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Do-It-For-Me HD

There is nothing like the first time you see high-definition video on a large screen. Once youve experienced that thrill, its hard to go back to anything less than the best. Thats why its amazing to me when Im in the home of a friend or family member who has purchased a new HD set only to skimp on their high-definition cable or satellite hardware and service.

Apparently, however, these folks are far from the only consumers missing the point of HDTV. According to a recent study by Jupiter Research and a separate survey by set-top box manufacturer Scientific-Atlanta, only about half of homes in the United States with HDTV sets are able to watch high-definition programming. The main reasons are that the HDTV set owners either are not signed up for HDTV service or are not using the proper equipment.

The finding suggests wide confusion among consumers about HDTV technology. Most probably dont realize that in addition to an HD set, they also must either acquire a high-definition set-top box or have access to an HD over-the-air signal.

For example, according to the Scientific Atlanta study, 23 percent of HDTV set owners who did not receive HD content were confused by a message at the beginning of some TV programs that describes the shows as broadcast in HD. These people assumed that meant they were watching high-definition TV, even though the broadcast message appears regardless of picture resolution.

This begs the question: are technological advances helping us become a do-it-yourself (DIY) culture or does the increasing pace of changing technology create so much confusion that, in fact, were actually headed toward a do-it-for-me (DIFM) society?

New CEDIA president, Andy Willcox, introduced me to the DIFM theory during his recent visit to New York. His belief, or hope, is that while an increasing number of products are headed in the DIY direction, most consumers would still rather pay for a professionals expertise when it comes to buying high-end A/V gear.
Im proud to say that I successfully installed my own plasma back in September, but the experience was far from enjoyable. Not to mention the dangling wires and cables that I left under the otherwise sleek Hitachi 42-inch panel would never cut it with most residential systems contractors that I know.

Even so, I would rate the process of hanging a plasma TV on the relatively low end of the installation intricacy scale. Hooking up an HDTV to achieve a proper high-def signal should, in theory, be even simpler. But, of course, it is not always that way for most consumers. According to survey results, 20 million American homes have high-definition television sets, while only 10 million of those homes are actually able to watch HD programming. Its easy enough to assume that most consumers confuse digital TV with HDTV, not realizing that HD requires a different converter than digital. And unlike anyone who has been to at least one CEDIA EXPO, most probably cant identify HD quality at a glance. This seems pretty odd, given that even the worst of the big-box retailers should have a decent HD demo on their sales floor.

Maybe those 10 million consumers simply have really bad memories and dont recall that what they just saw at the store isnt what theyre seeing at home. Or maybe, more likely, these consumers dont see the value in spending just a few extra bucks on the proper content for their TV. Some are lured by the form factor of a wall-hanging TV and others by marketing hype, but fewer by the actual quality of the picture.

Its difficult to generalize the actual reason, but it seems to make a good case for improving consumer education and increasing the role of the specialty A/V retail and custom installation channel. At whatever level your business operates, its imperative that you recognize the lack of knowledge of most of your clients. Sure, youll always have that one client who knows too much for their own good, but most other times youll be translating a foreign language to a confused consumer. Be sure to take it slow and serve as their guide through this exciting, but perplexing, world of consumer electronics.