How To Repair? The Death Of Schematics

There was a time when, if you were handy with a soldering iron, you could pretty easily open up a radio or TV repair business. You might not get rich, but you could make a good living. And if you had enough business savvy to do sales too, you could do well. These days there aren’t many repair shops and it isn’t any wonder. The price of labor is up and the price of things like TVs drops every day. What’s worse is today’s TV is not only cheaper than last year’s model, but probably also better. Besides that, TVs are full of custom parts you can’t get and jam-packed into smaller and smaller cases.

Case in point, I saw a “black Friday” ad for a 40-inch 1080p flatscreen with a streaming controller for $98. Granted, that’s not huge by today’s standards and I’m sure it isn’t a perfect picture. But for $98? Even a giant high-quality TV these days might cost a bit more than $1,000 and you can get something pretty great for well under $500.

Looking back, a Sears ad showed a great deal on a 19″ color TV in 1980. The price? $399. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that today that would be about $1,400. So with a ratio of about 3.5 to 1, a $30/hour service call would be, today, $105. So for an hour’s service call with no parts, I could just buy that 40″ TV. Add even one simple part or another hour and I’m getting close to the big league TVs.

Did you ever wonder how TV repair technicians knew what to do? Well, for one thing, most of the time you didn’t have to. A surprising number of calls would be something simple like a frayed line cord or a dirty tuner. Antenna wires destroyed by critters was common enough. In the tube days, you could pretty easily swap tubes to fix the bulk of actual problems.

Back to the Shop: Riders and Sams

Many shops would send out a junior guy to check out simple things, and then bring everything else “back to the shop” where someone who knew what to do would troubleshoot at the component level. Amazingly,  many TVs and other consumer electronics at one time had schematics inside the cabinet for the service person. They were often cramped, though.

A Rider page for an Admiral radio

There were better options. Rider would grab data from all the consumer electronics they could find and they would publish all of it in huge volumes, sometimes a total of 2,000 pages a year. Many of these old volumes are available on the Internet.

The other major publisher of service data was Sams Photofacts. These folders would have detailed information compiled about major TVs, radios, CB transmitters, and in a few cases, computers.

Sams is still around and will still sell you their Photofacts, so they are harder to find online. However, there are some around if you look. You can also often buy used originals just like you buy a used book. Apparently, the copyright is out on a few of the older ones and there are third parties that will sell copies of those, too. You can sometimes find them at libraries, too.

The Photofact folders were usually very detailed. They would show disassembly instructions and in addition to the schematic, show nominal operating waveforms for the gear, too. It wasn’t unusual to see a picture of a PCB with a grid of letters and numbers to help you find parts on a crowded board.

These were akin to the car manuals people often buy for their vehicles. Most service shops would buy these up and save them in case a certain brand of set came in again or the same set needed service later.


Parts were probably easier to find, too. Now you have many proprietary chips and assemblies that are difficult to source and may not even be marked. Tubes, of course, were ubiquitous. For other parts, service shops often relied on distributors like ECG, which became NTE. They would take parts with wide applicability and package them. They also produced cross-reference books that would tell you what parts you could use to replace common consumer electronics parts.

RCA also provided a similar service with RCA SK transistors and Motorola had HEP as their brand name. Generally, these parts were very expensive compared to what a hobbyist might pay, but they were readily available and were known to fit, so they were often used in the service business. NTE is still around and you sometimes find a store with stock of ECG or SK parts, usually in hanging plastic bags or blister packages.

Reuse, Recycle

There is something appealing about repairing things instead of junking them. It should be good for the pocketbook and it is certainly good for the environment. However, the sad case today is that many things are made to be unrepairable. Even if there were parts and schematics, unless you can do it yourself like many of us can, paying someone to do the repair is probably infeasible. Times have changed. Unless, of course, you can find a Repair Café.

97 thoughts on “How To Repair? The Death Of Schematics

  1. But you wouldn’t buy that $399 tv set today. It would be far cheaper. In 1982, you’d think in terms of how much of your salary it cost.

    The “good old days” was full of inferior technology, and very little in the home. So it didn’t matter how much that tv set cost, you weren’t buying a lot of stuff. Certainly in 1971, though changing by 1982, when I got my first color tv.

    I wasn’t going to toss my Radio Shack DMP-100 printer in 1982 when I spent about $500 on it. But with time, everyone wanted a printer, and all the other new marvels of the ages. The only way was to make it cheaper. For that matter, the DMP-100 was cheap at the time. You’d never get that printer with tubes or transistors.

    People without knowledge want to return to yesterday.

    1. I took this article as less of a commentary on buying power then vs now and more as relating how documentation and parts necessary for repair used to be more easily available. Don’t get me wrong I understand the level of complexity has exponentially increased but many manufacturers are now going out of their way to make 3rd party or self repair of even simple things impossible if not illegal (if they had their way).

