Cheap LCD Displays: Beware, You May Get What You Pay For!

When To Buy Cheap LCD Displays, And When To Pay More

I always finding it interesting when a new customer of ours calls to let us know that they can find cheap LCD displays, the same LCD we supply, for almost half the price. After all, cheap LCD displays are the same no matter where you purchase it. Right?

Let me assure you that the phrase, ‘You get what you pay for’ is just as true for LCD displays as it is for insurance, fine jewelry, car repairs and open heart surgery. You will always be able to find a lower cost product or service, but many times you are not comparing apples to apples.

When I was in college I was as close to broke as one could be, but I needed a ratchet set to make repairs on the car. At first, I looked at the Craftsman brand of tools. They were steel, not Aluminum with a life time guarantee that any Sears store would honor. Then, I found another ratchet set at a drug store. It was next to the school supplies and hair products. The drugstore’s tool set was 1/3 of the cost. They were cheap, but hey, I am not a full-time mechanic; why invest in something I will only use a few times?

After talking to a friend at school who highly suggested spending the extra money and investing in the quality, I knew the choice to make. I bought smart instead of cheap and to make a long story short, 20+ years later my Craftsman tools are going strong. They have survived rain, grease, and teenagers. Not so ironically the drug store doesn’t exist anymore and I’m confident their products wouldn’t either had I purchased them long ago.

I now have an attitude that you need to look at each purchase as either an ‘investment’ or expendable item. Identifying an item as expendable is not bad, but you need to choose what is and what is not expendable. For me paper towels, razors, duct tape are all expendable items; whereas reading glasses, car tires, and smoke detectors are an investment.

There is a reason why some things cost more, you are buying the quality and support that come with the set of wrenches or tires or whatever the product. It may sound a bit capitalistic, but if the manufacturer is not making a solid profit, then there is a good chance they will not be around in a year to support you.

Cheap LCD Displays may have a cheaper price but it will cost you more

The word “cheap” is so polarized in that in one instance you can revel in the victory of finding that super low price and yet simultaneously it is no victory at all if someone looks at your product and says, “Wow, that looks cheap.” So, let’s talk about Cheap LCD displays.

The long and short of it is that LCD’s are in investment. In many cases, they are the most expensive component in your product, but you need to balance that with the fact that they are also what the customer looks at the most. If you are building a hand held device that measures the PH of pool water, it’s a safe bet that people will be looking at the display far more than the battery compartment on the back of the unit. The cheap LCD display may save you a fraction of what other suppliers are quoting, but what is it costing you? Return customers. Good online reviews. Word-of-mouth advertising.

There is a rule of thumb statistic that says it costs a company 7 times more money to earn a new customer, than it does to keep a current customer. So why would you save 20% or even 40% off the cost of an LCD and in return lose your current customers. The savings will not offset the increased advertising cost to bring in new customers.

Why some LCD displays are cheaper than others?

Another rule of thumb when comparing prices on cheap LCD displays is to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples.

LCD modules contain several options that affect the final cost. Let’s cover two: fluid type used and temperature ranges available.

Fluid type used in LCD displays-

There are three main fluids used in a monochrome LCD module. They are TN, STN and FSTN. Each fluid has its own niche in which it operates well. One of the main factors impacted by the different fluids is acceptable viewing angle of the display.

TN, twisted nematic, is the lowest cost fluid and has the smallest viewing angle. That means that as you rotate the display farther from center, it will become harder to read. A mistake would be to assume that a TN display is junk; rather, it serves as an excellent unit for a very specific set of products.

An example of a TN display is the display found on gas pumps. You can easily read the gallons and dollars as they quickly fly by. Since most people see the display straight on, there is no need for a higher cost fluid. TN is the right choice and keeps the cost of the product down.

FSTN, film super-twisted nematic displays, are on the other end of the spectrum. They are more expensive than TN and STN, but it offers a sharper contrast and a much wider viewing angle. If you are building a portable device that measures radiation, you want to make sure you can see the numbers on the display from as wide of viewing able as possible. Using a TN in the application may save you as much as 15% on the cost of the display, but is this type of product an investment or expendable?

Temperature ranges of LCD displays-

LCD displays are quite diverse when it comes to the temperatures in which they can operate well. Some even have as much and more than 100 degrees window of successful operation. There are three main temperature ranges of an LCD unit:

  1. Normal temperature (indoor temps—think of your living room)
  2. Wide temperature (moderate outdoor temps—think of California, Oregon, parts of the Midwest)
  3. Ultra wide temperature (-40C/-40F–think of extreme cold and hot environments like in Alaska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin or Florida, and specifically Phoenix where it gets hot, hot, hot!).

