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Is Best Buy Misleading Customers Over HDTV Calibration?

Retailer is comparing SD content to HD content to show calibration, shopper claims.


Image via The Consumerist

There's an interesting story today over at The Consumerist, where a reader claims that Best Buy is misleading customers into purchasing its calibration services.

The reader, whose letter is printed below, claims that his local Best Buy is comparing a "calibrated" HDTV with a "non-calibrated" HDTV -- but is showing high-definition content on the former and standard-def content on the other.

Check out the letter.

Dear Consumerist,

While helping my father look for an HDTV at the newest Best Buy in Charlotte, NC this Sunday, I came across their demo display of their color calibration service. On the left side of the demo, they had a HDTV tuned to ESPN, and on the right, there was the exact same model of TV presumably tuned to the same station, but with a far superior picture. The difference between the two was remarkable; the left one was grainy and blurry while the right one looked sharp and detailed. Thinking that something was not right, I took a further look at the demo and realized that the inferior tv on the left was turned to plain old ESPN, and the superior tv on the right was tuned to ESPN HD. What's even worse is they had a box for their Black Tie TV Protection Plan strategically placed so that when looking at the display from most angles, it covered up the ESPN logo on the left tv as to disguise the fact that it was not an HD channel.

Having figured out the nature of their scam, I went to talk to one of the employees. I showed him the TVs, and he didn't have much to say besides that the color calibration service would decrease power consumption on my TV by 30%, which if I am not mistaken, a flat out lie.

Another employee overheard our conversation, and would at first, not admit that one tv had an HD signal and that the other one did not. He insisted that the difference was strictly because of their color calibration. Not wanting to let him get away with his BS, I told him that his claim was impossible, and finally got him to admit not only that I was right, but also that the tv with the standard signal was set to stretch the picture out (presumably to make the picture even worse). He then say that it would probably help to set the TVs to the same channel, but he "didn't know where the remote was."

By that point I was tired of the crap flowing out of his mouth, so I proceeded to shop around. Ten minutes later when I was ready to leave, I passed by the demo again only to find that the employee had done nothing, and that it was just as misleading as it was before.

This is just a cheap tactic to get people to buy into their crappy calibration service, which I could probably do myself with a half hour of playing with the settings on my TV. While I noticed the scam, I highly doubt that my 70+ year old father would.

Attached is a picture I quickly snapped with my iPhone. It's not the best, but you can still see that the right one is set on ESPN HD while the left one is just regular ESPN. I guess this is just another example of Best Buys classy business practices.


We can't verify Robert's claim, but the picture certainly seems to show stretched SD content on the left TV and high-def content on the right.

What do you think? Is this misleading or simply miscommunication?

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Article Topics

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71 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Adam  on  11/03  at  03:02 PM

This does not suprise me at all.

Posted by Glimmie  on  11/03  at  05:07 PM

Besides being an obvious scam, it just shows how un-sophisicated they are. Why not use the same identical channel but go into the setup sub menues of the “un-calibrated” set and screw it up a bit!

I’m not condoning this at all but it’s funny how that can’t even do a scam properly!

Posted by Lee Distad  on  11/03  at  05:09 PM

While monkeying with the picture settings to make whichever brand of TV is on promotion that week look best is as old as the CE biz, what’s surprising and newsworthy is that there are Best Buy drones who even know how to adjust a TV’s picture!

Posted by Billy Bob Thorndog  on  11/03  at  11:37 PM

I own an a/v integration company in Dallas.  We received a call from a consumer on Friday asking if we did calibrations.  I asked him to elaborate on his expectations and he proceeded to tell me that he wanted something similar to what Best Buy was offering to decrease power consumption and heat output.  (heat output is a very significant thing in Texas…)  After listening to him describe the exact same thing I’m reading here now…  well, it looks like Best Buy’s getting desperate to keep their installers busy.  Is this why things don’t seem so bad (economically) for those of us that know an F-Pin from a BNC??

Posted by Jay  on  11/04  at  11:06 AM

I used to work for Best Buy, and this is not only NOT a mistake, it is “Best Practice.”  I have not worked for them in around 7 years, but we used to do the same demo for a certain cable company showing the benefits of the cable, when in fact we were actually showing the difference between composite and component or interlaced and progressive technology, and then claiming you would only see that benefit if you bought the certain manufactures cables.

