/ Technology

Why are faulty products rushed to market?

Computer smashed with hammer

What is it with products being put on sale before faults and glitches are ironed out? This time it’s a Philips Freeview HD box (which, by the way, isn’t even made by Philips).

The World Cup was looming and the Freeview HD signal was just waiting to be plucked out of the air by one of the new Freeview HD boxes and watched by thousands of football fans. It’s no wonder then, that manufacturers scrambled to get their products out the door.

Digital TV’s a big deal to Which? members so it’s a big deal to us too. When the first wave of Freeview HD boxes launched, we rounded them up to deliver our initial verdict.

The Philips DTR5520 was one such box, and we arranged to borrow a model pre-launch. It’s probably worth me pointing out here that we only borrow products for our first look reviews, and all products we lab-test are bought anonymously.

Finding frustrating faults

We immediately found some rather frustrating niggles so returned it to Philips, suggesting it may be faulty. Philips sent a replacement, but it had the same issues. The box then became available to buy, so we bought a model. Disappointingly, the same issues remained.

The problems are detailed in our ‘Philips Freeview HD box fundamentally flawed‘ news story, but the crux is that the £160 box couldn’t perform many of its key tasks.

I thought I couldn’t be the only person to have encountered this flaw so I did a little Googling. Alongside the positive reviews on many websites, I found forum posts that had clearly been written by people who’d taken the product from its packaging and plugged it in.

Made by Pace, not Philips

The fault seemed quite common, so I got in touch with Philips again. I was told the box was only ‘badged’ as a Philips product (as if this acquits Philips), and that it was made by a company called Pace.

‘An over-the-air (OTA) update would be available’, Pace told me, ‘that will put this glitch straight’. I waited, but to no avail. I washed my hands of the product and sent it to our labs for proper testing.

A few weeks later I received a call from Pace telling me the boxes had now been fixed, but our box hadn’t received any OTA updates. Pace explained that we must have missed the OTA update, but they had a fully operational box for us.

So what about the boxes that have been sold around the country during the past few weeks? Pace explained that owners of these boxes would have to download the latest version of the software to a USB key, and then plug this into their boxes. I replied that we’d try to do what you expect other owners to do, thank you very much.

The saga continues

The instructions on how to update the box have now been sent to the lab. I really hope, for the sake of customers who have bought one of these boxes, that the process is successful and straightforward.

If it is, we finally have a work-around for a problem that should’ve been ironed out in Pace’s, (if not Philips’) quality assurance tests.

It seems that manufacturers can rely upon the ability to fix issues through software updates as a safety blanket. The recent case of Sony Vaio laptops overheating also springs to mind here. It’s not good enough though, as during the interim, there will be customers buying products that simply aren’t fit for purpose.

I’ll keep you posted on how our lab gets on with the Philips (Pace) DTR5520.

Mr Gus says:
15 July 2010

I agree. It's great that so many issues can be fixed remotely these days by a simple software update, but manufacturers shouldn't rely on this as a safety net. Consumers shouldn't be used as beta testers.

Dr W says:
16 July 2010

I can understand that it's sometimes impossible to spot every problem that could possibly be encountered by millions of users, but too often even basic functions are flawed.

Companies are too driven by sales, so just want to get products on to the market. But possibly consumers are too driven by the desire for the latest gadget to look past the gloss and question just how well something actually works…

Isn't this exactly what's happening with the latest Apple iphone? Loads of people rushed out to buy it only to find problems with reception and screen sensitivity, apparently.

Sure you can argue that we're all too eager to get our hands on the latest gadgets, but if they're in the shops I don't think it's too much to ask that they work properly.

This happens all too often. Products are rushed to market in an unfinished state and it's the early adopters that bear the brunt. If consumers were better at returning products as 'not fit for purpose' and demanding their money back, maybe manufacturers and retailers would think twice about releasing prototype products riddled with faults.

Andy Hessentaler says:
16 July 2010

All companies make mistakes. Its how they rectify them which is important.

Yep, I agree with Andy that a company's response to problems quickly separates the 'men from the boys', and certainly would affect my choices when buying any goods.

However, some mistakes really shouldn't occur, and indicate a company's complete lack of interest in the customer. Let's reflect that back to them, and maybe they will take a little more care!

Norrie Greenhough says:
23 July 2010

"Digital" will NEVER give perfect results as sound and vision are ANALOGUE and must be DIGITISED by sampling bits of the analogue signal, and NO sampler can ever be 100% effective.
Digital has been foisted upon us by self interested bodies.
The standard of broadcasting is rubbish, with the signal stalling or failing for a few seconds every few minutes, and the speech is often not synchronised to the picture.
BRING BACK ANALOGUE! at least out old equipment kept working, a little grainy or crackly, but now, any interfence and kiss it goodbye!

Roy Sidsaff says:
29 July 2010

In June 2009 I bought a Panasonic DMR-BS850 Bluray Recorder for around £850 from a Panasonic dealer.
The freesat recording function was almost unusable due to timer errors and I returned to the Panasonic dealer. He assured me he had sold many of these machines without problems. Panasonic also said they had no knowledge of timer issues and therefore couldn’t help.

I subsequently discovered on various forums very many people who were having exactly the same problems but still the dealer and Panasonic denied any issues.

The dealer eventually refunded my money in full.

Months afterwards Panasonic subsequently got in touch with me and said a disc would be sent containing revised software. The disc arrived and was Version 1.1 dated Nov 2009. Too late for me!

On 31st May this year QVC offered the Panasonic 850 at a bargain price so I ordered it expecting it to have the upgraded software but in any event the QVC guarantee is return within 30days for a full refund.

Incredibly the machine was still on Version 1.0 of the software and still had all the timer problems.
Meanwhile Panasonic’s website was giving details of Version 1.1 Nov 2009, Ver 1.2 Feb 2010 and Ver 1.3 May 2010 all available.

How could Panasonic have supplied hundreds, if not thousands of these machines with such outdated software knowing the problems the machines would have. This is absolute proof that the manufacturers do not give a fig for the end user. Fortunately I was able to download the required update from the net and the machine functions perfectly. Reviews of the item on QVC’s own website show that a lot of people are returning them due to problems including the timer issues.