      1. But it’s essentially the same problem.

        People who could afford expensive high tech back then could also afford to pay the repairman when it broke. Poor people who saved money for a year to buy a TV had no other option, because they couldn’t afford to have it replaced. It made sense to have a repair manual and a circuit diagram because that was a precious item worth fixing.

        That market doesn’t exist for cheap throw-away commodity products that are entirely based on labor being so cheap in poorer countries that a worker in the West wouldn’t spit at the ceiling with that salary.

        1. Modern TVs are sort of printed, like a chip. There aren’t groups of low paid workers slaving away. It’s almost all automated and clean roomed.

          Chinese labor isn’t _cheap_ anymore, there really isn’t much left that’s cheap and not an uninvestable nightmare.

          China has as much population as Africa. Most of Africa is still a bottomless money pit. Ask the Chinese how their investments are working out.

        2. Not even talking about labor, it’s that ANY documentation for repair even for personal use just isn’t easily/publicly available. That’s the problem. I get what you are working at though, if the margins are low for such cheap mass produced products then companies aren’t even going to bother releasing documentation as that’s just money down the hole in their eyes. But at the same time being shortsighted and accepting that kind of mindset just means we cant complain when we get exactly what we asked for.

    2. Excellent artcle on the history and current day thinking on repair of electronics.

      I am 81, a Ham, 60 years in systems engineering, and have seen it all. The future brings many changes from the Horse, Horse and Buggy, Semaphore and a million other things. I have the complete set of Sam’s Transistor Radio repair books and a 100 or so Sam’s Photofact books.
      I expect that the only place you will find any of these repair tools, or the products themselves, is at a Vintage Electronics Fair run by people who love to repair old electronics!
      Best, Adrian AB2IX

      1. No quite as old as you (just turned 60) but I worked in a CB & Car Stereo repair shop when I was in high school (I was the old kid in my electronics technology program to pass my 2d Class FCC license). Used Sams Photofacts quite a bit, but also learned how many electronics were repackaged under various names.

        But I saw the local of local repair starting to occur while I was in the USAF, as our black boxes were often repaired by swapping cards (if not the entire thing) and sent back to Warner Robbins.

        But it was fun watching the growth of the computer industry. Early computers may had personality, but I’m running Solid Works on my desktop that I’m typing this on. My C64 never had a chance though it was nice being to type papers on a word processor w/spell check vs a typewriter!

        Steve KI4WGI

    3. “People without knowledge want to return to yesterday.” … not true. Actually one can learn lots from the past. Secondly, today we are all spoiled in the sense we can through more and more tech at something to solve a problem. Back in the day a person had to understand the problem and then compromise a solution based upon what we now consider old and dated tech. I would submit that those from the old days were far more intuitive, creative, and resourceful because they actually could solve problems without the need of the infrastructure that a lot of today’s people require.

      1. Yes, we had to solve problems creatively, with simple tools and simple components. A soldering iron, light bulbs, caps, resistors, a transformer, and some wire could create a lot of simple but cool circuits.

        Today you can buy all those kinds of solution pre-packaged inside an IC, along with so much more. Those ICs have been tested, FCC certified, and optimized to the point where they can sip power off of a coin cell for a year or two. A device no bigger than a couple quarters can now locate your position on the planet to within centimeters, and for about $12 a company located on the other side of the planet will put one in your hands within a few days.

        Today we stand on the shoulders of giants. We often don’t recognize it because even more giants have shrunk those giants down to a set of 20nm resolution components on a silicon die. So when we think of “the good old days”, it’s usually because we’re overlooking “the amazing current days.”

      2. A state of the art FPGA won’t do a damn thing for you if you don’t understand the problem.

        Tools have changed, but Engineering remains a challenging occupation. Our reach has only grown. Understand then implement remains the rule. There are exceptions. e.g. Javascript library ecosystem/steaming piles.

        ‘Throwing tech at a problem’ is MBA thinking. It hasn’t changed either. Morons existed in 1950 and in ancient Egypt (e.g. bent pyramid, monument to ancient MBAs).

    4. I think in many ways I’d rather go back to before I was born methods of doing things, as I don’t think ‘you wouldn’t buy’ that x today in such a situation – as folks do still spend for quality, size or reliability etc way over the cheaper end and then keep it for ages, especially in Audio gear.

      What would change is the disposable nature of what you buy – which really does need to change.

      Nobody can deny that technology has moved forward in performance and relative affordability, doesn’t mean we have to applaud some of the other things that have become part of that. For instance I had a ‘smartphone’ – all the functionality of the early smartphones and more, but before anybody coined that term, second hand long before Android or Apple phones existed and I kept it for a very very long time as it was built to last, swappable battery (not that I actually needed to IIRC) and it just worked. Was actually pretty cheap compared to the better end of the ‘dumb’ phones everyone else was using too being already several years old…

    5. “The “good old days” was full of inferior technology, and very little in the home.”

