August 16, 2006 2:49 PM PDT

HDTV hardware makers fight customer confusion

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--Consumers are confused about high-definition television.

Most buyers and potential customers do not have a firm grasp on what exactly this whole HDTV thing is all about, according to Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow and Panasonic North America Chief Technology Officer Paul Liao. But both executives say they'd like to help.

At the fourth annual DisplaySearch HDTV Conference on Wednesday, the two consumer electronics executives stressed the importance of educating both consumers and retailers about high-definition content, such as HDTV channel services and next-generation DVD formats, and hardware including TVs and HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players.

"Some of us have confused ourselves as to what's going on. You can imagine how consumers are feeling," Glasgow told the audience here at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

He cited a 2005 Consumer Electronics Association study that revealed 20 minutes is the average time consumers will fuss with a complicated product before giving in to frustration and returning it.

Panasonic's Liao said consumers routinely misunderstand the benefits and features of HDTV, such as improved resolution, color and brightness. According to a July survey by Panasonic, one-fourth of respondents thought the purchase of an HDTV automatically included high-definition picture on all channels (not true). About 30 percent who answered said they had no idea what to do with a new HDTV after opening up the packaging. They "really do need a lot of help," Liao said.

Glasgow said Sony has taken steps to combat misunderstanding over HDTV by investing in customer service on the company's Web site and working with retail partners and its own stores. For example, he said, the company allows customers to sample the product in the store before taking it home and figuring out they don't know how to operate it.

Panasonic is also aiming for what Liao calls "extreme customer satisfaction" by offering consumers help on how to better understand its products.

Anyone who buys a plasma display from Panasonic is automatically enrolled in the new Plasma Concierge program. It offers priority customer service appointments to members and over-the-phone consultations.

Liao said that level of personal service is going to be the company's hallmark. This "extreme" approach, he said, will boost the sales of plasma TVs and other Panasonic products.

Glasgow reiterated that their concern should be echoed by everyone in the business with a stake in HD. The best way to do this is to help potential buyers figure out exactly what they're purchasing so that the dreaded "R"-word can be avoided: returns.

"It's up to everybody in the industry to educate," Glasgow said. "In the end, consumers returning products hurts everybody."

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31 comments

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It's confusing because of the manufactures
HDTV hardware is confusing because of the manufacturers. I know what HDTV is in principle and you have to receive a HDTV signal to truely benefit.

However, my neighbors bought a HDTV and found out it's not really HDTV. They had to buy another gizmo to receive HDTV signals! It could display HD, but couldn't receive. What's up with that! Misleading stuff like that will turn off all consumers.
Posted by danxy (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sometimes it's the consumers
Is it always the manufacturers? For example, did your neighbors understand the difference between a HDTV and a HD monitor? I bet not. And that's exactly what happened to them.
Sometimes it's the stores. They advertise in misleading if not false terminology, and their in store employees are usually ignorant part time college kids. I very seldomly encounter one that knows more than I so asking questions is usually hopeless - often they will say things that are just flat out wrong.
In all I think the manufacturers do a decent job of describing their equipment, but they're not the ones making the sale, and customers aren't willing to spend adequate time researching expensive purchases.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
Whats up with that is
A monitor is a display that does not include a tuner. (what your neighbors bought)
This is a good thing. For those of us who run only a video signal to the TV letting the receiver handle audio and tuning via a cable box etc, why waste money on a tuner that will never be used?
Options are good, but you have to understand them.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
DRM is the main thing holding back high definition
It seems to me that the main restricting factor on high definition right now is the rediculous DRM restrictions on it.

From what I hear all the older CRT HDTV hardware is no longer supported without downscaling of the image, and most (if not all) plasma displays are a fraction of the 1080P resolution required for full high definition. Even the 24 inch DELL TFT does not support the HDMI which all high definition signals are going to require.

Anyone looking to use a PC to drive their HD cinema systems right now can pretty much forget it, as almost all video cards on the market are incapable of HDMI

With the recent announcment that Sony's expensive BLU Ray writer is incapable of playing BLU ray disks - as it has no HDMI support... this problem doesn't look like it's going away.

