCD models that were overstocked. The last of the of the warranty extensions expired in July of 2011, and the accommodation program is largely defunct. An email to SonyListens may still yield a very small discount (~15%) off a TV in the Sony online store. However, you are likely better off finding a sale at a different online retailer and/or switching to another brand, most of which have better or equivalent reliability for significantly less cost.
It is not cost-effective to have the optical block professionally replaced out-of-warranty (~$900-$1,500 total for diagnosis, part, labor, and taxes). As an alternative, if you are willing and able to remove and replace your own optical block, there are a few people/companies that offer third-party optical block rebuilding services. However, the reliability of the rebuilders, and the cost-effectiveness and success of that approach is somewhat questionable at this point, as well.
When the first out-of-warranty reports of issues came in on a specific model or family of models, Sony initially did not cover them. As reports increased, Sony started offering partial coverage on an individual basis to persistent customers (secret reimbursements). For example, they might have offered to cover half of the repair cost, or the cost of the part but not the labor. Alternatively, they might have offered a small discount off a new TV in the Sony online store. As even more reports accumulated, Sony eventually issued warranty extension alerts for replacement of the optical blocks in most cases. In cases where warranty extensions expired, Sony went back to offering partial coverage in response to appeals by persistent customers, as described above (e.g., pay for part of the repair).
In many cases, when customers were getting their defective optical blocks replaced, Sony was falsely claiming that the replacement optical blocks had been re-engineered to remove the defects (e.g., see this email from Sony Vice President Philip Petescia). However, it turned out that the replacement blocks were only being rebuilt to the original specifications, so Sony was knowingly replacing defective parts with other rebuilt defective parts.
In other cases, Sony attempted to improve longevity by modifying some parts, but they only delayed the inevitable and sometimes introduced new problems. For example, Sony became aware of discoloration problems with their XBR1 optical blocks in late 2005 and worked during 2006 to fix the problems, but the "fixed" optical blocks later experienced a different set of discolorations.
A former Sony employee (Confidential Source #1 in a class action lawsuit), who was involved in replacing failed optical blocks in TVs returned to Sony from Spring 2004 through Fall 2005, testified at a sworn deposition that he thought "every television that left the [Sony] plant had a problem with an optical block" in that time frame (e.g., see pages 10, 11, and 22 of this July 2010 Court Order). He also testified that he heard rumors “that there was so many customer complaints regarding optical blocks that retail stores began to send back unsold Sony TVs to have the optical blocks replaced” in late 2005 through 2007. The lawsuit was on 2006-2007 models produced after Confidential Source #1 stopped working on optical blocks, so his testimony was deemed not relevant for the case. However, despite what some Sony advocates would like people to believe, the sworn testimony still applies to the 2005 time period when the employee was actually working on the optical blocks. Federal judge Robert Patterson wrote the following on page 22 of his Order: "At his deposition, Confidential Source #1 was able to state firmly and on the basis of actual knowledge that in 2005, he believed that every television that left the plant had a problem with the optical block."
Inconsistent with the original marketing claims of strong reliability and longevity, Sony has argued in legal proceedings (sometimes successfully) that their marketing claims were mere "puffery," and that their customers can only reasonably expect their TVs to last through the one or two year express warranty period. Sony has further argued that, even if they knew about the defective nature of the TVs when they sold them, as long as they felt they would last beyond the express warranty period, they should not be subject to legal action by their customers for their marketing claims.
Sony has also argued that, while the appearance of major discolorations may not precisely meet the original expectations of their customers, the TVs still provide a minimum level of quality that meets Sony's legal obligations (e.g., see this letter from a Sony attorney to a customer who filed a small claims lawsuit, as well as an image of her TV below).
In addition, Sony routinely denied any knowledge of optical block problems when customers first contacted them for support, despite widespread complaints on the Internet and multiple class action lawsuits. For example, in response to one customer email, Sony replied:
I'm sorry for the inconvenience you're experiencing as there is yellow tint and blue hazy lines on the screen of your Sony TV. The Sony KDF-E42A10 TV is not known by Sony to be defective in any way and we are not aware of a problem. Sony does not address any comments published on, or quoted from a non-Sony website.
