The Pros and Cons of Extended Warranties
By Jerry Del Colliano
Anyone who has ever purchased an electronic device or component of any kind in the last 20 years has been offered the chance to buy an extended warranty. The question still remains as pertinent today as it was years ago: are extended warranties worth it? The simple answer is: it depends. In the old days of high-end audio and stereo you made investments in analog devices (speakers, amps, preamps, turntables, tube television sets), which were either awkward to move or were likely built with expensive analog parts. Todays home theater systems are built more like computers and have lifespans that reflect more on the disposable nature of their processors than the analog nature of high-end audio components of years gone by.
Not All Warranties Are Created Equal
When researching an audio-video investment, you should consider all of your options, as well as the likely lifespan of the product. The days of your first-generation VCR lasting you 18 years (not because you used a $40 head cleaning tape in it) are long gone. In the seven-year lifespan of DVD (amazingly its only been seven years), it is likely that you have invested in more than one DVD player for your system. Features change and prices drop, making home theater components more disposable, especially on the lower end of the spectrum of gear. For example, looking at an Asian-made mid-fi DVD player at $1,000 vs. one from the likes of a Meridian for many times more money, you have to weigh in the fact that Meridian has a proven track record for software and firmware upgrades, as well as a longer warranty than the more commodity-driven player. Oh, and the performance is way better, too but that is what you are paying for when you invest in a high-end component. Dealer support, reliability, performance, warranty and beyond is what you should absolutely expect on the high end. If you find that your performance needs are met at the lower end of the spectrum, then you might consider a cheaper player.
Assuming you invest in a cheaper player, you still have the question of whether you want to invest in a warranty on top of that. To help with the decision, I would look at a lower-end investment like a computer. How long will you use it? If it is only a few years, then you need to weigh the percentage cost of the warranty to the player. If it is more than, say, 15 to 20 percent of the overall cost of the player, skip the warranty. There will be a better player available when you need it for the same or less money. Another factor on the lower end of gear is the actual time it takes to service a product. Packing it back up (did you save the box?), dealing with the service center, de-installing and reinstalling the component and the cost of the lost entertainment during the downtime due to missing the component are all factors in whether you want to simply replace a component. Back to the higher-end gear, this is why you buy the gear from a top dealer and/or installer. For the money you paid, you should expect them to do the dirty work of getting your system running in the event of a problem. You might even expect a loaner while you wait for a repair. If you invest enough money (over say $100,000), I have heard of dealers who will send technicians to oversee your system for parties, replace projectors before the Super Bowl and beyond. While some people think paying $5,000 for a DVD player is insane when you can get a DVD player at Costco for $100, there are unquestionable advantages, even outside of sheer audio and videophile performance, to buying the expensive stuff.