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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Today, while browsing in *very* high-end AV store, looking at CRTs for my Father, I beheld some truly high-end equipment. This store appeared to have an inkling of what they're doing, with most of the displays looking reasonably calibrated and all in dedicated rooms and set-ups. The salesman asked which display I owned, and after I told him the Panny ED plasma the conversation turned to the scalers his store sells:

ME: "Thanks, but fortunately the image on my plasma seems so close to optimum that I feel no need for a scaler."

Saleguy: "Well, YOU might be satisfied with the image you're getting, and that's fine. But I think you'd be surprised at the image quality with a scaler. You probably don't realize how much better your image can get."

ME: "Hmmm. Ok. Out of curiosity, do you want to show me one of your scalers?"


He takes me to a room with the Runco 42" plasma. It's a seriously high-end set-up: high end cables, dedicated feed from expensive Classe' DVD player, low lighting...the whole bit.

ME: "How much for the Runco plasma?"

Saleguy: " $27,000." (E.g, over $18,500 US).

ME: (Stunned silence. Blood rushes back into head). "Um...Isn't this Runco just my plasma - the Panasonic 42" ED plasma - re-badged at three times the price? What in God's Holy Name could justify..."

Saleguy: "Well, it's on sale for $19,000 at the moment - clearance. But Runco really went to town on this thing, and mostly you get the fabulous Runco outboard scaler with this display. (He points to the sleek, black Runco scaler above the DVD player). The scaler helps give you a better image than you'd ever get with this plasma without it."


He actually suggests that if I'm picky I should consider "up-grading" to the Runco, given it's superiority over the plain vanilla unit I own. I peer at the Runco plasma. It's playing Spiderman - which has been my number one reference disc. Seems reasonably calibrated, the image is pretty good, but...

ME: "And that's with the scaler?"

Saleguy: (proud) "Yup, amazing isn't it?"

ME: "You probably don't want to hear this, but I have to be honest: it doesn't look as good as the image I get at home with my Panasonic plasma. And, not to rub it in, I'm even using the S-Video connection from my Panasonic DVD player."

Saleguy: (looking at me like I'm from the planet IDIOT.) "What do you mean your picture is better? How is it better than this?"

ME: "Pretty much every way. It's sharper and less smeary, the color is more solid, there's less noise in the picture - it's just a better picture in every way than what I see from this Runco.'

Saleguy: "That's like telling me a Toyota is performing better than a Porsche."

ME: " What can I say? I've seen this DVD a million times on my plasma, and I'm used to seeing it look significantly clearer and more realistic. I can't explain why my Panasonic looks better than this Runco....but then again ...since you promised this display would justify the price tag with a better picture, perhaps I'm not the one who should be doing the explaining."

Saleguy: (switching to a delicate tone one uses when dealing with the mentally unbalanced): "Yes, well, I think I'd have to see your display to see what's going on there...something is probably not right....."

ME: "Thanks for your time, but I don't think I'll be picking up a scaler today."


Whus up with this kind of stuff? I was looking at a set-up, cables and DVD player included, going for over $30,000 Canadian. It touted all sorts of "image improvement" technology. Yet, it was handily outperformed by my off-the-shelf Panny plasma, and RP-91 dvd player (ok...so my one crazy item is my high-end Nordost S-Video cable...). I wasn't trying to be a prick, but then again it does p*ss me off that this guy would gladly have me spend a huge amount of money on a Runco, under the pretence it's a signifiantly better image than the Panny.


On the same note, there's the expensive Loewe Aconda 38" CRT direct-view - King of the consumer CRT display hill - a display any AV journalist will tell you is technically and aesthetically superior to current plasma technology. I recently spent some serious time watching my reference DVDs and HD images on the Aconda, under virtually perfect auditioning circumstances: a dedicated room; dedicated component feed from high-end DVD player to the Loewe; control over lighting conditions and control over picture settings to achieve the best image I could. And yet with DVDs the image from the Loewe was clearly inferior in over-all realism than the plasma. (The Panny is sharper, smoother looking, less processed looking...just more convincing). In fact, my non-HD Panny plasma produced HD signals easily competative with the Aconda's HD signals, and the HD plasmas were more realistic to my eyes than HD on the Aconda.