In this chat transcript, a customer asks whether the blue dot/blue haze problem is common on these TVs, and the Sony representative claims, "I am sorry; we are unaware of this issue." In these chat transcripts, a customer asks whether blue discolorations are known problems with his TV, and two different Sony representatives claimed that there were no known issues. They only acknowledged that there was an expired extended warranty, in which Sony had already acknowledged the issue, after the customer told them he knew about it. In this email exchange with Sony Canada about a KDF-60WF655 with blue discolorations, Sony falsely claimed that model "...is not known by Sony to be defective in any way and we are not aware of a problem." These are just a few typical examples that occurred in late 2009, long after Sony was aware of the issues and had expired warranty extensions for the exact problems they denied existed. Any new purchasers of Sony TVs should probably be aware of these tactics by Sony.
For customers with TVs without a warranty extension or with an expired extension, persistent pressure sometimes led to further settlement offers, but they usually consisted of very small "discounts" off the high optical block repair costs or the full retail costs of replacement direct-view LCD TVs. Commonly, customers could find the same TVs for lower or similar prices on sale at other Sony-authorized Internet dealers. Many class action and small claims lawsuits were filed on the premise that the optical blocks had pre-existing defects at the time of purchase. Concurrent with increasing numbers of settlements and judgments against them in these lawsuits, as well as a groundswell of complaints in Internet discussion forums, Sony improved their compensation offers in early 2010 through a special optical block program run by a customer support group at Sony called "Sony Listens".
The discount offers were reduced on an annual basis (in September of 2010 and September of 2011). Then, on 10/27/2011, the program was abruptly terminated. A new discount program was implemented a few days later (on 11/1/2011). However, the magnitude of the discounts was significantly reduced, and it has received a great deal of criticism.
Sony is on pace to lose $2.3 billion on its TV division in 2011/2012 (the eighth straight annual loss). Concerning Sony's newer flat-panel LCD/LED TVs, Sony does not make the parts and is becoming less involved in design. For example, the LCD/LED panels in Sony TVs are produced by Samsung, Sharp, and Chinese companies like Chimei Innolux (CMI). In addition, the manufacturing of the vast majority of Sony's TVs (estimated at 70-80% in 2011) is outsourced to Chinese companies like Foxconn and Wistron. The outsourcing includes their high-end ultra-thin frameless and Internet-enabled models. In order to save additional money, industry sources indicate that Sony is also increasingly shifting design of their TVs to Chinese outsourcing companies like Foxconn and will likely shift sourcing of more LCD panels to Chinese manufacturers like CMI and AU Optronics after opting out of a joint venture with Samsung in January 2012. Most of the TV industry has fallen into this outsourcing business strategy, and Japanese manufacturers have suffered the most financially due to the strength of the Japanese yen versus other currencies.
Sony generated revenue of ~$8.0 billion from sales of these TVs (see table below). Starting in 2008, though, Sony completed its transition to flat-panel LCD TVs.
This web site is intended to inform consumers about the widespread problems with Sony rear-projection liquid crystal microdisplay TVs and to suggest approaches to receive the highest level of compensation.
The following options are generally for Sony US. Options vary for Sony Canada and in other countries.
If you are still dissatisfied or choose to skip mediation, you could contact a law firm to initiate a class action lawsuit, or you could file your own civil lawsuit (small claims or regular). You should be aware of issues like statutes of limitations (time limits) on filing claims. Sony has made very equitable settlement offers to many customers prior to trial, and some customers have won sizable judgments against Sony, although others have been unsuccessful. Many have been filed over the years, but most seem to have reached a conclusion.
lawsuit is one where a large group of consumers is represented in a
single case--typically in federal court so that the result will apply
nationwide. This is a serious undertaking, and the lawyer/law firm must
be both capable and willing to do it. The advantage of this approach is that, personally, you have to put
little effort into it. The disadvantages are that it is up to the
lawyer/law firm to determine if and how the case proceeds, and such
lawsuits typically take years to resolve. A number
of law firms have filed a variety of class action lawsuits. However,
they seem to have largely run their course at this point. See the Class Action Lawsuits page for additional details.
You can also hire
your own attorney and have them file an individual civil lawsuit in
state court. Although it is possible to recover attorney fees, if you
win the lawsuit, the amounts at stake may not justify this. An
alternative is to file a small claims lawsuit, which usually requires
paying a relatively small fee (which also is typically recoverable if
you win the case), filling out some relatively simple forms, and then
preparing your own case for a brief informal presentation to a court
officer. See the Small Claims Lawsuits page for more details on filing, as well as a list of judgments from completed cases.