The cost difference between normal temp and ultra wide temperatures can be as much as 30%. Therefore, identifying the appropriate temperature range is critical to have the best device for the best price.

Take for instance one customer of ours who needed the display to work properly on oil rigs near the North Pole. Their product monitors the safety equipment on the rig. Is it worth spending the extra $5 on a display that can survive working in all conditions? Is the LCD display an investment or expendable?

What Support do you Receive from a Supplier of Cheap LCD displays?

We live in a global economy where various jobs and services have been outsourced. Many of these suppliers can provide cheap products, but often with that savings comes hidden costs. These costs are often to the quality of the product and the service you receive.

When a supplier is promising you the cheapest deal out there, you need to make sure that you are again dealing with an apples-to-apples comparison. Make sure that they aren’t saving you money by offering you a display that has the cheapest temperature range or the narrowest viewing angle, especially when those aren’t what will suit your product and your situation. They may just be choosing the cheapest alternatives of all the many options available, all to have you wind up with a unusable or inferior product. Then, you not only have a product you aren’t thrilled about but you face the problem of shipping the product back to the foreign country from which it came. This is not a convenient way to deal with the fallout from the “cheap” product! There is a real advantage to buying a product that has American support and part of that advantage is simply the convenience of speaking the same language and being within one shipping day apart from your customer support.

Another primary issue—and one that has become a sensitive topic in recent years with widespread outsourcing—is service. When you are calling for help with an issue, the likelihood is that you are already a little frustrated and just want the customer service representative to solve your problem with a quick, clear, and intelligible 2 minute conversation. When you spend a painstaking 20 or 30 minutes trying to explain the problem and understand the representative after you already spent 20 minutes in a phone tree or on hold waiting to talk to someone that is an intolerable situation.

We understand that frustration and at Focus Display Solutions we offer uncompromising customer service and we provide it in a way that we would want to be served. We strive to pick up the phone on the first ring. We can talk to you about the products from a knowledge based on years of experience and not from a script that someone else wrote to troubleshoot only the most common problems. When you call us you talk to humans, not machines. We offer personal service to get the product right the first time and we do it in a way that works with your personal style.

Some customers want to talk on the phone, some only like email. We cater to both. And by the way, we do not believe in the weekly ‘email blast’. This may have been helpful at one time, but when you receive 50 to 100 emails a day. You don’t need to read about, “A one day sale on yellow/green LED backlights. Call today and mention savings code 123!”

When Cheap LCD Displays can really hurt you

Recently, we were working with the engineer to design in a new monochrome graphics display. Our cost was around $18.

The engineer took our price and specs and called back a few days later saying that another LCD vendor came in with a similar product that would cost in the low $5 range. Red flags immediately went up in my mind. Something was not right about this cheap LCD display. The display was similar, but upon inspection there were some ‘strings’ attached.

I recommend to anyone looking to buy LCD displays to remember, “When you have a deal that is too good to be true, ask questions.”

Three critical questions to ask when you are offered a cheap LCD display:

1. Is this LCD discontinued or will be it discontinued soon?

This is critical if you plan to build your product for the next few years. You will need to purchase more of these exact LCD displays in the future. When that time comes and you find out that the LCD modules are discontinued, you are in deep trouble. Your only option is to redesign your product for the current LCD.

Redesigns are not only very costly, but they also take a good deal of time. All this time your assembly lines are stalled and your sales people have nothing to sell.

Keep in mind that if you plan to repair your customer’s product, it is critical to have a supply of the original LCD. You cannot use a new LCD in an old product in the same way you cannot use a VHS tape (for those of you over the age of 20) in a blue ray player.

A simple tip is to do a little research on the product. Google can be your best friend. When someone offers you a screaming deal on a cheap LCD display, type in the part # and manufacture into Google; you may quickly find out why the prices are so cheap.

2. Are these cheap LCD Displays refurbished or used?

There are companies that contact us to buy our surplus/returns. These companies are providing a valuable service by keeping displays out of the landfills. If you need to be able to purchase the exact same LCD in the future, stay away from refurbished units. Once they are gone, there are no rain checks. Many of these displays can be found on eBay and other online auctions.

If you need a display for a school project or Boy Scout project, they work great.

3. What is the FOB point of these cheap LCD Displays?

FOB means Freight On Board. In other words, when it comes time to pay the freight bill, how much will it cost? Are you paying to bring in the parts all the way from the Far East? Or does the quote include the cost to bring them to your door step.

Focus Displays Solutions prefers to include the cost of the freight of those component parts from the Far East to Chandler, AZ. This way the customer only has to pay for the shipping from Arizona to their location.

That engineer quickly realized that asking the three critical questions makes all the difference in the price of the product! Getting cheap LCD displays is not always a mistake, just remember to ask questions and really think through whether this is an investment or an expendable item.