Once upon a time, the 226BW...
Everything started at the beginning of 2007 with the test of the Samsung 226BW monitor. It was a great screen. Except that as of the end of February, voices began to make themselves heard on the forums: some buyers weren't satisfied with their 226BWs. The colours were false, the responsiveness down, or at least less than expected. A rumour began circulating. Samsung was using several different panel sets, of different quality.
At the time, Samsung strongly denied the accusation: "We use only Samsung panels" they told us in March 2007. We therefore tested the monitors that our readers weren't satisfied with. Screwdriver in hand, we looked at the evidence:
- the monitors lent to us by Samsung at the beginning of February 2007 were equipped with panels made by Samsung,
- they then sold screens under the same name, the same bezel but with AU Optronics panels (April 2007)
- then a third and a fourth series arrived: with CMO (16th May 2007) and CPT (18th May 2007) panels.
S: Samsung. A: AU Optronics. C = CMO ou CPT.
Faced with the reality of the situation, Samsung accorded us an audience in June 2007 to acknowledge its mistake, clear itself of responsibility for the situation (caused by a few stores) and give us assurances that in the future all screens would definitely be sold only with Samsung panels.
Before this, several weeks before this interview, another measure had been taken: the gradual removal of the extension on the label on the back (as of April 2007). Damn! Now we couldn't work out where the panel was from just by looking at the label on the back of the screen. Yet, not everyone can take their screen apart: it's dangerous and also invalidates the warranty.
The basic and fundamental question is, is a screen with a different panel still the same screen?
- For Samsung: the answer is yes. Their point of view is a valid one. They emphasize the spec - response times, contrast, brightness... This spec is the same whatever the panel used. Never has Samsung said (and even less certified) in its spec that it will only use Samsung panels. No more do they committ themselves to keeping the colour rendering stable or good, nor that there will not be any black ghosting, nor that the blacks will always be as deep... Namely, the points we found fault with on the alternative versions.
- For both us and the consumers the question was as follows: would we allow a car manufacturer to change its motor and use a less powerful one, on the pretext that the car can still be driven, consumes petrol and has four seats... ? In brief that it has the minimum required on paper? No we wouldn't. The fact that the replacement was happening in the wrong direction makes it even harder to allow. If we and other sites had tested screens with mediocre panels and consumers had been delivered with Samsung panels, no one would have anything more to say on the question. The problem is it's the other way round! A hard pill to swallow. It is particularly difficult to accept when you know that Samsung itself has recognised that screens with lower quality panels are less satisfactory as they have been designed for western markets. They aren't as good and are less expensive to produce, reserved for Asian markets for whom price is more important than quality. It's a question of purchasing power.
The secrets of the panel
Those who wished to find out which panel they had bought could actually find out without taking the screen apart. A leak of information (avril 2007), probably from a technician (if you take into account the complexity of the manipulation), allowed users to discover that by pressing a sequence of buttons you could get to a hidden screen menu and find out what panel had actually been used on their screen (Choose contrast and brightness at 0. Press the Menu button. Press the Source button for 5 seconds - second button on the right).
All the evidence is there, both the make AND the precise reference of the panel appeared clearly on the screen. In the image to the right here for example, the AU M220EW01 is a 22 inch panel made by AU Optronics.
An important point: the interveiw with Samsung in June 2007 came after we had revealed this access to the hidden menu (April 2007). We therefore spoke freely with the company about the different panel versions. At no moment did they speak of invalidation of the warranty... until now that is, in 2009, two years later.
The hidden screen, too simple to read? They started to encode it.
The weeks went by and various versions remained. The manufacturer reacted however by removing the name of the panel maker and the reference from the hidden screen in October 2007! In its place: a long complex encoded number... but a few geeks quickly worked out the new code.
We have been using this method for a couple of years now and Samsung know about it as we regularly mention it on the site and in tests - each time there's a concern over panels.
xAx-xxxx : Samsung panel.
xLx-xxxx : AU Optronics panel.
xDx-xxxx : CMO panel.
xIx-xxxx : CPT panel.