Sony tends to make much more favorable offers after they are served with lawsuit papers. For example, the optical block in my KDF-55WF655 was replaced under Sony's warranty extension in July of 2007, but it failed again 25 months later. In September/October 2009 Sony Customer Relations initially offered me $400 off the repair, and then they offered $600 off the repair after I submitted written appeals. However, I filed a small claims lawsuit against them, and, on the day of the trial, they offered a free repair.
In addition, I have communicated with multiple anonymous sources who have been offered
settlements. Although the amounts of these settlements cannot be
disclosed due to confidentiality statements signed by the customers, I
would speculate that they are at least in the $1,000-$1,500 range based
on minimum demands I discussed with these customers prior to their
negotiations with Sony. So, Sony's offer may be acceptable to you even
without going to trial.
In my case, because it is not possible to repair the TVs due to the defective nature of the optical block, and because I wanted to make a point to uphold a principle after being treated the way I was by Sony customer service, I proceeded with the trial. I was awarded about $2,300 of my original purchase price of ~$3,000. Others have also been awarded amounts in excess of $1,000.
note, however, that there are statutes of limitations (time limits for
filing) and rules of evidence requirements in some states that may make
legal action challenging, particularly as time goes on.
The relief you receive may depend on the specific TV (e.g., age), the specific issue you have, the state in which you live, the strength of your case, etc. It is a personal choice how far you are willing to take the issue, weighing the risks, benefits, and amount of effort at each step. In most cases, it is not a great deal of effort to file or go through with a small claims lawsuit, but the guidance on this web site is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.
All that Sony would offer to me was a small discount off an extremely expensive repair, which they acknowledged would only be another refurbished optical block, or a small discount off their inflated retail price on a newer direct-view LCD TV. The final cost after the discount was virtually identical to the cost at Sony-authorized retailers, so I declined and threatened to file a lawsuit. I promised Sony representatives that, if I was forced to go through with the trial, I would inform as many customers as I could about Sony's quality and customer service problems through this web site (e.g., see this letter I sent to Sony Vice President Philip Petescia shortly before I filed my lawsuit).
Sony did not care, so I went through with the lawsuit, and the judge ruled in my favor for ~$2,300 based on an implied warranty of merchantability claim. I fulfilled my promise to Sony by expanding this web site. See my entry on the Small Claims Lawsuits page for more details.
I have been taunted by Sony agents in electronic communications over the years. I also have heard from multiple customers that Sony representatives tell them not to believe the content of this web site, and that I am somehow working on behalf of the class action attorneys who have filed lawsuits against Sony. Yet, Sony has never pointed out any inaccuracies on this site, despite multiple invitations to do so. Nor do I have any association with the class action attorneys, other than posting some of their public legal documents. In fact, they have used information I compiled on my web site without compensation or attribution.
After numerous lawsuits and thousands of customer complaints scattered across dozens of Internet forums, Sony has finally been dragged kicking and screaming to make more legitimate compensation offers. However, my observation is that they are not the company of quality and customer service that they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The LCD panels in Sony's current flat-panel TVs are manufactured by other companies, such as Samsung and Sharp, and a majority of Sony TVs are manufactured by outsource companies like China's Foxconn (Hon Hai). This is true of most manufacturers now, and a December 2010 Consumer Reports reliability rating puts the failure rate at 2-4% for almost all of them. So, in my opinion, Sony now produces the same discount-quality TVs as other manufacturers, but they continue to charge a premium price for them. Hopefully, they can turn things around, but I will bring my business elsewhere for the time-being.
Facebook - I Have a Defective Sony TV (IHADS)
The optical blocks in all of Sony's 2003-2007 rear-projection liquid crystal microdisplay TVs have been the subject of a Sony warranty extension, a class-action lawsuit, or both.
2002-2005 models had 1-year parts/labor express warranties, and the
2006-2007 models added a 2-year warranty on the optical block
(still with 1 year on labor). In response to the problems, Sony issued extended warranties to cover
replacement of the optical blocks for all of their 2003-2007 models,
except the 2005 3LCD models. Similar problems have been reported with 2002 models, but there are very limited
numbers of these first-generation models. Some models (WE and XBR950 series) are also susceptible to being warped, melted, cracked, scorched, and or burnt due to excessive heat from the projection lamp, which can cause the TVs to fail to power up and could be a safety issue. This issue is under warranty through March of 2012.
