Astronomy - Meade
Note: This was our first automated telescope. We were so disappointed with it we replaced it with a Celestron.
Then we were so disappointed with the Celestron mount that we replaced it with a Paramount ME.
We left this here for novices thinking about purchasing a Meade.
Instruments Corporation, although extremely interested in
building and selling expensive (overpriced?) telescopes, is
equally disinterested in how much actual use or enjoyment the
buyer derives from these instruments.
Within hours of paying $2,600 for a Meade 8" LX-200 + more than $500 worth of Meade accessories, my wife and I discovered a problem. The power panel had a bad 18-volt power input jack receptacle. Meade had to send a replacement panel, which I replaced in just a few minutes, and we returned the faulty one to Meade.
Then we discovered another aggravating problem. When trying to do precise alignments by centering a star within the double crosshairs of a 9mm illuminated reticle eyepiece, our efforts were constantly impeded by the scope's tendency to run-on after the North key was released. Trying to coax a star into the magic box requires a deft touch and several quick taps of the N/S/E/W keys on the hand controller. One naturally expects a quick tap to have momentary effects. It's perplexing - nay, damned frustrating - when 30%-50% of the taps result in the depression being acted upon but the release being ignored. The star was driven into the box and then out the other side and could only be stopped by tapping the opposite control. At first, it seemed to be only the North key sticking and the South key coming to the rescue, but occasionally, the opposite would happen.
Suspecting sticking keys on the hand controller, Meade shipped us a second controller but it did not solve the problem. Since the second one had some cosmetic blemishes, we sent it back and retained the original.
Meade shipped us a replacement RA motor, Dec motor, and motherboard. After replacing just the Dec Motor, I noticed that both motors, both the old and the new, exhibited the same strange behavior - the run-on problem + one other: while at rest, if I pressed the knurled knob slightly, the stepping motor would start humming as if either the N or S key was pressed. I called Meade and asked if this was normal for these stepping motors, and they indicated that it was not. This led me to believe we had some sort of short or grounding problem, and that the repair was going to more extensive than just my replacing a few parts. So I returned the replacement parts and we continued to try to use the original parts. (Months later, I learned that it WAS normal for the motor to activate when lateral pressure was applied. The first information was in error - or was it the second? We've learned that with Meade you can't totally believe anything they say).
In spite of the problems we were having, we were able to muddle through and were doing quite a bit of observing. Also, I fabricated a cable and started writing a Visual Basic program to communicate with the scope. We could control its movements, retrieve and display information about objects, and GOTO them. The program had pull-down menus, a config file, etc, and we intended to add voice recognition/response: 'M31' + 'Enter' + 'Goto' voice commands. During the development, we discovered a bug in the scope's software, preventing our retrieval of the largest data bases: IC (5,000+), UGC (12,000+), SAO (15,000+) and GCVS (21,000+). Data on most of the advertised 64,000+ objects was unretrievable. When I queried Meade, they wouldn't admit to a problem with their software, but said if I would remove two chips from the motherboard and send them in, they would upgrade them to release 3.34. The scope was unusable for about two weeks, but the new software allowed us to retrieve the missing objects.
Due to our software development, we delayed returning the scope to Meade for repairs until 10 months into our 12 month warranty. When I asked for an estimate of how long we would be without the scope, I was told two things: 1) we could expect to be without it for about 30 days, and 2) Meade would return it to us the same way we sent it. We shipped it 2-day UPS (Meade should have received it on 02/26/96), and expected to get it back during the last week of March or the 1st week of April - plenty of time to 1) observe, photograph and videotape Comet Hyakutake, and 2) participate in three astronomy clubs' public viewing star parties on Astronomy day, and 3) videotape the Moon's occultation of comet Hale-Bopp on May 8th. But due to Meade's excessive emphasis on new scopes going out the door and complete disregard for the needs of existing customers, none of this came to pass.
You see, even though they were in the middle of a large production run, new parts for my scope were 'unavailable'. They had plenty of parts for new instruments, because new ones generated income. Service after the sale warranty work was gratis, and would generate no income. The only reason to repair our scope - by replacing faulty parts with new working ones - and get it back to us was customer satisfaction, something that was apparently way down on their priority list.
They had our scope for over 4 months! Finally, I called and told them to return it to us immediately, even if it was unrepaired. We waited 2 weeks and still no scope. I called again and demanded they return it, and they did, but not 2-day UPS as we had shipped it. They saved themselves some more money by shipping it 5-day.
So, if you feel
you MUST have a Meade telescope, then buy
it. But never, ever return it to them, no matter what turn around
time they promise. Their standard answer is 30 days but you had
better have a fall-back scope to use during the months they keep
And, if it's an intermittent problem that requires extensive testing, don't be surprised if they report being "unable to reproduce" the problem. It'll probably still plague you when you get your scope back.