      Msybe, but I don’t agree. I think this 20th century technology was quite interesting. And the built quality was nicer, too, imho. Less plastic, more metal.

      Nowadays technology is far less interesting to me. Maybe because there’s no real development anymore, not sure.

      To me, every year looks the same. CPUs get faster, the transistor count increases, even more miniaturization, GPUs need more and more power/their own PSU.. But that’s it. It’s the same old story, year after year.

      If you presented me a graphics card from 2005 as a current model, I wouldn’t notice it was old. Except through its moddest power draw.

      Anyway. Where’s real holography, with lasers?
      Or rear-projection screens with lasers?
      – red, green and blue (or violet) lasers are available since the 2000s, at least.

      Or, where are PC monitors with E-Ink in colour?
      Where are TVs with an AMOLED screen (not OLED backlight)?

      Or, where are rudimentary synthesizers for scents? So we can smell the roses in a TV film or the flowers in an e-mail?

      Where’s that wonderful future? In the 90s, we had seen prototypes on TV of so many interesting things.

      Best wishes, Joshua

      1. >If you presented me a graphics card from 2005 as a current model, I wouldn’t notice it was old. Except through its moddest power draw.

        Yes you would, as in, it wouldn’t even play Youtube correctly anymore for lacking a suitable hardware acceleration API. It would also struggle to run anything on a 2K monitor, even games that were released 15 years ago since the standard gaming resolution back then was barely 720p.

        1. In 2005 you’d get something like an X800XT 256MB. At 1080p your framebuffer size is about 132 megabytes or half your video RAM, or 199 MB if triple buffering. Any other asset must fit in the remaining video RAM. Don’t even dream about adding a second monitor.

        2. I meant from the way it looks.. Of course an old GPU does lack modern API support and a modern video decoder. How couldn’t it? I’ve bought a Geforce 8+ graphics card for video acceleration (YT, via Flash 10.2?) in ~2010.. Anyway, a GF FX 5200 from 2003 had Direct3D 9/Shader Model 2 and was capable of rendering Vista’s fancy then-new Aero Glass interface, at least. In so far, my statement wasn’t *completely* off from a technical point of view. I didn’t mention video games, because I didn’t think about those – just normal applications. But if we consider games, then yes, of course you’re right. 🙄

          1. Though a video card from 2005 would not be such a power hungry beast because we weren’t yet into the multi-core 1000 shader core GPUs. Back then GPUs were more like accelerators for specific function calls which were otherwise computed in software – not general purpose vector cpus.

            So they did look quite different. Compare:



          2. Of course you could tell from how it looks (unless you live under a rock). Single slot design (instead of 2-4 slots taken today), single fan on a small radiator covering only the GPU chip itself (instead of 3 fans on a heatsink covering the whole board and more), single 6 pin PCI-E power connector (instead of 3x8pin), VGA and DVI outputs (instead of HDMI and DisplayPort).
            And it’s not about API support, it’s about fixed-function hardware present for tasks like decoding video from modern codecs, without bothering the general purpose cores on either the GPU or the CPU.

  2. One reason I kept an old boom box and started to fix it up was I could still get the schematics for the Panasonic RX-DS620. That and I did not know what some buttons did until I looked at the manual and the schematic.

    At the moment it is the audio output for an I-7 laptop with the 1/8″ plug.

    Plus, as a bonus, someone is offering 3D printed gears for the RX-DS620’s tape player. The only thing not working yet is the CD player, that is next on the list.

    Though if I was doing this for someone else by the hour$, it would have been far cheaper to just go buy a USB powered speaker set made in China from Staples.

    1. But would it still be cheaper in 5 years time when you have had to buy 20 more disposable Chinesium quality speakers?
      Sometimes things are actually a really great investment, even if they seem pricey at the time as you are not really comparing like with like at all!

    2. I look at a lot of things as “Initial cost vs reliability”

      Sure it may be cheaper to go buy a new one; but if I repair the one I’ve got, I know how to work around in it and generally make sure to put in higher quality components if I can source them.

      Next time I crack it open I’ll be faster.

      In the long run, buying cheap replacements adds up if they’re unreliable.

    1. We are seeing this now with more and more “cheap” electronic items being dumped in landfills, underdeveloped countries,etc … Garbage is one things, but the vast majority of today’s electronics are comprised of toxic chemicals, etc which make their way through the planet and food chains.

      1. What exactly would you consider as civilized about the behaviour of humanity in the current age?

        Continual war over resources? Pollution that actually dwarf nature as far as destructive potential? Exploitation of the weak and vulnerable?
        While nature can create toxic substances they break down unlike the permatoxins that are starting to show up…worth it?