Optical block discoloration issues
The following table indicates, for each model family, the issuance and expiration dates of the warranty extensions for discoloration issues. It also contains links to Sony's announcements, claim forms, and KnowledgeBase articles. Some of the links are to archived versions, because the extensions have expired, and Sony has removed them from their web site. In addition, the table includes links to information on class-action lawsuits.
**The 2005 3LCD models are unique in that they are the only models between 2003 and 2007 that have not had a Sony warranty extension.
***The expiration date of the extended warranty was originally 10/31/2008, but, based in part on the settlement of a class action lawsuit, on 11/12/2007, Sony extended the expiration date to 6/30/2009.
****The expiration date of these extended warranties was originally 6/30/2010, but, in mid-June 2010, Sony extended them to match those in the pending Cardenas SXRD2 class action lawsuit settlement.
Note: Sony Canada issued very similar warranty extensions.
The television image is created by projecting light from a high-intensity mercury vapor arc lamp onto three small (approximately 1" across) liquid crystal panels inside the optical block. There is one panel each for the colors red, green, and blue, and they are combined with a prism and enlarged onto the back of the large viewing screen with a projection lens. Depending on the TV model, the optical block is based on one of two liquid crystal technologies: conventional liquid crystal display (LCD) technology ("3LCD" models) or liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) technology ("SXRDTM" models). All of the 2002-2006 and some of the 2007 models use the WEGATM video processing engine and are generally known as Grand WEGAs. The remaining 2007 models use the newer BRAVIATM engine and branding.The discolorations arise due to degradation of parts within the optical block assembly during long-term exposure to heat, light, and/or dust. The high-intensity lamp is attached to the optical block, and it creates a lot of heat. In addition, it creates intense light, much of which is converted to heat inside the optical block as it is filtered. Some of the light-filtering parts, including, in many cases, the liquid crystal panels themselves, utilize organic dyes or other substances that are subject to degradation from heat and light, particularly light in the high-energy blue light path (e.g., UV and deep blue). Also, the optical blocks are not sealed, so dust can accumulate on the internal parts, which can further reduce cooling efficiency, as well as directly cause discolorations.
SXRD models (green, yellow, purple, pink, or magenta blob, stain, haze, halo, or tint, and other discolorations)Image of a yellow stain (lower-right of image) by Mightyp on AVS Forum:
The optical blocks in SXRD models appear to have defects that cause predominantly green blobs, green haze, and/or yellow stains, although other discolorations (e.g., magenta-colored tint) also occur. An Opinion and Order from a class-action lawsuit on the 2005 models provides unique insight into the causes of the discolorations. A majority of the green issues that appeared in the 2005 SXRDs (the green blobs) arose almost immediately after they were put into service, often occurring near the middle of the screen, sometimes being donut-shaped. Sony claims that they identified and fixed that issue ("temperature fluctuations at the calibration stage of the assembly line") within a month of the start of production. Sony claims that this only affected the first ~7,000 TVs to be produced. Sony also claims that other minor causes of green issues (the green haze) were identified and fixed by 1/2006, although no details were provided.
Most likely, all of the green discolorations occurred due to the presence of improperly polarized light in the green channel, arising from defective green polarizers and/or SXRD panels. There is more recent evidence from a subsequent SXRD class action lawsuit that green haze can be caused by skin oil or debris introduced during the manufacturing process (presumably, optical block assemblers touching the parts with their bare fingers). However, Sony claims that they cleaned such optical block parts in a clean room prior to releasing them.
Sony further claims that the yellow stains in the 2005 SXRDs, which tend to start in the upper or lower right corner, were caused by a "microscopic material" in the liquid crystal panels, disrupting their uniformity over time during prolonged exposure to UV light produced by the projection lamp. Sony claims that the extent of the discoloration depended on the amount of microscopic material present in the panel, which varied from TV to TV, and the frequency of usage by the consumer. They also claim that service records indicate that the issue always appeared within the first 3,000 hours of usage, if it was going to happen.
Sony also claims that, between 1/2006 and 10/2006, they worked to reduce both the amount of the microscopic material and the amount of UV light exposure. This is consistent with findings by an independent testing laboratory. The yellow color likely arises due to light being completely blocked in the blue channel due to photochemical and heat-based damage to the parts. The improper blockage of blue light leaves the predominantly yellow light from the combined green and red light paths.
