Can the TV be fixed?
In most cases the answer is yes.
The hard truth is (whether it's an LCD, LED or plasma TV) a cracked or shattered TV screen cannot actually be repaired - it can only be replaced. Fortunately, replacement display panels can be ordered from TV parts suppliers, depending on the make, model, and age of the television. To find a supplier, see TV Replacement Parts. If you want to replace the panel yourself, read How To Replace Plasma Display Panels, or How To Replace LCD and LED Panels.
Is the TV worth fixing?
Most people would simply get rid of the TV and replace it a new one. But if you really like the TV and you want to salvage it, replacing the panel would be a viable option (provided there is nothing else wrong with it). You would need to weigh the cost of a new TV against the cost of the replacement panel plus the time and effort it would take to order and replace it. Nevertheless, there is money to be saved by replacing the panel yourself. For more things to consider, read Is My TV Worth Fixing?
How do I know if the screen is cracked?
Sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is not. One way to find out is to observe what happens when you turn on the television. If you have an LCD or an LED TV, a shattered screen will usually display a kaleidoscope of disturbing, multicolored, orthogonal lines and shapes in the area where the damage occurred. The picture in the rest of the screen may look perfectly fine, or it may be dim, or it may show no video at all.
Plasma TVs with a damaged display panel have a more varied look and behavior. Some may work just fine with a simple hairline crack. If the crack is more severe, the screen may not even light up. Some may produce a loud buzzing noise. And other TVs may not turn on at all.
There is a common misconception about plasma TVs having an invisible crack, that is, one having no visible sign of damage when the TV turned off. Because the screen does not look cracked, some people will argue that the damage must not have been caused by an external force, but instead by an internal defect. This is not necessarily true. The reason it looks this way is because the screen has a protective outer surface made of a durable, scratch-resistant material. This outer surface can sustain a physical impact without producing a visible scratch. Yet beneath it there are very fragile layers that can easily be damaged by the same blunt impact. You can read Plasma TVs - Myths vs. Realities? for more information on that.
If you decide that the panel needs to be replaced, but you would rather have someone else replace it for you, then schedule a service call and have a TV service technician come to your home and give you a free cost estimate.
Probable Causes / Warranty Coverage
A stress fracture is characterized by a major crack starting from the edge of the screen and extending inward. These cracks can be caused by vibration during shipment, mechanical stress from twisting during unpacking, or any kind of physical force that would flex or bend the unit, especially on a corner.
It is important that you inspect the television once it is in your home, especially if the store or online company provided the delivery service. If a crack in the screen is noticed, it should be reported immediately. Sometimes a stress fracture can occur days after the television has been in delivered. These cases are generally not covered by extended warranties issued by the store, but may be covered by the manufacturer's warranty. You will need to contact the TV manufacturer's customer service department to find out... but keep reading!
Generally, no warranty will cover cracked plasma panels. Most technicians would tell you that there’s nothing they can do, aside from giving you a free estimate for the cost of the repair. However, for stress fractures, if the TV is still under the manufacturer's warranty and the crack has not grown into a widespread shatter, there is a chance that the TV could be exchanged by the manufacturer, especially if you can prove that the damage was due to shipping. Therefore, it is very important that you plug in and test the TV as soon as it arrives to be sure that it is in good working order before the delivery people leave. It is more believable when you report shipping damage within 24 hours of the purchase, and if it can be corroborated by the delivery team.
When dealing with the manufacturer, be prepared to thoroughly plead your case. Since it is more difficult to prove that the cause was not your fault, it would be a good idea to call a technician first, because they can do the leg work of contacting the manufacturer for you. Otherwise, you’ll have to correspond with the manufacturer yourself. You would have to send them an email with your name, address, date of purchase, place of purchase, model number, serial number with attached pictures and copy of your sales receipt. You would also have to take pictures of the crack(s), the front cabinet showing the crack and the manufacturer’s insignia, and the back of unit showing the product sticker.
Whether you do it yourself or have a technician take care of reporting the damage to the manufacturer, be careful not to physically move the TV. Any movement might cause the fracture to grow worse so that may end up looking more like the damage was caused by physical impact, at which point the financial burden of replacing the panel may be on you.
Could a TV screen crack all by itself?
It is conceivable that a TV screen can crack without having had any external blunt force applied to it. There have been rare cases where these strange cracks would mysteriously appear. The crack would have from three to several veins extending an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm) from one single point, resembling a starburst, a cross, or spokes of a wheel. This kind of crack allegedly occurs without any external cause. The forums and blogs call them "spider cracks".
As of the time of this writing, there has been no official information from any manufacturer about this phenomenon. Even though consumers claim that spider cracks happen on their own, it's a hard argument to prove to the manufacturer. The conspicuous central point in the appearance of the crack argues that a physical impact may have been the cause. Therefore, manufacturers will generally deduce that the damage was caused by physical abuse, and so the repair will not be covered under the manufacturer's warranty. Even so, it is still worth a service call because some companies will replace the panel or exchange the unit if it is still under manufacturer's warranty or an extended warranty contract, if a technician dutifully reports that the damage was not caused by abuse. The following paragraph gives a plausible, technical explanation for how a spider crack could be caused by a manufacturing defect.
Cause of Spider Cracks
Many bloggers and publishers have written about this issue saying that spider cracks are caused by excessive heat generated by the panel. But why? All plasma panels typically generate a small amount of heat. But what if there was a single pixel (or a small cluster of them) that sustained some kind of flaw or may have gotten contaminated during the manufacturing process? Furthermore, let's say that this defect causes that point on the panel to get excessively hot. Now, consider that while the TV is turned on the panel warms up and undergoes normal thermal expansion, and then when the TV is off the panel cools down and normal thermal contraction takes place. The theory is that this cycling of the temperature due to normal use could exacerbate the defect. Over the course of time the heating up and cooling down could cause the glass layer of the screen to expand and contract much more at the point of the defect than over the rest of the panel. Eventually this uneven expansion and contraction could cause the glass in the panel to "pop" and fracture. And there you have it! - our explanation of the cause of the spider crack.
If you want to learn more about plasma display panels, read Plasma TVs - Myths vs. Realities?.