      1. Most name brand smart LCD TVs reset the brightness to 100% on power cycle. It’s a racket.

        It’s another advantage of dumb 4k TVs. They remember simple settings. I’ve only found one source, house brand. Actually better. Same IPS display.

  3. I don’t agree with the article, or at least not entirely. I still get called upon regularly by friends and family to fix things – if it’s expensive enough or liked enough that they’ll want to try it.

    Quite often a lot of the faults are simple, and easy enough to track down without a schematic. Got a tv that’ll power up briefly, then shut off? or wont power on? chances are somethings gone wrong with the power supply. Open it up, pop the protective cover and oh look, the electrolytics have leaked… or there is a badly burnt resistor right near a power transistor or mosfet.

    Having a fault finding mindset is essential.

    1. Very well said. I was thinking along the same lines in that many of the younger folks just don’t have that mindset required to “tinker” and solve problems without being given step by step instructions to do so.
      Growing up in the ’80s, I definitely took apart my fair share of electronics to see how they worked and in many cases to fix them. To this day, I fix many things for others that would otherwise cost large sums of money to have serviced or replaced.
      When I do guest lectures for Engineering courses at local colleges, I am amazed at the lack of interest in “tinkering” from actual Engineering students.

      1. I have also sensed this. What is the solution? Maybe throw everyone a rubics cube? They would all then proceed to YouTube to look up the algorithm. So maybe throw them all a rubics cube and simultaneously block YouTube.

        What are some other activities that could lead to the desire to problem solve and troubleshoot?

        Maybe hide a Bitcoin inside a CTF…..

        1. Geeks are born not trained.

          Let the kids have access to Rubic’s cube type puzzles. Put the ones that take to them in better schools.

          The ones that are ‘made’ will suck at it and hate it anyhow. I’m sure you know a CS that picked the major because salary surveys, didn’t know how to code at start of college. Are ANY of them useful?

          1. I pulled apart plenty of electronics back in the day. Now I make electronics for a living. Never got into Rubiks cubes, or any puzzles really. Why mess with something that’s _designed_ to fuck with you, when you can experiment with something real?

  4. Though VLC and JRiver players can do everything my Pioneer Elite LX500 BD player can and much more (assuming you also have a pair of stereo DACs or a multichannel DAC for surround sound), it will be sad when there’s no more parts for that sweet player. Even worse, as the streaming industry is killing off physical media sales, it will get harder to even find techs willing and able to do component level troubleshooting and source any discontinued proprietary parts.

    1. Physical media is unlikely to die IMO – some formats are seeing a resurgence as it stands now anyway.

      You may not be able to forever keep that early model running on period accurate parts but I think it fairly likely any of the better and common formats are practically immortal at this point. Partly for nostalgia, partly as the advances in tech make creating a good enough player for that media easy, but also as folks realise that a stream isn’t reliable go anywhere media and your purchased media can just disappear without warning from the online library anyway…

  5. It looks to me like modern tvs just have a lot of parts crammed into a single package. You can replace tiny smd resistors or capacitors for pennies. But any CPU or HDMI converter chip is going to cost a lot, and probably require replacing the whole board.

    1. I’m thinking forward what to do when I need a new TV. Maybe get the cheapest model I can find a good Displayport or HDMI converter board for the panel. Because you’d better believe I don’t want a roku/android/’smart’ TV.

      I am pretty sure I don’t want 4K under 60″ based on my viewing distance but it seems the only option.

      I do wish the wheel didn’t keep being re invented. Take parts like Lego and build simple interoperable machines. It will be cheaper because the parts are all mass produced and can be reused. Unlike the current trend of gluing the displays in. Dell and Apple are particularly heinous

      I’d love it if my phone ran on m.2 storage, even if only x2 lanes.

      1. My current TV is a 32″ 1080i Samsung dumb TV that gets used only to watch over-the-air TV (via my Topfield digital recorder box). Everything else I do (DVDs, YouTube, Netflix, other internet sites etc) is done on my desktop PC where I have a lot more control. I have zero interest in a “smart TV” and will keep using this current Samsung until it dies or becomes unusable.

      2. Sceptre house brand dumb 4K tvs. They’re bog standard IPS displays. Quality control is bad, but you can return a bad one if you get it. Most have no bad pixels. Some have crud between display layers, but that can be let to fall out of display by rotating and lightly snapping finger on display. Speakers suck.

        Using the smallest available 40” as a display. Not terrible, but not playing shooters either. 60Hz.

  6. A lot are feeling sorry for themself, but I remember my 1rst job in the 90’s-20’s that was in a TV repair shop, at this time a lot of old man only wants to work on CRT and was absolutly against learning new tech like SMD or plasma… Slowly the knowledge gets evaporate, no one new to take the turn, prices lowering and repairing was not the economical choice : buy > trash > buy again >… It’s not (only) the fault of the manufacturer, but we have dig our own graves.
    Years passed and now we are all agree that repair is the only way, but unfortunately the shops are empty.