A variety of other discolorations also affect SXRD models, including magenta or purple or other colors "tinting" various parts of the image. Some discoloration may be evident when the TV is first turned on, but then it may change or disappear after a period of time. SXRD technology is highly reliant on precise light polarization, so smaller degrees of degradation of the parts in the optical block and/or temperature changes can affect the image in these ways.
See the Class Action Lawsuits page for additional information and documentation from SXRD class action lawsuits.
Examples of blue star (upper-left and lower-right) and blue haze (upper-right and lower-left) -- originally from Sony's web site:
The blue discolorations seem to be the most common, particularly in the earlier (2003-2005) 3LCD models, although they are also observed in the more recent 3LCD models, as well as the SXRD models. These discolorations can take the form of blue blobs, haze, lines, bands, dots, star pattern, etc. In some cases, the discoloration is centered around an oval-shaped anomaly in the middle of the screen. In many cases, the discoloration (e.g., haze) is most visible on a gray background, but in other cases, the discoloration is visible on a black background (e.g., blobs). Once they become evident, the discolorations tend to accumulate and spread across the entire screen over the course of a few weeks to months.
The precise cause(s) of these discolorations have not been revealed by Sony, but the problem is well-known in the industry. The discolorations tend to be bluish in color, because the parts in the blue light path (particularly the blue polarizing filters and liquid crystal panels) are subject to the highest energy light (including UV) and heat. Photochemical and heat-based degradation of the blue polarizing filters can allow stray, improperly polarized blue light to pass through the blue LCD panel and onto the screen, leading to blue blobs on images that should be black. Photochemical and heat-based degradation of compounds in the blue LCD panel (e.g., the liquid crystal itself and/or alignment layers) can cause irregular distribution and/or alignment of the of the liquid crystal. This can lead to improper polarization of blue light as it passes through the damaged areas of the panel, resulting in the projection of stray blue light onto the screen.
There is a correlation between the appearance of the blue discolorations and the failure and/or replacement of the lamp. This may be a coincidence of the average life span of the lamp and the rate of degradation of the optical block parts, or changes in the lamps may accelerate the degradation or make it more evident. For example, the light spectrum emitted by older lamps may become more damaging, and/or the increased intensity of a brand new lamp may make the discolorations more visible or hasten the degradation of the already weakened parts.
See the Optical Block Design page for additional details on the blue discolorations, including independent laboratory testing of 3LCD front projectors. The light paths for red and green are virtually identical to the blue one (other than the color of the associated filters), but they probably undergo slower degradation due to the wavelengths of light to which they are exposed.
haze can be transiently more intense in areas with brighter static
images--typically called burn-in on older CRT and plasma displays. For example, this can occur in areas of black bars (e.g., letterboxes), in news ticker areas, or when pausing a program on a DVR. As the liquid crystal panels degrade over time, the
liquid crystal can migrate outside of its normal layer. When there are
bright areas adjacent to dark areas on the image for prolonged periods
of time, such as the examples cited above, the temperature
differential between the areas of light absorption and transmission can
lead to focused areas of liquid crystal disruption and burned in images. These tend to diffuse out over time. This is inconsistent with Sony claims that these TVs are immune to screen burn.
While the 2003-2004 3LCD models tend to have primarily blue discolorations, as described above, they can also suffer from stains in the yellow range, and this seems even more common in the newer 3LCD models (e.g., 2005-2006), particularly the A10s. These discolorations tend to start on the edges or appear within oval-shaped anomalies, and to spread over time. Similar to the yellow stains in the SXRDTM models, the yellow color arises due to light being completely blocked in the blue light path due to photochemical and heat-based damage (e.g., darkened areas on the orange-colored polarizing filter in the blue light path). The improper blockage of blue light leaves the predominantly yellow light from the combined green and red light paths. TriState Module sells the orange-colored polarizing filter for the blue light path and reports that it can fix yellow discolorations.
Example of severe yellow stain on a light background, which was also accompanied by blue blobs on a dark background (image by Michelle Bowers on Facebook - I Have a Defective Sony TV):
Example of severe blue discoloration with central oval containing a yellow discoloration (image by Jamie Kwapich from Facebook - I Have a Defective Sony TV):
A more recent observation on more recent models, such as the 2006 E2000 series, is a reddish band at the top of the screen with other colored bands.