I think these experiences speak to a few things:


1. For some strange reason, no matter how much time and money a store seems to poor into their displays, that display will still look sub-par compared to what that display can look like at home. It's a mystery to me why, but there it is.


2. Perhaps there is a "system synergy" of components that one should really pay attention to. I don't know how else to explain why the image I get at home looks so superior to what I can find from the same plasma model in the stores - even from seemingly faultless store set-ups.


3. Don't Believe The Hype: No matter what kind of convincing sounding technical arguments are made for the superiority of a display, and no matter who the author of these arguments is - AV journalist, Company Spokesman, fellow AVSforum member - check things out with your own eyes. If you're picky - and most of us here are that ! - you may experience a different story when you lay eyes on the display.


Sorry for the ramble. My recent experiences put me in musing mode.


Over 'n out.


(BTW, this is not an anti-scaler rant by any means, or a plasmas-are-best rant. I'm just pointing out the disconnect that often happens between technical arguments and real-world subjective experiences).
 

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Rich,


You go boy! I personally don't have any experience with scalers, so I wouldn't know what to look for anyways. But I am looking into this HTPC thing and that is a scaler of a different type- time will tell I suppose.


Good read though.


Dave
 

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Its really a shame sales ppl are that way. Back when I had my 433cmx I went to a local gramophone and started looking at there stuff. I was peering at the pro800, the guy comes over and starts talking to me. Well I am not the most schooled person on this board but after talking to him for about 10 minutes he tells me I'm clearly the most educated customer (on plasma displays) he had ever spoke with. I am thinking, why because you cant feed me the stuff, and I am completing your sentences for you.


Then he laughs and says would you believe someone was in here early telling me that they were going to buy the industrial pioneer for half the price we have the elite for and expect the same picture? I didn't even waste my time.....I left.


-Chris
 

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Haha, thats classic Chris! These schmuks who work at the so called "high-end" stores are laughable. It's amazing what these guys know (or don't know),
 

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Rich,


It really gets frustrating with sales people when you realize they could be selling you a car or a house with the same ignorant passion.


As you know, as a director of photography, I originate images on film, which in turn are telecined, color graded and burnt on DVD for release. I find it really annoying to stand listening to most sales agents who are trying to sell me a set, and prove to me that they know more about it than I do!


I have the same Plasma set as you do, and I wish I could rave about it as much. I know my DVD player isn't at par with the Pany 91, and I think there may lie the difference. Incidentally, yesterday, when I turned on the set to watch Far From Heaven, the screen went crazy with vertical rainbow colored vertical lines, a bit like a bar-code but with lines in color. I pressed on/off, and it disappeared...strange.


Another thing Rich, after 5 months with my Pany, you are right, S-video looks and feels better, though it defies every technical logic possible why it should be so.


Cheers,


Nori
 

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If external scalers were so fantastic, the stores selling them would have viewing rooms set up for side-by-side tests of identical setups, one with the external scaler and one without.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Another note about today's experience:


Before I got into the scaler/Runco talk, my little boy and I walked into the store's "Home Theater" room, which was very high-falutin.' It was a top of the line Runco front projector set-up..$15,000 Stewart screen and a full Wilson surround set-up (with the $150,000 Wilson Grand Slamm speakers for left and right channel).


We were transfixed by Attack Of The Clones and stayed for an hour. On it's own terms the image was fabulous and I loved seeing AOFC in such wide-screen splendor...all those details that appear when viewing a cinematic-sized image, and the immersion of the experience. The amount of detail, and the smoothness of the picture was truly amazing. It looked like an ISF calibrated image. However, the contrast range and black level, while adequate to mimic the projected film look, were not on par with CRT direct views (or even, subjectively, with the Panny plasma). In analyzing the image, I'd flip flop between being amazed at how much cinematic detail this system rendered from a humble DVD, and missing the vividness, density and sheer gorgeousness I get from this DVD on the "emissive" technologies (including CRT, but particularly plasma).