After the 226BW came the 2232BW, affected with the same problem - partially this time: the ghosting had been corrected. The 2232BW then made way for the T220, tested in May 2008. Everything went marvelously (100% Samsung panels) until December 2008 when comments on the forum showed that the same problem had returned. CMO was back...
At this stage, it is important to say that from Samsung's point of view, we are bringing up a fictive problem because, they say with certainty, they never had the slightest complaint on the subject of the T220. Neither from consumers or from stores.
Both Samsung representatives we contacted recently tried to be reassuring. "Tests are carried out on all products to guarantee uniform quality. We haven't had any reactions from clients that make us think otherwise". This would seem to echo the statement made at the end of 2007 that we released on Behardware.com at the time. We might as well quote that piece as the same problem is coming up now:
How much does this supposition of the replacement of Samsung panels by lower quality CMO panels perturb the impression of the consumer? How much do we denature the impressions and satisfaction of buyers who, according to Samsung (which is categorical here), do not complain at all about the screens we have been picking at with our successive articles?
Probably so that everyone moves on from this fixation on panels and concentrates instead on their real viewing experience Samsung has confirmed a threat recently reported on our French language forum (January 2009): ie that those who gain access to the hidden menu, invalidate their warranty. Because, Samsung explains, those who do key in to the hidden menu can damage their screen. Just pulling the menu up is a non-standard use of the product that can lead to an alteration of it. Going into the hidden screen is to go beyond the everyday and usual use of the product and is non-standard! Simply by consulting it, even without modifying anything, you invalidate the warranty, they tell us!
Samsung does insist however that all their screens are guaranteed. So any users who are unsatisfied with the colour rendering of their screens that they can't change, are invited to get in touch with customer services, who will do their best to give customer satisfaction.
PS: we looked in the User Manual for the description of the conditions of warranty. The manual is here. We found no article concerning this particular condition of warranty. The only condition that is mentioned, or at least the one we found on page 88 is the following:
No doubt we should refer to the general conditions of use of all Samsung products on the manufactueres site. There it says:
Your SAMSUNG warranty
Samsung products carry a full warranty for the period specified. Some Samsung products carry different warranty periods due to the nature of the product's design, manufacture or expected use.
The warranty applies from the date of purchase by the first customer and is transferable only between end-users.
This warranty does not affect your statutory rights as a consumer in any way.
What is NOT covered by your warranty
The Samsung warranty covers manufacturing defects only. Please note that this does not include consumable items such as batteries, bulbs, ink cartridges etc.
The liability of Samsung Elecronics (or its appointed maintenance agent) is limited to the cost of repair and/ or replacement of the product under warranty.
The warranty is invalidated if the defect is caused (howsoever) by misuse, neglect, and tampering or incorrect adjustment. It is invalidated if unauthorised persons carry out any alterations or repairs.
Also, the warranty is invalidated in the following cases:
For the repair of a domestic product used in a commercial environment
For repair due to incorrect installation in your home
For repair to any unit where the serial number has been removed
Where any ancillary equipment not furnished or recommended by Samsung causes problems or damage that is attached to or used in connection with the product.
Is it negligent to go into the hidden men? No. An unauthorised alteration? If you don't modify anything, no. An incorrect adjustment: no. A repair or alteration by an unauthorised person? Still not the case. There remains the first, vague, case on which the manufacturer would seem to be basing its argument: The warranty is invalidated if the defect is caused (howsoever) by misuse. This clause is so open that almost anything could be fitted into it. You pressed the Brightness and standby buttons at the same time! Misuse! Can such an open definition stand? Samsung would seem to need to be able to link any malfunction of the screen to the consultation of this menu - a link that surely cannot exist as you would have altered nothing. Unfortunately the law is not our area of expertise.
The T220 is moving aside. It will soon be replaced by the P2270, which has a very impressive design. As for the 2233rz, the new pure gamer screen from the manufactuer, we have already unknowingly invalidated the warranty, to give concrete proof to what the tests had already shown in terms of colour quality and the difficulty of changing the manual settings: inside there is a CMO panel...
PS 2: if you have opened the hidden menu, simply avoid mentioning it when you call Customer Service at Samsung. Unless you modified any of the parameters in this menu, it doesn't seem to be easy to prove that you've opened it... and therefore invalidated your warranty.