On top of the high risk for blue discolorations described above, some 2003-2004 3LCD models are also susceptible to developing an opaque, non-moving pattern on the screen, which is particularly evident on white or light backgrounds. This is referred to variously as stationary scribble, squiggly, random line, or road-mapping, and tends to be a solid color such as yellow, purple, or blue-green on a white background, but it varies somewhat depending on the specific color of the image on the screen. The problem tends to grow worse over time.
For the most part, this problem seems to have been caused by defective materials in a specific lot of LCD panels that were installed in the optical blocks, which are particularly sensitive to damage arising from hot-cold (on-off) cycling. The color of the scribbles likely correlates with the light path with the damaged LCD panel. For example, damage to the blue panel may selectively block blue light in the damaged areas, leading to a yellow scribble (green plus red), damage to the green panel may lead to a purple scribble (blue plus red), or damage to the red panel may lead to a blue-green scribble. In some cases, different colored scribbles appear in different areas on the same TV, suggesting damage to multiple panels.
There is some evidence that leaving the TV on for an extended period (e.g., several days) can, at least temporarily, resolve or reduce this issue, perhaps by causing the defective panel to heat up, but this is not a complete or permanent fix.Photo by Eric Lavergne (orijonl) posted on an eCoustics forum:
These fingerprint-like discolorations appear to be purple or pink (or sometimes other colors, depending on the background color). They are typically the size of a quarter to half-dollar on the screen. Unlike the rest of the issues described above, they are not the result of degradation of optical block parts arising from exposure to light or heat. Rather, they arise when dust accumulates directly on parts at key points in the light path, such as the inside or outside faces of the LCD panels or the face of the prism. Apparently, dust in the green light path is particularly prone to cause these problems due to the wavelengths of light diffracted by dust.
The optical blocks are not sealed, so they are subject to dust accumulation, and this problem seems to be particularly frequent when the TVs are used in dusty or smoky conditions. Also unlike the rest of the issues described above, there have been no warranty extensions or class-action lawsuits for this issue. It may be possible to reduce the appearance of the blotches by cleaning the optical block with compressed air. Unfortunately, cleaning will rarely eliminate the problem, the problem will likely return over time, and it appears that the dust can get burned into parts within the optical block during prolonged exposure to the heat of the projection lamp, making cleaning ineffective. See the Optical Block Replacement/Cleaning page on this site for additional information.
For further examples, see:
AVS forum report with pictures
eCoustics forum report with pictures
Based on publicized reliability and longevity estimates and marketing claims by Sony and industry marketing groups, it might be expected that the display technology in Sony's rear-projection liquid crystal TVs should last an average of at least 60,000 hours. That translates to about 33 years at the current average usage of five hours per day. In their marketing, Sony promoted these TVs as "extremely high quality," "suitable for years and years of enjoyment." Sony New Zealand marketing suggested that a lamp change every 8-10 years would "regenerate the picture of the set to its original condition." Sony Canada went so far as to suggest that the TVs could have infinite lifespans with periodic lamp changes. Sony has since argued in lawsuits (successfully, in some cases) that this type of marketing is mere "puffery," and that it is not reasonable for consumers to use such information in their expectations of longevity. Instead, Sony has argued, they should only reasonably be allowed to use the length of the limited warranty (one to two years) to estimate longevity.
Most consumer electronics companies require a minimum of 20,000 hours of life in their TVs. Even setting aside Sony's alleged marketing hype around their liquid crystal projection video technology, and considering the TVs as appliances with electronic components, it is reasonable to expect a real-world lifespan of at least 12-20 years with periodic lamp changes.
For reference, in addition to liquid crystal projection technology (3LCD and LCoS/SXRDTM), other newer technologies at the time included digital light processing (DLP) projection, plasma flat-panel, and LCD flat-panel. In the large screen market, DLP and plasma were in direct competition with liquid crystal projection in its heyday, and LCD flat-panels have overtaken the market as prices have come down on larger panels.
An industry group of LCD projection manufacturers called the "3LCD Group" was formed in 2004 to help market the 3LCD microdisplay technology. Sony is a member of this marketing group, and, along with Epson, accounted for most of the production of the LCD microdisplay panels used in the projection models. Although the current 3LCD Group web site refers only to front projectors, it included rear-projection TVs when they were in production. For example, see this version of the 3LCD Group web site archived in January of 2005. Here is an excerpt from a 1/7/2005 3LCD Group press release:
“As the U.S. market leader in microdisplay televisions, Sony has always been committed to providing consumers with video products that exceed their expectations,” said Mike Fidler, senior vice president in Sony Electronics’ Home Products Division. “3LCD technology fulfills this role by offering an ideal balance between superior performance, overall reliability and manufacturing efficiency.”