What amazes me is that, tonight, I came home to the plasma, spun some DVD scenes and found the image amazingly satisfying, and realistic in some of the ways that $300,000 front projection system was not. Believe me, I'd never try and convince someone a humble little plasma is a substitute for a great FP system. But it just blows me away how plasma offers a different look that, in it's own way, can satisfy me as much as that FP system.
 

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Rich, as always I agree with you on virtually all points. It reminds me of my amazement at Runco prices and my perception of their picture. EVERY Runco I have seen at EVERY store I have seen them at does not look right. There is always a very strange color bias along with noise I don't see on Pannys or Fujitsus. When you tell the salesguy that the Fujitsu picture is better (hanging right next to the off-color Runco) you get that infamous "stare" along with "Well I'd have to disagree with you". I point out how the whites are not white, the pervasive color bias that taints all areas of the picture, the noise etc. etc. You then get the pitch about the scaler, superior electronics and modifications made to the stock Panny glass. Whatever was done seems to have ruined a perfectly good Panny plasma.


Your observations of FP is also one of the reasons I'd never consider it (aside from light control issues). The lack of "punch" despite the nice detail is a real deal break for me.
 

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Runco caters to people with too much money who want to own something with snob appeal.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by rogo
Runco caters to people with too much money who want to own something with snob appeal.
Seems to me they could at least provide a better name for the money. It reminds me of Ronco.
 

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I think the big thing about Runco is that they stopped keeping up in a world they just about invented. I used to work (back in ye olde college days) for a very high end Home Theater store down south doing installs. This was around the 10-12 year ago range. Many of the installs we did ranged in the $100 - $200k range and this was that many years ago. I can remember one of the first JBL Synthesis systems I got to install, which included a Runco front projection system. We added a Farouda line doubler, and the picture was truly amazing. Nothing I had seen compared for a true Home Theater experience. I can remember sticking in the Star Wars Definitive Collection Laserdisc (we used Return of the Jedi) for the first movie once we had everything calibrated. I honestly felt it was better than seeing it in the theater (not to mention the original THX intro on a JBL Synthesis audio system was better than sex), and we all just sat in awe and watched. The proud new owner even asked us to stay and watch the whole movie (the LD was from my collection, and he wanted to see it) which was, to me at least, an incredible tip.


Problem is, it doesn't seem like Runco did much to improve on their original work, and all the while, the competition caught up, and in many cases surpassed them.
 

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Anytime technology is changing on so many fronts it is impossible for a single company to know enough about where the next advance will come from. Who will debut the next Teranex killer de-interlacer or scaler chips in a year or two ?? Will Sony or TI or one of the LCOS gang introduce the first reasonable priced 1080 imager ??


The pace of change bodes well for us consumers but must drive the companies utterly daffy. As IBM found out a while ago the king of the hill won't be king for life. There is no "Devine Right", just a lot of running double time trying to keep up.
 

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Runco basically defined the high end home theater market when it was in its infancy. They took commercial products, rebadged them, tripled the price and then sold these products through high end AV dealers. These type of products were otherwise not easily accessible to the wealthy consumer who did not have the extensive knowledge or the ability to set these products up in a home.


Home theater is no longer in its infancy. High quality products are now available to the mainstream consumer through mainstream channels. They are reasonably easy to set up as well. Just like in automobiles, what was once cutting edge like ABS brakes are now present even in low end cars. I think Runco will have to reinvent itself in order to ultimately survive. There will be little reason to buy the rebadged Runco product when one can buy the OEM product at 1/2 of the price, unless you are stupid or have money to burn. I think Runco has made its fortunes, but the goose with the golden eggs is becoming barren.


