HDTV is Anything but Clear

Dec 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

My neighbor recently asked me for advice on buying a new high-definition TV. I told him that he should buy either a set that was “HDTV-ready” or that had a high-definition tuner inside.
“You have to have one or the other to get the hi-def signals,” I warned.
A week later I saw him walking to his front door. He had a big grin on his face.
“I just got a 42-inch plasma TV. The flat screen,” he said. “It looks so cool and it cost just $2,800.”
“But is it HDTV-ready?” I asked. “Can you get the HDTV channels?”
“Uh, I think so. The salesman said it was digital-ready. That’s the same, right? Digital TV and HDTV?”
Wrong. As it turns out, my neighbor spent $2,800 on an “HDTV” that cannot receive HDTV signals. The salesman’s pledge that it was “digital-ready” simply meant that it could receive digital cable or satellite signals.
The flat screen does look cool sitting in his living room, but my neighbor is now hot under the collar.
“You would think that for $2,800 it would get HDTV,” he said. “Why does buying a TV have to be so complicated?”
His lament is echoed by millions of consumers across the country. As interest in HDTV grows, so does the confusion over what’s needed to actually receive hi-def programming.
For instance:
* Can all plasma TVs get hi-def signals? Answer: Though most can, there are a few lower-priced flat screens that are not HD-compatible.
* Does the term, “HDTV-ready” mean that you will get HDTV if you connect the TV to your cable or satellite box? Answer: No. You have to get a cable or satellite receiver that has a hi-def tuner inside. (With satellite, you have to get a special type of dish as well.)
* Will an HDTV set display your local channels in hi-def? Answer: Yes, but you will need a special hi-def receiver if you have cable. If you have a satellite dish, you will have to install a rooftop antenna.
It seems that buying a television has become more difficult than solving an algebra problem. Is it any wonder that fewer than 7 million people now own an HDTV-and fewer than 2 million have a hi-def tuner?
You would think the consumer electronics industry would try to simplify the process. But TV makers and their retail partners add to the confusion by describing the sets with technospeak understood only by engineers and “Star Trek” fans. For instance, check out this recent Circuit City promotion for a $2,799 42-inch Sony:
“Widescreen LCD High-Definition Projection TV Monitor. Digital Reality Creation adapts all broadcasts.”
Believe it or not, that’s a TV.
In case you think I’m picking on Circuit City, try this Best Buy promo for a $1,299 32-inch Sony:
“Trinitron Wega High-Scan 1080i HDTV Monitor … Features CineMotion 3.2 Pulldown and 3D digital comb filter.”
I’m not sure what a “digital comb filter” is, but I don’t think it’s used to groom your hair.
Of course, the consumer electronics industry, which is dominated by technologists, has long used engineering terms in advertising copy, whether it’s for a TV or a CD player.
However, with HDTV already a confusing subject, the industry needs to re-examine its marketing approach. Although many consumers are getting excited about the HDTV picture, fuzzy promotions are increasingly frustrating them.
If TV makers want to sell HDTV sets, they better learn how to sell. Period.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.