I was planning on being an early adopter of HD when it hits the UK, but from what I've seen so far, it's just a waste of money right now.
Posted by ihate56k (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nonsense
Most people don't even *realize* that there are potential DRM issues, they're still trying to understand why they should care about getting a plasma vs a DLP vs an LCD, they get lost when you explain the difference between 720P and 1080i, and give up entirely when you start talking about how they need to upgrade their cable or go back to rabbit ears.
Posted by jpsabo (4 comments )
Link Flag
F.U.D.
Umm.. no.
What you hear is just not correct. Go do some research before posting any more "facts".

PS You do know that DVI is HDMI without the audio... don't you?
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
HDCP, not HDMI
You again make the same mistake that many others have made. HDMI itself is not necessary. DVI will also work. Both can carry HDCP, the heart of the DRM.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
A few bad apples
The HDTV vendors are not doing themselves any favors by having such a wide array of signal types resolutions and connectors.

Here is what the customer wants: 1) Their spiffy new HDTV works will all their old stuff. 2) The new HD DVD's, Games, Satellite receivers all work.

Simple isn't it? But with DVI and then HDMI the vendors have created a mess. Have you noticed that all most all new HD sources come with DVI (one of the many flavors) while all the TV/Monitors come with HDMI? You can't plug them directly into each other!!! If I plop down $4500 for the latest HDTV and $300 for the latest satellite receiver, I expect to be able to connect them directly. Instead, I have to get an adapter to convert the DVI to HDMI and come up with SOME OTHER solution for the sound.

The latest stuff should plug into the latest stuff WITHOUT adapters and additional equipment!

I think that the DRM and other issues designed to keep those bad apples from doing bad things is doing to ruin the party for those of us who buy our media and just want to watch some high quality HDTV after a long day of work without getting an electrical engineering degree.
Posted by mnova (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wrong Answer
Better web sites and customer service by phone are the wrong answer to a confusing technology. If people won't spend more than 20 minutes on setup, how much more would they navigate web sites to look for answers?

Manufacturers should instead simplify the technology choices and packaging: Get the Blue-Ray vs HiDef DVD act together. Put tuners in every HDTV (no more monitor-only stuff). Throw in a cable package that accentuates HDTV (no more $5 for HDTV cable-card, another $10 for DTV, etc). Throw in a free installation service where a knowledgeable person would install, adjust, and explain. If manufacturers would do these for a year, enough people would understand HDTV to help their friends and neighbors.
Posted by hkluis (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Correct Answer
I'm not sure they can make it much simpler. Also consumers need to educate themselves with any of the many books, magazines or on-line classes (like those from Cnet) on buying and setting up an HDTV. Everything can't be handed on a plate to them. Smart buyers make informed decisions on the products they want or need to purchase. You can visit a big box store for their TV's but you should also check out an upscale dealer just to get a different perspective and probably more accurate info from a saleclerk. Don't be forced into buying a set until you're ready. BTW,
1) manufacturers are separate from the cable co's
2) it's upto the cable companies to provide free installation (many already do)
3) cable co's need to provide more HDTV channels
4) if consumers are going to approach HDTV the way they did with programming VCR's, than they will never enjoy the benefits on HDTV. Take a few hours and read the manual or consult a friend who already has a set-up.
Posted by Jazz (2 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong Answer
I agree entirely with hkluis every thing he says makes complete sense unfortunately manufactures just love to rip us off by making us pay for add ons which no doubt push up their profits enormously. I remember in the UK up until a few years ago every eletrical appliance you bought had to have plug (naturally you might say) but the plug was never on the end of the wire. You were expected not only to buy a plug but to then fit it yourself!! This may seem unbelievably but it was true. I started taking the following action every time I bought an appliance and just when the salesman thought he had made a sale I would look at the appliance and say I don't want it. It wont work in my house therefore it is unfit for sale. He said all it needs is a plug. I then would say right deliver it to my house with the plug on then I will know it works. I never had one salesman who refused and I was never charged for the plug or service. If we took similar action with HDTV maybe something would be done. Sorry this is a bit long winded but hopefully I have put across the point.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Fine for you, not needed by all
If you're willing to pay extra for all those services and features, by all means, go to a boutique store and buy the whitegloves treatment. For those of us who have done our homework and understand the technology, don't make us pay more for your ignorance. We don't need coddling, we know what we want and how to make it work and we want to spend as little as possible to get it.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
No No No!
Speak for yourself! Some of us don't want to spend the money on a built-in HDTV tuner! Where I live I am out of range of any over the air HD broadcasts, so I sure don't want to pay for what I can't use! My HD cable box does what I need already!
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
What you dont know can hurt you
Many people dont realise that most 'hd' tvs are mediocre stabs at high res. manufacturers should be focused on producing sets that support t(the somewhat weak in itself) 1080i standard. Instead one walks through the major stores to see that thre are virtually no true hd tvs there, just big screens.
Posted by S7777 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not true
Most of the HDTVs in stores are true HDTVs. That is, they can display at least 720p, which is true HD. EDTV, on the other hand, is only 480p, and those are now often sold as SDTV.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
clearly marked
all the advertising and in-store display i have seen lately clearly states the native resolution and if a tuner is or is not included in the set.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Link Flag
The HDTV mess
Manufacturers & retailers refuse to offer complete packages.
Why would anybody try to sell monitors without tuners & without
antennas? Why are retailers still selling about-to-be-obsolete
CRTs right beside the new stuff?