Rich
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by R Harkness



Whus up with this kind of stuff? I was looking at a set-up, cables and DVD player included, going for over $30,000 Canadian. It touted all sorts of "image improvement" technology. Yet, it was handily outperformed by my off-the-shelf Panny plasma, and RP-91 dvd player (ok...so my one crazy item is my high-end Nordost S-Video cable...). I wasn't trying to be a prick, but then again it does p*ss me off that this guy would gladly have me spend a huge amount of money on a Runco, under the pretence it's a signifiantly better image than the Panny.


I think these experiences speak to a few things:


1. For some strange reason, no matter how much time and money a store seems to poor into their displays, that display will still look sub-par compared to what that display can look like at home. It's a mystery to me why, but there it is.


2. Perhaps there is a "system synergy" of components that one should really pay attention to. I don't know how else to explain why the image I get at home looks so superior to what I can find from the same plasma model in the stores - even from seemingly faultless store set-ups.


3. Don't Believe The Hype: No matter what kind of convincing sounding technical arguments are made for the superiority of a display, and no matter who the author of these arguments is - AV journalist, Company Spokesman, fellow AVSforum member - check things out with your own eyes. If you're picky - and most of us here are that ! - you may experience a different story when you lay eyes on the display.


Sorry for the ramble. My recent experiences put me in musing mode.


Over 'n out.


(BTW, this is not an anti-scaler rant by any means, or a plasmas-are-best rant. I'm just pointing out the disconnect that often happens between technical arguments and real-world subjective experiences).
Yeah, I don't understand *why* some stores make the Plasmas look absolutely terrible. :confused: One would think that since the bigger ticket items probably have the highest profit margins, vendors would spend some reasonable time to making them look as good as possible!


I have an explaination for *how* it (1) happens:


a) Lighting. Stores have tons of ambient lighting, which tend to make the picture look washed out. i.e. crank the brightness, and you'll see an aproximation. Blah. Our eyes percieve brightness on a logarithmic scale (not linear), so that naturally raises the question - "What the heck has the gamma set to?" My guess is that it's probably at it's default setting. :( Since lighting influences people's moods, stores don't have "cave-like" lighting that we typically do when watching movies.


b) Color. Since most people watch movies in a typical dark setting, this effectively makes the the contrast and brightness better. How many salespeople actually calibrate the tint and hue? Oh wait, they eyeball it. Nice to see the same shade of red looking like a fricken rainbow on all the different TVs! (Sorry, pet peeve)


c) The other problem is they typically split the signal umpteen times to have their all displays show the same image. "Ooooh, look, I can compare the (crappy) image on this TV to the next one beside it." NOT! I also highly doubt they use some sort of "image boost" hardware to keep the signal strength at the same level. Sorry, don't know the proper name -- I'm a computer graphics guy, not a video guy :p


d) Cables. Do they use component cables on ALL the displays? Unfortunately no. More likely they use the cheapest and closest s-video/composite cable lying around. Great! Degrade the signal even more.


I'm certainly no expert! (Heck, I'm still unclear on what exactly the MHz gray bars on the Avia DVD are demonstrating. I have a hunch they are showing the Nyquist sampling theorem, but I'm not sure what I should be looking for.) So, OK, I can understand a little ignorance -- but come on salespeople, you do this for a living! A little familiarity with Picture Quality wouldn't kill ya. A big Thumbs-Up for "schooling" the saleman, Rich! :cool:


Comments?


2. Synergy -- that's an interesting theory! I wonder if it happens because certain products are engineered in the "same mindset." ? i.e. The same attention to certain details. I think your theory complements the "weakest link" theory very well. I hate buying crap consumer gear, because one's system is only as good as your lowest quality component.


Diverting the thread slightly...


Rich, how did you find out about the Nordost cable? I wouldn't mind a PM on a relative price, and where a good place to buy it from would be, if you don't mind. :cool:


... and bringing it back on topic:


I also find it really strange that s-video looks better the component on the Panny. I have a theory, but can't confirm it until my plasma arrives (going to be a LONG week waiting :D) I actually have seen this "problem" in a slightly different form (well, actually 2.)