Posted by Rob Schultz  on  11/04  at  11:16 AM

Dear Joel Silver -

Please strongly consider revoking the ISF calibrator certifications for any installer who is employed by Best Buy (or anyone else who uses this type of deceptive practice). And make a big splash about it.

These kinds of deceptive practices hurt all of us engaged in calibrations, and in particular hurt the ISF’s reputation. Even if the retailer or integrator doesn’t mention ISF, the ISF is (or should be) almost synonymous with video calibration. This type of deception actively hurts the ISF’s reputation, as well as the reputations of all of us who have invested time and money in ourselves and our installers to attain certification in video calibration.

Dear Gerry Lemay -

I urge you to follow the same guidelines for HAA certification. Even if they’re “only” being deceptive in the video calibration realm, calibration cuts across both audio and video. And consumers don’t always know the difference, especially when deceptive practices deliberately blur the line.

As someone who has spent time and money on my techs (I employ one of just a handful of people in the state of Illinois certified for both Audio and Video calibration), I very much have a stake in ensuring the value of my investment.

Rob Schultz
Inspired Electronics, Inc.

Posted by isf4hd  on  11/04  at  01:21 PM

I’m pretty certain that Joel Silver and ISF don’t have the resources necessary to “police” each and every BB location that offers calibration services. However, I do feel that incidents such as this damage all of us who strive to provide the best possible video to our customers and clients and that Joel could (and should) have some serious conversations with his contacts at BB to develop a zero tolerance policy regarding misleading customers in this way.

As a freelance ISF-certified calibrator I find both good and bad in having Best Buy as a “competitor”. On the good side, they are helping to spread the word that display calibration is both available and necessary if consumers want to experience all of the video performance that they’re paying for. On the bad side, their personnel (both calibrators and floor sales people) aren’t all of the caliber that most of us would consider appropriate and necessary. Not to mention the fact that their employee turnover rate is higher than many retailers’ inventory turns and it’s pretty much a given that their best calibrators will not hang around for more than a year or two.

I’ve invested a lot of time, energy and money in becoming an ISF-certified calibrator and am hopeful that this was a somewhat isolated incident and is not indicative of what customers are experiencing at the average BB location.

Rob Robinson

Posted by Michael  on  11/04  at  03:20 PM

I remember the days when I would walk into Best Buy and see a display that showed how great Monster Cables were and how much better the picture would look if you simply bought their $149 component video cable.  Same TV’s, Same DVD Player, Same DVD. but one was connected with composit and the other component.  Of course you’d have to be a complete geek to crawl behind the display and look at the actual connections to find out about this scam.  To answer the question about whether or not this is a scam: ABSOLUTELY.  It is false advertising in its most complete form.  If this was Enzyte, they’d be in jail for 25 years & a $500 mil. fine.

Posted by Derek  on  11/04  at  07:02 PM

I was in a Circuit City and saw the exact same scam Michael noticed at BB.  After seeing a Monster Cable “comparison” display with identical monitors and DVD players connected showing the same Ice Age DVD, and noting the massive image quality difference I immediately looked at the back of both units.  Surprise, surprise, the Monster display had component cables connected and the non-Monster set had the cheap composite video cable connected.  I then questioned the sales “kid” working that department as to why they were running an unfair comparison and he told me that is how they were told it was to be set up and that is how they showcase the Monster product!  I gave him and the other sales person a piece of my mind about blatant fraud, but they didn’t care and I eventually left.  Now I understand why consumers shopping for electronics feel the same why I do when looking at a used car!

Posted by ISF456  on  11/04  at  09:03 PM

Look, If the employee did not know how to use the display, I cannot defend that. On this demo you speak of, there is a bluray player that is hooked up to both tv sets, playing the same dvd to the tv’s (it is going through an amplified HDMI splitter). If the employee worked in that department, they should have been able to change the input on the tv sets to show you a difference using the same source (not an HD/SD sportcenter picture). Now, before you knock the ISF calibration services, you need to speak to somebody that is familiar with the demo at a store, whether it be Best Buy or anywhere else. You can get excellent information at or the imaging science foundations website.

Posted by Chris  on  11/05  at  07:22 AM


As an ISF certified calibrator, I would like to comment on this.

I will agree that having a SD signal on one TV and a HD signal on the other is a little misleading.  However, the calibration is about achieving realistic looking COLOR, not so much image sharpness/clarity. Sometimes more detail is realized after a calibration, but not always (a lot depends on the TV) and I never promise that. 

