How Sony avoids responsibility

In November 2003, I bought my wife a video camera, something which she had long wanted. We picked it out together, a Sony DCRTRV-19E, from the local JB Hi-Fi Stores. JB is the nearest electronics dealer to us and the prices are quite reasonable.

At the time, I asked the salesman whether the cam could function as a VCR in order to digitise analogue tapes on the little DV tapes. He replied in the affirmative but I did not take his word; as soon as we got back I opened up the pack and read the manual. It read thus:

You can record the tape from another VCR or a TV programme from a TV that has video/audio outputs. Use your camcorder as a recorder. You can connect either the A/V connecting cable (supplied) (DCR-TRV22E/TRV33E only) or i.LINK cable (optional).

As the manual was a common one for three models - the 22E, the 33E and the 19E, it was only logical to assume that the 19E could do the same via an iLink cable.

It was nearly two years later that I decided to convert some VHS tapes to a digital format in order to put them in DVD. I thought I would use the Sony digi-cam.

To my surprise, I found that the camera would function only as a VCP - it could play back tapes through a VCR but could not record from one.


I wrote the following letter to Sony:
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The Public Relations Manager
Sony Corporation
Japan

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to lodge a complaint about misleading product documentation which has resulted in my purchasing a Sony video camera which does not function as a VCR.

I bought a Sony Mini DV TRV19E from a local retailer in July 2003. At the time, I asked the salesman whether the unit allow me to record from a TV or VCR – in other words, whether I could use it as a VCR. He answered in the affirmative.

As soon as I got home, I opened the manual and checked whether this was true as I do not expect salesmen to know much about the electronics products they sell.. This is the heading from page 122 of the manual:

Recording video or TV programmmes (DCR-TRV19E/TRV22E/TRV33E only)

This leads one to believe that the TRV19E which I bought can function as a VCR and record input from a TV or VCR.

The manual continues on the same page: “You can record the tape from another VCR or a TV programme from a TV that has video/audio outputs. Use your camcorder as a recorder. You can connect either the A/V connecting cable (supplied) (DCR-TRV22E/TRV33E only) or i.LINK cable (optional).”

Since two of the models mentioned in the heading are said to be able to function as a VCR using the A/V cable, anyone would assume that the third model mentioned in the heading – the TRV19E – can be used to carry out the same function with the i.LINK cable.

Once I read this in the manual, I kept the TRV19E, convinced that it could be used as a VCR.

A couple of days back, I decided to convert some VHS tapes of mine to DVD. I thought I would use the TRV19E to digitise them first and then stream them into my Linux computer for burning to DVD.

I discovered that I have been misled by your documentation. The i.LINK cable can only be used for sending input from the DV camcorder to a computer as the connector at the other end is a firewire connector. And there is no A/V in on the TRV19E. only an A/V out.

Your manual has badly misled me – and I am a technology journalist who is very careful about reading manuals.

The DV camera cost me 1129 Australian dollars and I find it is a waste. I contacted your parts representative in Victoria but they are extremely rude and do not appear to know what customer service is. One man there spoke to me as though I was some kind of alien life form – in Australia, white people often tend to talk to people of Asian origin in this manner. I am writing to you because I know that Japanese companies are bothered about customer service.

I bought a Sony DV camera because I think you make good products – I still have a 19” Trinitron TV which I bought in Dubai 18 years ago (in addition to an 86cm Trintron which I bought last year).

Only today I threw out a Sony Hi-Fi system which I bought in Dubai 17 years ago – to replace it with a Sony home entertainment system. My VCR is also a Sony.

But in the case of the DV camcorder, I think I have been cheated by incorrect documentation. I would like to know your reaction to this.

Yours sincerely, etc

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Sony Japan did not reply directly - it would not have been possible to adopt the common method used in Australia and other Western countries, that of avoiding questions and trying to be smart. They sent the letter to their Australian operation and I received the following reply (note the horrible English which I have emphasised in bold):

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This is in reference to your letter dated 24 September 2005 sent to Sony Japan and was referred to us to reply.