1. Moving from a computer monitor (CRT) to a LCD, thoughts went: " Why does everthing look like crap on the LCD? Oh wait, the LCD is *sharper*, I'm seeing all the flaws in the low resolution. Plus CRTs has free anti-aliasing built in." DOH!


2. Playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 on a cheap Sanyo via composite, and then on a Sony Vega via s-video. I hated the extra crispness at first. I eventually warmed up to it once I went back to the composite. "Why does everything look so blurry on this Sanyo?!" :D I also have a dual monitor setup (both at home and work.) Once monitor is a CRT, the other is a LCD. Probably preach'n to the choice here -- I find the CRTs to be "slightly blurry, but has a good gamut" (better for pics), and the LCD to be razor sharp, but it's gamut is bad compared to the CRT (awesome for code though!) due to it's terrible viewing angles.


I have a pretty good eye for finding artifacts, IMHO, so I'd like do some cable tests -- both s-video, and component, using cables from Radio Shack, and Monster (This Nordost cable sounds interesting!) -- and see what the differences are.


I got a good buddy who just picked up a Canon G3. He's still learning the camera (so many options!), but his PQ skills are almost improving daily. I'll post pics once I'm done, but that unfortunately, probably won't be for a month or two. (Want to give something back to this great forum that gave me a ton of golden info.)


Digressing, every so slightly (but notes that this is a LCD forum as well :p) -- If anyone has any good tips for taking high-quality pics of LCDs, I wouldn't mind hearing about it! Something about the 60Hz and polarized light seems to make this more difficult then it should be. :(


Now, if only we could get some GWII owners posting pics!


MFusick, if you're reading this -- since we're almost neighbors, maybe you could arrange a private "shoot-out" between the Panny Plasma and Sony GWII ;)
 

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I hate that kind of sales approach. I hate to think of all people who are sucked into that crap and throw away their money. This doesn't just happen with high-end stuff. People who buy low-end equipment are pushed into buying stuff they don't need just as often.


NEVER let anyone (especially sales people and people who post on internet forums :) ) tell you what should look or sound good to YOU.
 

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I for one am not the least bit suprised that RHarkness' home setup surpassed the Runco at the store. For one, very often the setups at the stores are played around with constantly and are out of adjustment. Second, Runco is nothing more than custom menus and spray paint. I had a tour of their "factory" once, and you could see the "production" line where they were spraying the NEC CRT projector cases black and adding the "Runco" badge. The menus on the projectors were then optomized. Quite a markup for a badge and spray paint.


And those who posted that many (not all by any means) high end salespeople are really clueless, hit it on the money. You really do get the feeling sometimes that prior to selling home theatre, some of these fellas were selling encyclopedias or used cars. And don't believe the "well, we're pricey because we provide service and advice" BS either. I once visited a local high end emporium in Palo Alto on El Camino next to the Town and Country Center, to purchase some in-wall speakers. There were multiple salesmen in the store and no customers. When I walked in the CSR barely managed to look up from what he was doing and muttered "what do you need?" I explained how I was looking for in wall speakers. He waves his hands at a display and says "those are our in wall speakers. We only carry the best so any of those will do." He never asked me any questions about my setup, the room, the flooring material, intended use for the speakers, etc. I walked over to the display, noted that they were a B&W dealer, and walked out. I would have gotten more "service" from the kids over at Circuit City. And at least they will come down off MSRP.


In looking back at my home theater setup, all the equipment I have has been purchased as a result of research from forums like this one, or in the case of my front projector, on the advice from my home theatre ISF guru. I have given up on getting sound advice or relying on the retailers to properly display the products.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Interesting replies so far. Thanks.


It still has me scratching my head how so much expensive equipment -expensive cables, expensive DVD player, expensive plasma, expensive scaler, low ambient lighting - all aimed at achieving a higher level of image quality, could still fall short of the performance offered by my off-the-shelf items. It really looked like the store folk did their best in the set-up...so it's weird they could not achieve better. (I should say the Runco looked very good...but no better than any Panny I've seen in other decent store set-ups).