Liquid crystal projection TV sales and marketing efforts attempted to steer customers away from competing plasma TVs by citing a short 10,000-20,000-hour lifespan of the plasma tubes (less than 10 years at 3-6 hours per day). In addition, the longevity of competing DLP projection TVs was questioned based on the use of moving parts (DLP technology uses a spinning color wheel with millions of hinged micromirrors). Consistent with this, Sony and its 3LCD Group have released marketing statements such as the following:
It is generally accepted that liquid crystal flat-panel displays have an expected life span of about 60,000 hours (about 27 years at 6 hours per day) (e.g., site 1, site 2, site 3). The liquid crystal microdisplay panels in Sony's 3LCD and SXRDTM TVs are a bit different than flat-panels. However, Sony and the 3LCD Group do not differentiate LCD flat panels and microdisplays when speaking about reliability. For example, the following statement can be found on the 3LCD Group web site:
Reliable, Road-Tested Tecnology: LCD technology surrounds us – HDTVs, PDAs, mobile phones, monitors and more...this powerful and road-tested technology is an optimal way to achieve sharp, beautiful images. 3LCD systems are reliable and use a simple optical design: 3 chips and 1 prism.
Furthermore, the estimated 60,000-hour lifespan of an LCD flat panel is actually based more on the longevity of the fluorescent back-lighting than the liquid crystal components themselves. So, if the lighting systems were replaceable on these units, the lifespan could, theoretically, be much longer. In liquid crystal projection systems, the lamps are, in fact, user-replaceable, and Sony has exploited this to further promote the longevity of the technology. They strongly promoted that their TVs only needed a lamp change every several years to restore the TV to a like-new condition. Here are some quotes from some of Sony's marketing:
Web site marketing of 2004-2005 Grand WEGATM 3LCD models (e.g., KDF-55WF655 and KDF-E50A10):
Sony New Zealand brochure:
2005 Sony Pulse Product Catalog
Summer/Fall 2004 Sony Style magazine:
Fall/Winter 2005 Sony Style magazine:
The Fountain of Youth - User-Replaceable UHP Lamp. In the past, the gradual loss of picture quality was just part of owning a TV. Once the picture got to a point where it was unwatchable, the TV was replaced and the process started over. Sony recognizes the investment in time and money that a TV represents. That is the reason that Grand WEGA comes with an ingenious user-replaceable UHP lamp. After countless hours of enjoyment, simply replace the lamp and your Grand WEGA is as good as the day you bought it. In fact, with Sony's renowned quality, Grand WEGA may be the last TV you ever own.
The implication from these quotes is that liquid crystal rear-projection TVs could have an even longer life than a liquid crystal flat-panel display, and even CRT-based TVs, due to the user-replaceable lamps. In fact, a "white paper" from Sony on their projection systems directly suggests that liquid crystal microdisplay (fixed-pixel) projection panels offer "far longer life" than CRT-based TVs (e.g., see page 23):
CRTs have phosphors that are subject to burn-in when an image stays on the screen too long...Fixed-pixel projector display panels are immune to burn-in, offering far longer life. And the SXRD panel is particularly robust.
However, unlike flat-panel liquid crystal displays with non-damaging fluorescent back-lighting, the UHP lamps in Sony's rear-projection TVs create substantial direct heat, direct light (e.g., ultraviolet), and indirect heat (produced by conversion of reflected light). This damaging energy is focused on the small filters and liquid crystal panels within the optical block, significantly reducing lifespan.
The approximately 6,000-10,000 hour life spans seen with many of Sony's optical blocks, thus, does not compare favorably with the marketing claims of superior reliability and longevity over plasma and DLP, let alone with the language in Sony’s marketing material that the TVs should last for “countless hours” (far into the future), and that, with lamp replacement, it could be the last TV you ever need to buy.
Sony now frequently justifies their compensation offers by citing a 7-year expected lifespan of the TVs. This 7-year figure likely arises from a California law (Civil Code Section 1793.03) that requires manufacturers of any electronic or appliance product that retails for $100 or more to maintain functional parts for repair for a minimum of seven years. However, this does not mean that the expected lifespan of the product is only seven years, and it seems unconscionably short given the claims of reliability and longevity made when the TVs were being sold.
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