  7. I paid my way through engineering school repairing televisions, stereos, and VCRs. For those with little opportunity, but good technical skills it was a good path from poverty.
    Aside from lost opportunities, there is waste. I find waste offensive in all of it’s costly ways. It sucks up manufacturing resources, forces up imports that impact balance of trade, it generates vast accumulations of waste materials, and it costs us from our pocket books. Who, after spending $500 on a television would rather dispose of another $500 rather than paying $150 for a repair?
    And, quality is not improving so much as features. How many appliances do you need that serve in place of a Roku or connect to the internet in some other fashion? For that matter, in the 80’s it was commonplace to find audio equipment with extreme performance and robustness. Now, everybody can have poor quality, 5 channel receiver, but the very components that were used to obtain high fidelity have become obsolete from lack of demand (such as the 2SD669).

    1. Unfortunately, the cost of integrated parts and labor make repairs nearly the same price as a replacement, or close enough to rationalize it.

      The rise in shipping costs have killed the secondary market for replacement parts. I used to be able to find cheap parts on eBay regularly, but these days people (my self included) aren’t taking the time to salvage parts to sell anymore.

      1. I bought a cheap broken (£35) OLED TV as a fixer upper. When it turned out that the mainboard was the problem, and a reflow didn’t fix it, and it was another £100+ for a replacement, I then sold the other boards for more than I bought the TV for. I still have the screen, and would like to make it into an ambient display, but even that has digital inputs rather than individual LED connections. I might have to take an angle grinder to it to get at the LED’s!

  8. In the mid-2000s, I worked as a display engineer at a computer company and was being given a tour of Samsung’s new super factory north of Seoul. At the time, I predicted that the price of large screen TVs would be falling downward and predicted that the price would be under $400 for a 40″ TV. The managers leading the tour fell apart laughing and the top manager said “A 40″ TV will NEVER be less that $1000”. I felt redeemed when I saw $399 a year and a half later.

    Regarding repairs, I find great pleasure in repairing and bringing back to life older products that I couldn’t afford when they were new. New products are great these days, but few are really worth repairing…

  9. I had my great grandfathers 1928 vintage Colonial AM radio I wanted to restore. It needed new capacitors. I pulled the chassis out of the large cabinet, turned it upside down and discovered the entire underside of the chassis was filled with with a hard epoxy like substance covering all components, impossible for me to repair. Shame I even had schematics for it purchased from Supreme Publications, Think they were pulled from a Gernsback compilation.

    1. We just need to transition from relying on China and 3rd world countries for our “recycling” and build a local infrastructure for repair.

      Each city should have public repair library… a Freekgeek meets maker space.

  10. I don’t mind companies keeping their “secrets” to themselves while they provide active support for the product. But it is not acceptable that manufacturers abandon products after a few years without any documentation for their owners to keep maintaining their products.

    1. Some companies “justify” not releasing information about EOL products because some of their current products use portions of the software/firmware/circuits/patents.

  11. Someday, I hope we will earn the right to own the hardware that we buy at full price.

    Seriously, look around your place. How much do you really have where you truly own it. What do you have that can’t be remotely bricked, locked, limited, or repossessed. Name a piece of your property that doesn’t track you, sell your data, serve ads. Something that does not require “unlimited money forever” payments through a subscription service, insurance, fees or taxes.

    What do you actually own? Is it a wrench? I bet it’s a wrench.

    We’ll never have the right to repair electronics, because we’ve lost the right to own electronics.

    1. Even in the world of hightech electronics there are lots of things we can own, with things like the core-boot project and GNU/Linux your computer can be running entirely open source software from bios up, and the hardware can still be upgraded/changed and that remains true too… Now if you then choose to sell yourself to your overlords and masters the great data harvesters for entertainment, purchases, searches etc that is up to you – its not a requirement.

      So limited in many senses is down to how you define it – don’t want to use the data hoovers that like to retain full control of your devices you largely still can make that choice. It may be somewhat inconvenient compared to using them, but you still can use alternatives.

      Heck I have set up CCTV systems that are technically ‘cloud’ capable, but bugger that, at least for most folks its of no use to have remote access themselves, and opens up worlds of network security issues its not worth having when you don’t have the need. So give them their own nice separate little network with no internet access – can’t be remotely bricked or limited if they can’t talk to them…

      At some point all electronics are likely to become un-repairable as eventually an IC will fail, and that IC will no longer be in production. Unlike with purely mechanical things where you can usually create a good replacement yourself, or with the aid of the local machine shop creating an IC to suit is rather trickier. Though again this starts getting into splitting hairs in how define repair – easy enough to get 100% functionality back with the new cheap PCB and in stock parts simulating the broken stuff, doing that can often get you new functionality too – but is that sort of restomod repairing?

