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HD on Main Street

My dad called me the other day from the home electronics department in his local Sears dealership. Apparently, there was a bargain on an HD set that had caught his eye, and he needed one more voice of reason before he pulled out his Sears card and bought it.

I was not that voice of reason. Instead, I actually talked him into buying the Hitachi 46-inch HDTV, because it was truly a deal that he couldnt refuse.

Dad, who is a self-proclaimed Sears junkie, was out shopping early that Saturday morning when the stores manager and his friend, Tom Becht, pointed out a single HDTV set that had been placed on closeout by his corporate office. The special included an extra 10 percent off if someone bought the floor model that day, before 10 a.m. Dad loved the bargain, even though the sale price was still higher than on any television he had ever purchased.

He had called me because he wanted reassurance that what he was buying was high quality and at a price that wouldnt be lowered again in a month. Like most dads, mine loves a good deal. However, he also values quality and longevity in the products that he buys. From what I gleaned from our conversation, Dad was considering a monitor that was neither digital-cable-ready nor flat-panel, and didnt have HDMI input or even a stylish silver finish. But according to Dad, the image quality on this rear-projection CRT looked exceptionally good, even with a sub-par cable signal running through it.

Mind you, Dad is no rank amateur when it comes to HDTV technology. Annual attendance at CEDIA EXPO and a monthly subscription to Residential Systems has taught him enough to be dangerous. Unlike his son, however, he hadnt become completely paralyzed by knowledge and unable to take a leap into televisions future. Instead of confusing himself with debates of DLP vs. LCD or HDMI vs. DVI, he was going to let an extraordinary deal do most of the convincing for him and jump right in.

He had called me at about 9:30 a.m. that morning, and the longer we talked, the more anxious he was to hang up the phone and meet his Sears sale deadline. Why the urgency? The Sears corporate office had a new DLP model on order and needed to clear year-old CRTs from the floors of its affiliates. I told Dad that as long as he had room for its form factor, there was nothing wrong with CRT. Plus, I told him, I loved the black levels and cinematic qualities of a CRTs picture. I guess that was all he needed to hear.

I called Dad a few days later to ask him how he liked his new TV. Its awesome, was his immediate response. I can usually talk myself out of something, but after I spoke to you, that basically convinced me that I had to go ahead and get it.

There was no buyers remorse from this customer. In fact, Dad was busy fine-tuning his standard-definition picture and was ready to order his new DISH Network HD package. Then, of course, Dads friend Curtis (certified glove compartment slammer) had already scheduled an official visit to help calibrate the new monitor.

How appropriate that the Consumer Electronics Associations Fall 2004 HDTV Guide title reads, From Uptown to Main StreetHDTV Goes Mainstream. In the Guides introduction, CEA president Gary Shapiro cites the influence that the cable/consumer electronics plug-and-play agreement will have on the mass adoption of HDTV. Im sure that making cable-ready HDTVs will help eliminate some consumer confusion in the future, but for many people, like my Dad, the reason to invest in HDTV will still be price- and performance-driven.

While many consumers will continue to be tempted by flat-panel televisions, no matter the quality of picture, many others will recognize the beauty that can only come from large-format, crystal-clear HDTV video. Just as long as they dont have to break the bank to bring it home.