Technology's most and least reliable brands in '09

We asked 45,000 readers and found out which electronics companies you can really trust

HDTVs

The HDTV category saw a bigger shake-up in reliability and service results this year than any other category, with some of last year's top brands slipping and some of last year's also-rans moving to the fore.Three of last year's reliability leaders--Sony, LG, and Samsung--saw their fortunes fade. Each had turned in numerous better-than-average scores in our 2009 report, but all three rated as merely average across the board in this study, leaving them jostling in the middle of the pack with such brands as Magnavox and Vizio. And Insignia, new to our re­­port this year, bypassed all of those brands on the strength of one better-than-average rating.

The new champs? Panasonic, Sharp, and (in a major surprise) Pioneer. Earning two better-than-average scores each, Panasonic and Sharp simply maintained their ratings from last year while the previous leaders slid backward. Pioneer, however, leaped forward to tie them (after receiving all average ratings last year), and it garnered the only better-than-average mark in readers' overall satisfaction with their TVs. We were pleased to see JVC earn average scores across the board; last year it finished next-to-last, with three worse-than-average scores.

At the bottom of the HDTV heap, Hitachi, Olevia, Toshiba, and Westinghouse each turned in one subpar score, while Mitsubishi again landed in the cellar, with three below-average ratings (that showing is still better than last year's, when Mitsubishi accumulated four below-average ratings). Still, 20.6 percent of Mitsubishi owners reported problems that were severe enough to stop their TV set from working. "Help me actually get my TV functioning again," says un­­happy Mitsubishi owner Michael Lys of Northville, Michigan. "My $US3000 TV is now basically useless; I know it was after the warranty expired, but it seems like such a waste."

To be fair to Mitsubishi, a significant number of the complaints we received in our survey came from owners of Mitsu­bishi rear-projection HDTVs whose bulbs had burned out. Those bulbs, our readers tell us, can run anywhere from $US100 to $US250 to replace, depending on the particular TV model.

The reliability of high-definition televisions seems to be improving overall, though not by leaps and bounds. Only 1.7 percent of users reported problems with their TVs when they first unboxed them this year, and 4.7 percent of users reported severe problems during the lifetime of their sets. The corresponding figures last year were 2.6 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

Digital Cameras

Was it a fluke? Last year Fujifilm astonished us with an unexpected top-drawer showing, ranking alongside Panasonic as the most reliable camera brand on the market. This year the camera rankings shifted: Fujifilm sank back into the middle of the pack, and traditional category powerhouse Canon returned to the top of the list, where it had been a stalwart in prior years.

This year's camera maker on the move was Nikon, which jumped from second-to-last in 2009's survey to third place this year, as users cited few problems on arrival and praised the brand's overall reliability. Though it didn't match the showings of Canon and Panasonic, Nikon would have come even closer to the top two this year if our survey respondents hadn't rated its cameras harder than average to use. (This rating isn't altogether surprising, however, since Nikon sells lots of sophisticated, high-end cameras with inherently more-complicated controls.)

At the bottom of our rankings this year are Kodak and Samsung, both of which received worse-than-average scores for "overall satisfaction with reliability" compared to their peers in the camera market. Kodak owners report high satisfaction levels with their cameras' ease of use, but report a higher-than-average rate of significant problems. Samsung cameras don't incur any more actual problems than other brands, according to readers, yet owners of the cameras report lower-than-average satisfaction levels with the general reliability of the cameras.

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Christopher Null

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