Many stores DO have an HD vs HD comparison and I suppose the demo in question is to be a two-fold comparison: the benefits of HD, AND the benefits of calibration.  Obviously I cannot speak directly to what any particular salesperson may or may not have said.

To address the heat and power consumption issue…  It CAN make a difference.  Compared to out of the box settings (which tend to be very bright and vibrant), a calibrated TV does usually use less power and generate less heat.  Largely due to the lower amount of blue in the white after calibration.  Blue is a rather hot, harsh color contrary to popular belief.  Most people think blue is cool and red is warm.  These are subjective terms.  In reality it is the exact opposite (think of a flame…  red hot, white hot, blue hot).  When there is less blue in the picture (by way of the white), the TV does not work as hard, therefore lowering power consumption and heat.  Think of driving a car in the red all day (like a TV with a bunch of extra blue)...  it will run hot, guzzle gas, and not last as long as it could.  Same with a TV.  Tone it down a notch and run it “correctly” (and by that I mean TECHNICALLY correct), and it lowers the energy (fuel) use, runs cooler, and lasts longer.  The difference in that analogy (before someone comments on it) is that it is not blatantly bad for a TV to run with extra blue (as it would be for a car to be driven in the red), but it is better for it to not.

The important thing to keep in mind is that these gains in performance are very relative to where you are starting from…  ie. a Sony or a Toshiba tend to be further off and hotter out of the box than a Samsung or a Panasonic.

As for doing it yourself… yes, there are DVD’s that will help you set the contrast, brightness, etc…  and some will even help you select the color temperature setting that is CLOSEST to correct, but it is very rare that a TV will turn out “correct”.  In many cases, it will turn out wrong in the opposite direction and not be as colorful as it should be(not enough blue). 

A certified ISF technician will enter the service menu (on most TVs…  something you should NOT do, as you can break your TV and void your warranty) and actually adjust the color of white to be the correct, industry standard color of white.  The same color of white that cameras should be set to when filming.  White is used as the reference point for the entire color scheme in the TV and when it is wrong, everything else is too.  This is the bulk of the service.

They also use a very sophisticated, expensive colorimeter set that precisesly measures that color and displays it’s coordinate on the CIE color graph, which is the goal… not neccesarily the 6500K you often hear about.  It is very near 6500K, but what many people don’t understand is that multiple points on the graph can have the same color temperature.

Can any TV benefit from a calibration?  Yes.  Is it for everyone?  No.  I would say that 98-99% of the time, when I am done calibrating a TV, people see exactly what I am talking about and enjoy thier picture.  Every now and then I run into someone who does prefer the picture to be more on the bright and vibrant side.  That is their opinion and they are certainly entitled to that.  To each his/her own.

Posted by Lee Distad  on  11/05  at  09:29 AM

To be fair, there are legitimate reasons to run demos from multiple video outputs.  Back in the day in my old store we demo’ed the benefits of the then-new component video by running composite, S-video, and Component to three different 32-inch CRT sets from the same DVD player.

However, we were absolutely crystal clear about what we were doing and why, and communicated that to customers.  This doesn’t appear to be the case in this particular story.

Posted by derreck  on  11/05  at  02:27 PM

Are these people really that dumb or that smart?
I say if your in business you tend to know what your doing…

Posted by Stan Gordon  on  11/05  at  02:30 PM

I went to my local Best Buy last week looking to purchase Video Essentials or similar BluRay calibration disc.  Unfortunately, they had none in stock.  But they wanted to sell me an ISF calibration.  My recollection is that two years ago BB had all kinds of video calibration discs.  Not any more!

Posted by Kris  on  11/05  at  02:49 PM

Having read the letter I would tend to agree that the BB store in Charlotte is not giving the customer an accurate example of what calibration can actually do.  I also do not know how long ago this letter was written because we were told in my store (I work in the Home Theater dept in a BB store south of Indianapolis) that we cannot give reduced power consumption or heat as a benefit of ISF Calibration, only improved detail.  This is also not the same display in all stores.  My store has a similar set up but instead of advertising calibration we are advertising the difference between standard and hi-def.  If a customer wants to see the difference between factory settings and calibration we have a blu-ray player with an hdmi splitter and play them a clip of a movie.  Same source, same connection.  I just didn’t want every reader on here to assume that every BB store in the country is trying to mislead customers.  We try very hard to educate the best we can and give people an experience they will enjoy.  Thanks

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