      1. > your computer can be running entirely open source software from bios up

        I’d like you try and do anything with a modern Linux distro without relying absolutely on the central repository – which is under the control of “someone else” just the same. See how practical or even possible that is.

        Just because that someone else is the “community” doesn’t mean you have any power to say how things should get done. It’s just an illusion of power and democracy as a groupie rather than an active member with any sort of position in the hierarchy. Kinda like being a sports fan; just because you wear their t-shirt and foam finger doesn’t mean you have anything to do with the team.

        You’re actually relying on people who are far more competent and resourceful than you are, and more connected with each other than with you, who are not interested in your particular opinions because they don’t need you for anything. The problem with these kind of “collective” and “community” solutions is that the true leadership and driving element of any collective is never the same as the mass of people it supposedly represents. It pretends to be democratic and “free” but actually it eliminates competing ideas and interests by simply driving them out of the collective, or converting people, until the community resembles and follows the ideas of its elite.

        1. If you want to its not seemingly that bad to from scratch the whole thing, time consuming but very possible. But ultimately the point is being opensource you along with everyone else effectively own the software. If you have the patience time and skill you can change anything and everything, and with the number of forks out there you are not dependent on the one central repo, as everything you need is likely duplicated a great many times..

          These days while the distro maintainers package library are great, it makes your life so simple, there are flatpacks, appimages (and other similar methods). The really easy way to get whatever you want running – letting you worry rather less about dependencies etc,

          Very unlike being the sports fan with the foam finger – as there no matter how talented or hard working you are you go nowhere and can change nothing unless the folks already in the decision making positions decide you do. Or I suppose you convince a very very large group of your fellow fans to force an issue.

    2. You certainly ate a whole bowl of sour grapes before you wrote that, and it shows.
      My several TV’s and monitors don’t spy on me. I can repair all my stuff. I get new schematics all the time. I have the right to repair or not.
      What is wrong with these other people is that they don’t have the KNOWLEDGE or skills to repair.

      1. No. Getting a full service documentation genuinely is a lot harder than before. I can get a schematic for an old TV or radio with just a few clicks. Getting a schematic for my phone, my phone’s power supply or my laptop? Forget it.

        1. Now you are talking about a Service Manual. Those are rarely released because they are rarely produced. I was a tech for a well-known corporation, and THEIR techs did not have anything beyond a schematic. They could find a PCB to look at the traces, but there WERE NO SERVICE MANUALS!
          So, again, you have the right to repair, all right. But do you have the skills?

          Even now, I sometimes have to reverse-engineer a product because I don’t quite understand where a voltage comes from, or how it is biased.
          SAMS would get their hands on a working unit and a schematic, take pictures of the boards and point out their component designation (and the value was on the schematic) and test points, and publish it in a book. There was not a lot of help there.

          Schematics are out there. What would you do with a schematic for your phone? or your laptop? The things in it are so tiny, and they were usually not made to be repaired, but replaced! “Depot repair” is where those things go. They have to tools, hot air solder machines, stereo microscopes, and diagnostic software to find the problem.

          You could probably not fix it because you don’t have the technology to do so.

          Exceptions to the miserable state of modern farm and industrial equipment that requires more than electronic skills. I have read that those units that “run like a deer” cannot be serviced because there are software blocks. Some other equipment also.
          People have started buying Chinese tractors that don’t have software blocks.

  12. You actually forgot the simplest circuit of all, which is the number one problem with any portable device I’ve owned in the last few years – the battery. It’s the number one thing that dies, and getting harder and harder to replace – custom batteries, glued in…. Guaranteed obsolescence for the bulk of users…

  13. Plenty of appliances still have schematics in them, thank the gods. My deathless Whirlpool washer has undergone major surgery at least three times, and unlike televisions, washing machines are definitely NOT getting cheaper.

  14. I got my first job, as a TV/electronics technician, while I was in high school in the ’70s. By the early ’80s, I was making a lot of money compared to my friends, but I saw the end coming and went to college part-time to get an engineering degree. By the late ’80s, the volume of equipment to repair was dropping badly and I got a job at an auto parts manufacturer designing hybrid circuits (like circuit boards, but with an alumina substrate with the traces screened on and fired in an oven) I moonlighted in TV/VCR repair until maybe ’91 or so when the volume of sets needing repair dropped to such a low level that it wasn’t even worth showing up at the shop. My friends who didn’t believe that the good times would ever end were left with their pants down and no marketable skills. I wound up learning Unix while using Unix workstations designing hybrids, and wound up as a Unix Systems administrator for years before I took an early retirement. How things had changed. Sometimes I miss those days, as electronic repair was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, but then I look at the internet and all the new technological toys we have, and it doesn’t seem so bad.