Also, I don't really blame the salesman. He no doubt believes in the Runco product, and some wacky customer saying he gets a better image at home with a modest Panny and DVD player...with S-Video connection? Get atta here! I only wished I could magically teleport my plasma directly beside the Runco, to see his skepticism melt into amazement :) (And the "uh-oh" scramble of the staff to explain why the Runco is still worth the money might have been amusing...although following the logic of this fantasy, I suppose I'd have to do a little explaining about the whole teleportation thing too....but I digress....).


On the system synergy thing: I find the S-Video signal on my Panny sharper and clearer both for DVD signals AND with my digital cable box. Therefore I suspect the Panny has a particularly good S-Video input.

But it seems the same requirement is made of the source component. From what I've read, my RP-91 DVD player apparently has a stellar interlaced output. I brought home the Panny RP-82 DVD player, said to have the same video DAC, but better de-interlacing chip. It was THE hot ticket in DVD players. However, the S-Video signal from the RP-82 wasn't as good: it was slightly smeared, whereas the RP-91 is pin-sharp. I'd tentatively assume that perhaps the RP-91 has better parts or engineering regarding it's S-Video output, making it a good mate for the plasma. (And perhaps the high-end Nordost cable is ensuring a perfect signal transfer).


You guys know I'm a plasma nut, and have demoed practically everything out there in the 42" to 50" displays. My Panny set-up isn't perfect for sure, and I've seen some really beautiful DVD images on other plasmas that did not have my Panny's flaws. However, this set-up can produce some DVD images that are more realistic than any plasma I've seen at any price. System synergy, I guess.


My plasma screen-shots gallery can help me explain in this way: Taking a still picture of a plasma image is cheating in one way, because it freezes any dithering or pixelating patterns within the picture...the processing that is present in most plasmas. So the picture looks smoother than the real plasma in action. What's freaky is that my Panny's S-video picture really does look virtually as solid as those photos...no noise, which makes smooth textures like skin look dense, solid, reach-in-and-touch-it real. When that quality is combined with the sometimes "perfect" looking sharpness of the Plasma/RP-91's S-Video image...well, it just raises the hairs on the back of my neck. I hope you understand it's not gloating or bragging...it's just something that has had me baffled and amazed so I can't help but spill my guts about it to the members of this forum.


-- To keep things in perspective, my Panny image is not leaps and bounds better than what I've seen elsewhere...we're talking subtle improvments...the stuff of videophiles. But it *just* edges out whatever else I've seen in some ways. Although a key point is I haven't seen the displays of other forum members, who have no doubt also attained better picture quality than found in the stores.


(HD is another ball-game by the way. I find the Panny ED model is handily out-gunned in HD images by many of the true HD plasmas ....particularly the 43" and 50" displays from Pioneer, Fuji, Panny).
 

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Now this will not be the most popular post and I hate poor salesmanship as much or more than the next man, but I've been on both sides of this process and can tell you we have (had actually, I left the industry 4 years ago...) just as many stories about stoopid customers. Understand my point though, as I'm not trying to defend poor salesman. However, if I had a dollar for ever person who looked at a perfectly calibrated 65' RPTV playing an HD signal and proclaimed loudly that his 15 year old 25" sharp looked 10x better...(!!) Or the guy looking for a "super" 8 camcorder (you mean "hi-8" sir?) who left without buying because I didn't know anything about camcorders. (!!) I'll stop here because my therapist warned me that we've havn't fully dealt with this period of my life :) but remember, there can be idiots on both sides of the sales process. It's a rare but rewarding transaction when both parties are informed and professional.

(BTW, I fully agree with the runco comments. very difficult to sell smoke and mirrors in this industry anymore...)
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
rockytt,


I agree and sympathize one hundred percent. It's a two-way street, and I've probably been one of those idiotic customers at some point.


Rich H.
 
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