We regret to learn that the Salesman from your local retailer failed to provide you the correct information about the capability of your Sony Mini Dv camcorder Model DCRTRV19E which prompted you to raise this complaint. (Note: not a word about the fact that the complaint was about incorrect and misleading documentation).

We are also aware that the User Manual you received for your video camcorder also mentioned other models of Sony video cameras like DCRTRV22E and 33E. You stated in your letter, that you found that the information contained in our User Manual were misleading after finding that the DCRTRV19E has certain features that were not present in the other two Sony camera models. (Note: I had pointed that the DCRTRV19E lacked a feature which was present in the other two models - this woman is the team leader of customer relations and probably possesses a degree in communications!)

We feel (??? no logic, she just feels, so it must be right!) that the information published in the User Manual does clearly explain how to use each model and the required input and/or output required to be used in connecting them other electronic equipment such as the television or VCR. Although some customers may assume that all video cameras work and function the same, one must also bear in mind that the price of each model are also different depending on its features and the need of every customers.

The User manual are made simple to differentiate how each model should operate in performing specific work like recording, dubbing, etc.

We suggest that if you were given misleading information by the Salesman of your retailer about your specific needs that led you to purchase the above Sony video camera, you should seek legal advice about your rights as a customer and raise this issue with the retailer.

We wish to thank you for taking the time in bringing this matter to our atention and assure that Sony Australia Limited greatly value this customer feedback.

Yours sincerely,
Celest Rodriguez, Team Leader Customer Relations, Sony Australia Limited

My reply was as follows:

Dear Ms Rodriguez,

I refer to your reply (reference MC / 1786872) to my complaint about misleading product documentation for the Sony Video Camera DCRTRV19E, which was sent to Sony Japan and referred to you.

You have chosen to deliberately ignore my complaint – in the very first line of my letter I made it plain that I was not complaining about being misled by some retail salesman.

I was complaining about misleading documentation in a Sony manual. To refresh your memory, my first paragraph read as under:

I am writing to lodge a complaint about misleading product documentation which has resulted in my purchasing a Sony video camera which does not function as a VCR.

I am including herewith photocopies from your manual to substantiate the following paragraphs from my first letter:

This is the heading from page 122 of the manual:

Recording video or TV programmmes (DCR-TRV19E/TRV22E/TRV33E only)

This leads one to believe that the TRV19E which I bought can function as a VCR and record input from a TV or VCR.

The manual continues on the same page: “You can record the tape from another VCR or a TV programme from a TV that has video/audio outputs. Use your camcorder as a recorder. You can connect either the A/V connecting cable (supplied) (DCR-TRV22E/TRV33E only) or i.LINK cable (optional).”

Since two of the models mentioned in the heading are said to be able to function as a VCR using the A/V cable, anyone would assume that the third model mentioned in the heading – the TRV19E – can be used to carry out the same function with the i.LINK cable.

Does Sony take responsibility for its product manuals or not? One would think that the company should do so.

Big corporations often think that they can shaft members of the public and get away with it. Sometimes, these things do come back to bite them – witness the recent case of Eddy Stevens against Sony Computer Entertainment.

I await your reply.


I copied this to the Sony Corporation Japan and sent the following letter to them along with a copy of the relevant pages from the manual.

Dear Sir/Madam

This refers to my complaint to you, dated September 24, regarding my having been misled by your product documentation which resulted in my purchasing a Sony video camera which does not function as a VCR.

You chose to send it to Sony Australia for a reply – please see the reply which I received; a copy of it is enclosed.

It is written by someone who did not even bother to read what I wrote, as my reply makes clear. A copy of my reply is enclosed.


I  am also enclosing copies of the relevant pages from the manual as well, to illustrate the misleading nature of the documentation.

I await a reply from Sony Japan. Your company has some kind of reputation for customer service – do not lose it over a small matter like this.

With every good wish.