    1. “Sometimes I miss those days, as electronic repair was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, but then I look at the internet and all the new technological toys we have, and it doesn’t seem so bad.”

      3D printer repair. Or more topical all those robot repair jobs everyone says will replace jobs lost through automation. Or doctor in a “who fixes the fixer”?

    2. “Sometimes I miss those days, as electronic repair was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, but then I look at the internet and all the new technological toys we have, and it doesn’t seem so bad.”

      Sure, you can afford this. You’re done, after all. For the starters today, it’s different, maybe.

      I’ve seen this phenomenon many times:
      People who had grown old do deny the achievements of their younger self and simultaneously embrace the modern, disposable, off the shelf technology.

      It often breaks my heart when I see how little they value their old stuff that they did homebrew about 30, 40, 50 years ago with bare hands. These things were well done and still functional, deserve a place in a museum or exhibition. Very sad. 😔

    1. Certainly one reason why when I finally get my Sony OLED next year all internet use will be via my htpc, otherwise even the TV’s cameras and mics and be used to spy on you via the TV’s Android OS. Such a sick world we have to live in.

  15. For me the big change was dip to smd packaging – I can handle and unsolder an 80 pin dip all day long….I just don’t have the steady hands & eyes to deal with more than 16 pins of smd. As clock speeds have increased, and layout has become more critical…and boards moved from 2 layers to 6+ layers…it just gets harder to make an actual repair…of course, now much of what goes on under the hood is software….so even having the full schematics does not mean it will be repairable. The curse of the CPU with built in flash is that you cant just replace a bad chip…you need the firmware as well….and that is often what makes things unrepairable.

    And as manufacturing tech has grown, it has created things like a low cost audio mixing board…with say 16 to 24 channels….all on a monolithic PCB that requires the removal of absolutely every knob, screw, nut, washer, etc from the front just to change out a single pot. It can cost a customer $100+ of time just to open up and put back together. It is very hard to repair them cheaper than replacing…..
    ….except that you almost can’t get your hands and anything new currently because they just are not available from the manufacturers.

    Also, I find that the life time of many semiconductor designs are getting shorter and shorter so that I am running into obsolete with no replacement parts more and more often.

  16. Cars are checked out at the factory with a scanner that reads minutiae on the CAN bus. Look at Scotty Kilmer when he runs his “Fancy Scan Tool” and reads out the camshaft wear or fuel pressure. Why can’t everything be like that?

  17. I am a young technician and I learnt early that the only way to make a career out of electronics repair was to do it on low volume high cost items for certain industries. Things that cant simply or easily be replaced. To a extent it does make me sad that i can’t just start a small business repairing tv’s like my father in law did.

    However, i think people don’t realize that there is always good times and cheap electronics available for people willing to have a go. The tv mounted on my bedroom had a broken mainboard, that i fixed, my sisters laptop was a cheap throw away item from a garage sale that didnt work that now runs great. Hell my network rack at home is basically all old junk that runs wonderfully.

    Old vintage consoles are also a good time to fix and with the influx of new parts for them its as easy as ever. Or even solving problems with old computers that arent working great, bang a new SSD into a old desktop and using it as a router.

    The point is, for anyone with intuition and creativity in their heart you can still have a good time with junk, can you make a career? If you pick the right industry yes. But small bussiness ownership in retail spaces has been shrinking for decades. Cottage industries like people selling interesting solutions for problems on tindie is also more viable than ever. It just requires a change in mindset. Yeah not every mechanic wants to design a car but can you think of anyone better for designing a good car than a person whose fixed the same issues over and over.

  18. I was a self-employed radio/tv technician up until about seven years ago. Learned electronics from by dad from the time I could talk and didn’t know anything else. With parts costing me more than replacement units cost the customers, I had to find a new line of work. Taught myself small engine repair and have been doing that – outdoor lawn equipment, motorcycles, atvs – since. Hopefully, they won’t be making these disposable anytime soon. I’m getting too old to keep learning new trades.

  19. There were 2 kinds of technicians back in the day. There were those who could see/think/trouble shoot to component level, identify resistor values on sight, and read a schematic in a single glance. Then there were those who could only pull out all the tubes and use a tube checker with all the wires and little ceramic and fiber things a giant mystery to them. Nothing in between.

    1. There was one level between. I once worked for a guy who had an elaborate database, all on index cards in boxes, that he could use to look up a make and model of a unit, then look for the visible symptoms, and read what to do to fix it. If this didn’t work, he’d have me or one of the other technicians troubleshoot it down to the part and fix it. He’d then add the problem to his database and if a unit came in that was in the database, he’d fix it without having to think. It was weird, but it worked for him since we saw so many repeat problems.