We need HDTV only shops and departments, separate from the
old technology.
Posted by TogetherinParis (318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The HDTV mess
Manufacturers & retailers refuse to offer complete packages.
Why would anybody try to sell monitors without tuners & without
antennas? Why are retailers still selling about-to-be-obsolete
CRTs right beside the new stuff?

We need HDTV only shops and departments, separate from the
old technology.
Posted by TogetherinParis (318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Article Comment Misses the Point
"'It's up to everybody in the industry to educate,' Glasgow said. 'In the end, consumers returning products hurts everybody.'"

Okay, that's true. But what hurts more is consumers not buying the product at all. The article ignores the confusion that consumers are experiencing over what to buy. Others have touched on this in their remarks. And it's not just in the video department: Audio is also in a bit of a mess.

At the end of the day the consumer wants to buy a TV. He doesn't care about HD DVD, std def DVD, HDMI, DTS, 1080i, 7.1 surround sound, etc. He just wants to turn it on and watch TV (presumably a higher quality of TV if he's spend the bucks for a high def video/audio system).

The only thing beyond that he'd like to do is insert a disk. Read that carefully: "a disk". He doesn't care what kind of disk it is. He just wants it to deliver the quality video and audio for which he's paid. No muss, no fuss.

Finally, he doesn't want to enter the store to learn that not only does he require that fancy, $2G plasma set he's been budgeting for, but he'll also need a surge protector, expensive video cable set, new cable service and set-top box, and a new high def DVD player to truly appreciate his new TV. And, BTW, Mr. Consumer, did you know that a 7.1 surround sound system will really make this system good? Somehow, when that happens, you'll feel as if that clerk saw you walking in the door!

Finally: TANSTAFL. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing .. NOTHING .. referred to in the article comes free. It's included in the price, even for those who are savvy enough to wade through the jargon and set up their own gear. It's silly to think otherwise.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why confused? It's simple.
The reason for confusion is simple. There are *way* too many
variants of resolutions, sound qualities and connections. Last I
checked there are well over 300 possible ways to make a "HDTV"
compatible system.

Just for starters there are the resolutions allowed under the
Grand Alliance HDTV standard (720 x 1280 versus 1080 x
1920).

Then there's the variants allowed for progressively scanned
verus interlaced:
720 can be progressive at 20, 30 and 60 frames per second,
often referred to as 720p (e.g., 720p/20, 720p/30 and 720p/
60);
1080 can be progressive at 24 and 30 frames per second (i.e.,
1080p/24 and 1080p/30) or interlaced at 60 fields per second
(30 frames per second) (i.e., 1080i/30).
There are even manufacturers claiming to support 1080
progressive at 60 frames per second (i.e., 1080p/60) which is
not part of the standard.

