Even an advanced> degree is no guarantee that you can program your digital video recorder or successfully configure a desktop PC these days.
All the new bells and whistles on our televisions, cameras and other gadgets have forced many consumers to increasingly rely on tech support companies for setup, installation and maintenance. In fact, the industry raked in $1.6 billion in 2007, according to IDC, a market research firm. By 2012, IDC expects that number to almost double to $3 billion.
You can t just read the owner s manual for one device anymore, says Matt Healey, research manager for IDC. Almost everything is connected. There s no playing Mario Kart Wii against faraway friends, for example, if the Nintendo game console can t sync with your wireless Internet connection. For many consumers, calling in help to decipher all of those unrelated manuals is much easier than trying to figure it out for themselves, he says.
Tech support can also serve as a way to save cash, says Kurt Scherf, principal analyst for Parks Associates, a market research and consulting firm. Consumers who might have bought a new computer and recycled the old one are now more of the mindset to keep the current model operational, he says.
Demand for such services is so high that even companies like AT&T (T)
As handy as these services are, they can cost you. Wall installation for a flat-panel TV, for example, can easily top $400 -- and as much as twice that if the TV is larger than 42 inches, if you want it mounted over a fireplace or if you want the wires hidden in the wall. Just setting up a PC and home wireless network will run $100 to $200, depending on the number of devices you want connected.
Here are five tips to cut tech support costs on your next gadget purchase:
Buy with an eye to support costs
If you re not careful, buying a new TV could also mean you have to upgrade your cables and replace that dinosaur of a DVD player. Consider consulting a tech expert about which model to buy to minimize future costs, especially if your goal is to connect several devices, advises Laura Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry group. (Keep in mind that most stores charge a 15% restocking fee to return or exchange opened electronics.)
Don t pay for coverage you already have
Many gadgets include some start-up tech support in the manufacturer s warranty, so read over the terms before you pay for service you re already entitled to for free, advises Angie Hicks, founder of online review site Angie s List. Apple (AAPL)
Seek free advice
Before paying for help, visit manufacturer, service provider and industry web sites. Among other services, these sites may host message boards that allow consumers to ask questions or offer tutorials. Verizon (VZ)
Plenty of gadget problems can be solved without lugging your item to the shop, or even requesting a technician hoof it to your home. Consider remote support services like PlumChoice.com or Support.com, which securely take over your PC to work out everything from setup to virus repairs. Generally, they re more cost-effective, says Healey. Geek Squad charges $120 to send a technician to your home to set up a wireless network. To do the work remotely, Geek Squad charges $80.
Check support certification
To prevent you from having to hire tech support twice for the same task, make sure you pick the right company the first time. Don t trust that an unknown contractor has the necessary expertise to install a satellite radio with crystal-clear reception -- and no damage to your car. Ask what kind of training they ve had, says Hubbard. Many manufacturers offer courses in working with their product lines. The Consumer Electronics Association offers certification, as do the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association and other industry groups. Visit TechHome.com to find a certified contractor.