      1. Good techs still have great memories for previous faults. The net is one big index card box.

        There are still both kinds of techs. Easily visible with car techs. ‘Tube checkers’ now read codes and swap parts based only on codes. They suck, are most of the tech population. Dealers can’t tell the difference so hire the cheap ones.

  20. It’s hard to say if things are harder or easier to troubleshoot for repairs. Schematics are nice but, if it’s a common bit of hardware, chances are that you can google the symptoms and someone will have had the same problem and fixed it then published the details. Case in point was that my Nest thermostat recently crapped out – appeared to have lost part of it’s power. Nothing obviously had released it’s magic smoke. Quick google pointed me to the offending diode, a few pence to get a new one and a few minutes soldering had me back up an running. A new one’s 200 pounds so certainly worth repairing. There also seems to be a cottage industry in mending them for ~£25 a go so the repair industry isn’t quite extinct.

  21. The same factors also led to the death of Heathkit whose advantage had been not just the education gained , but also a lower cost end product. The lower cost and growing complexity due to economically feasible features of consumer electronics ended that.

  22. I remember Sams being more than just a diagram of how the device came from the factory. I remember there being update notes with suggestions to improve longevity based on frequent repairs that were seen as the equipment aged.

    For example.. R3 tends to run a bit hot. It is good to replace it with a higher wattage or C5 tends to fail taking out U3 which is hard to replace. Replace C5 with a better unit before this happens to prevent a costlier repair.

    1. +1 the manufacturers do use the cheapest parts.
      I repaired a Panasonic DVR with failed electrolytics. It turned out that the best upgrade with longest MTBF were Panasonic caps. But in THEIR OWN DVR they fitted cheapo non-brand crap.

      I always try and change components to a higher wattage, temperature or voltage rating.

  23. When I was a teenager (early 1960’s) a neighbor asked me to fix his black and white TV because the picture had become very dim. As was common back then, I installed a “tube brightener” for him, which was nothing more than a step-up transformer for the filament. That didn’t work either, so he just gave the TV to me. I took it home and planned to scavenge it for parts, but when I started taking it apart I noticed that the protective glass plate in front of the picture tube had a thick greasy film on it … which turned out to be tar from the very heavy smoking he and his wife did. I assume that the static field from the picture tube collected it from the cigarette smoke. I cleaned the glass plate and suddenly had my very own TV for my bedroom.

    1. Back in the 70s and 80s when I repaired TVs/VCRs in a shop, we cleaned all units as a courtesy before returning them. You learned pretty fast to use latex gloves when cleaning a TV that belonged to a family of chain smokers. The chemicals in the residue would make your hands go numb. I don’t understand why anyone smokes…

  24. As a student I used to repair TV’s that were flakey and re-sell them. Made a few quid that way. My best one was a portable colour trinitron. First time I saw it I changed the fuse for them and it worked, so let them keep it. Then they called me back, it had stopped working again. On the next visit I noticed they had changed the mains plug. I offered them £10, bought the set, fixed the bad plug wiring and sold it on for £60. When beer was £1 a pint, that paid for a few sessions! Most sets just needed a tweak of the alignment to get the picture good again. I wrote a BASIC program for my spectrum that displayed a test card grid in R, G and B, then white, which meant I didn’t have to wait for the test card in the middle of the day. I could pick up sets with a bad picture for around £5-£10 and get £40 back, with a few hours work. Happy days.

  25. Firstly – awesome schematic pic. Rather like the transformer coupling between gain stages. Hoping to one day roll that into a valve amp.

    Haha, the mention of a TV repair person not having to know what to do… Imagine many are great. But… Met one who’d ended up at a startup and was totally out of his depth as actually had to think. Everything he touched was a horrid mess, sometimes dangerous. They couldn’t replace him due to tightly woven contract.

    Shall up my game on neatness of schematics in reports after reading this.

  26. Use you eyes! (or a digital camera).

    The LCD TV had problems, and I tracked it down to the area where a few random glue logic gates were thrown in. SMT stuff, fine pitch, so I took a photo with my digital camera to take a better look. Later I notice a distinct small gray shading on one of the otherwise black SOIC’s in the photo. Only one chip, strange. Looked at the board again, but nothing there. Touched the chip with the tip of my pinky, and burnt the heck out of it!

    Typically digital cameras are pretty sensitive in the infrared, and they include a filter in the lens to limit this. But, a bit of the IR makes it thru anyway. Turns out the offending chip had some major internal short and was hotter than hades, that’s what the digital camera was telling me. Replaced the chip, TV came alive, and used it for another 8 years.

    Similar story: A raw PCB had a VCC to GND short, but no amount of eyeballing could find the culprit. Applied a small current to the VCC to GND path, and laid a sheet of LCD material over the board. Quickly the warmth of the shorted path revealed the location of the short (a spec of dust on the board photo artwork).

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