To make matters worse the HDTV standard for displays is not
100% compatible with the ATSC standard for transmitting these
signals, e.g., the ATSC standard does not include the ability to
transmit 1080 progressive at 30 frames per second.

Then there are the displays which will accept inputs for 1) 720p
only, 2) 720p or 1080i, or 3) 720p, 1080i or 1080p. However,
there are displays shipping today which will accept both 1080i
and 720p inputs but will only display on the screen 720p (so
while the display accepts signals at the 1080 resolution it will
actually display only 720 resolution). Thus a salesman can
accurately state a display is "1080i compatible" even though
when you get it home it only show 720 resolution on the screen!

All of these variants are allowed to be called HDTVs under the
standard. Additionally, the 1080p/60 variant, while not part of
the standard, is referred to as "HDTV".

Confused yet? And that's only the resolution and video display
part!

Then there's the connections:
HDMI (of which 3 variants are currently shipping [1.1, 1.2 and
1.2a] with a fourth [http://the highly proclaimed 1.3 variant|http://the highly proclaimed 1.3 variant] to start
shipping within the next 3 months);
DVI (of which there are at least two fairly common variants); and
Component.
All of which can be used to provide HDTV inputs to the display.
But to make matters even more confusing DVI is video only and
you have to use the audio parts of the Component connections
to give you sound.

Then on top of this there are the DRM layers on HDMI and DVI.
Some connections on current systems support HDCP and ICT
some do not. Component does not support either HDCP or ICT.
Thus if you use component and the ICT is ever implemented
(currently studios are claiming they will NOT implement the ICT
before 2010 but won't commit to not using it after 2010) you
will not be able to get HDTV over Component connections. What
will you get? That will be 540 x 860 resolution -- which is not
part of ANY standard!

Additionally, most HDTV displays today have both S-video and
coax connections not directly supporting ANY of the HDTV
signals.

Then there are the sound variations which are so numerous (DD,
DD+, TrueHD, PCM, etc. as well as uncompressed, lossless
compressed, lossy compressed) I won't even go into them here.

So combining all the variants there are literally several hundred
different ways you could put a diplay together and still call it a
"HDTV system".

---------

Oh for the good old days of the 1960s and 1970s with NTSC --
525 analog lines -- with a simple 300 ohm two wire connector
(though some TVs had a 75 ohm coax connector too).

One simple signal and one simple connector (sometimes 2).
Posted by shadowself (202 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good writeup - one error and one omission
Good article but you mentioned that Coax does not support HD directly. The best HD you can get (other than HD-DVD/Bluray) is over the air (OTA) for which you connect your antenna or even clear QAM cable input to the coax connector. The HDTV's internal tuner does the rest.

One other thing you ignored is the difference between HD-monitor and HDTV. HD-monitor can display a HD image (either 720p and above) but does not have a tuner. So, connecting a Coax is not an option. The FCC rule currently says TVs that have NTSC tuner (analog tuner) have to have an ATSC tuner also if the TV is greater than 25" diagonally. This size will drop to 13" next year I think.
Posted by bommai (172 comments )
Link Flag
There are *way* too many versions!!!!
There are 18 to be exact,if you count the PAL versions. But only 720p/30, 1080i/60, 1080p/24 and 1080p/30 are ones that 99% of us will ever see. FYI 720p/30, 1080i/60, 1080p/24 take a bandwidth of 45~50megbits/second, 1080p/30 needs 74megabits/sec, and the alleged 1080p/60 would require 145megabies/sec.
Add to this confusion that 1080p is being hyped "the only true HD format"
HDMI is a mess, will be for a couple of more years.
ICT,,,well that could shoot HD-DVD/BRay in the foot,,,this will encourage people to buy them,,,NOT.
Component cables do the job,,,BUT there is no DRM,,Oh me,oh my, what well we do,,,HDMI was the answer. John
Posted by jcrobso (19 comments )
Link Flag
 

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