Monday, October 29, 2007

The Uninformed Person's Guide to Getting HDTV (Apparently, We Still Need This!)

A Canadian industry member recently told me that retailers are experiencing an increase in the returns of HDTVs. This reportedly isn't because flat-panel displays aren't up to snuff, or content isn't available: in fact, HDTVs are looking the best they ever have, and there's more HD content available than ever! The problem is that apparently, the average consumer still doesn't understand how to get HD content. Are you for real? I had to ask. Unfortunately, he was. Consumers, he said, are disappointed with the image quality when they plug in their units, and frustrated when they find out they aren't instantly getting HD.

That said, let's go through the basic "idiot's guide to getting HDTV". Step 1: Buy a high-def flat-panel TV. It will be labeled 720p, 1080i, or 1080p; or it should just say high-def on the spec card in the store. To make your life easy, just ask an available salesperson to help you. You're one step closer. If you plug this TV into your regular cable or satellite box, you'll get, you guessed it, regular cable or satellite. A high-def image will not magically appear. I know, it sounds like a fantastic idea - why not? We'll get to that point at some time in the future, I'm sure. For now, HD is a step up from standard TV, so logically, it will require additional equipment to obtain.

Step 2: call your cable/satellite service provider and ask for a high-definition set-top box. Most will have more than one choice, one of which is likely a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) that will let you record TV content right onto its hard drive, which you can then view any time you like. I'd highly recommend one of these if you're a heavy TV watcher; or often not home or available when your favourite shows are on. But that's besides the point. Once you know which HD box you want, order it. Then replace your old, standard definition box with this one (usually, the provider will send a technician to swap them out for you).

Step 3: As much as you'd like, having the box and the TV still doesn't instantly get you high-def: you need to subscribe to access it. Call your service provider, or visit its Website, and find a channel package that includes that provider's available high-definition channels. Basic cable won't cut it. Remember, even when you order high-def, only certain networks and certain programming are currently available in HD. For instance, Rogers Cable has about 36 available HD channels. Bell ExpressVu has more than 50. Some providers might give you a few of these for free upon purchase/rental of an HD set-top box. But in the end, you'll need to subscribe to an upgraded channel package to get all the ones you want permanently added to your daily listings.

Once these three steps have been followed, you're all set. Now you can get HDTV. All of the HD channels should be lumped together in your on-screen guide, and "HD" should be somewhere in the name so you know which ones they are. If you're not sure, check online or in the brochure you likely received with purchase/rental, and you should be able to find everything you need to know.

The whole process sounds more difficult than it really is. It's a simple concept that can be likened to buying a cup of coffee. You can buy the cup and pour the java in, but that doesn't make it a latte. If you want a latte, you have to order a latte. Starbucks, Second Cup, or wherever you go will mix up the glorious concoction for you, and charge you accordingly. But you can't order a coffee and expect a latte; despite the fact that all the basic ingredients are there.

It's unfortunate to know that salespeople still need to explain this. But if you want to ensure there are no product returns, I'd suggest explaining these three steps to your customer before he walks out the door with his fancy new TV. If it turns out he's an informed customer, laugh it off and tell him this story. If he's an uninformed one, you may have just saved yourself (and him!) a lot of time and money.


Anonymous said...

As a sales person myself I find this article very rude and derogatory towards consumers!!! It is not a surprise that a sales rep should still need to explain this to consumers and indeed as a sales rep it is our job to help consumers make an informed buying decision!!! HDTV is still relatively new to the general consumer. Just because we who work in and are surrounded by current and upcoming technology everyday take our level of understanding and competance for granted it doesn't mean ma & pa down the road who are used to just bringing a tv home plugging it in and it 'magically' working should be made to feel like idiots because now things no longer work that way!!!

I am quite offended by this article and your Godlike all-knowing holier-than-thou attitude!

I would expect more tolerance and understanding from people in the technology world.

Marketnews - Christine Persaud said...

Hi Ray,

I appreciate your comments, and I apologize if the entry offended you in any way. It was meant to be "tongue & cheek", employing some playful sarcasm. It is in no way meant to insult salespersons nor unaware consumers, in the same way that the very popular series of "idiot's guides" books aren't meant to really deem someone an "idiot".

I completely understand how the "regular" consumer thinks: my own parents told me the other day that they'd like one of those "TVs you can hang on the wall". I have other friends and family members as well that don't fully understand the concept of HD and how to obtain it. So this was just meant to be all in fun - if we can't laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?

Keep doing what you're doing, Ray. Salesmen who are as passionate about their work as you are are always a good thing!

And thank you, once again, for your comments.

Jim Muth said...

Your comments are "right on". I am a Professional Engineer and misordered a Satellite package from DIRECTTV re HDTV. The installation Supervisor fortunately provided me with the info you stated in your article saving me time and $$$. I'm sure MANY less informed people have the same lack of understanding of the HD process.
One doesn't just "plug & play" anything anymore

Denny said...

When it comes to the digital transition, there are a few things nearly everyone is confused about and for good reason. Many of the misconceptions have been started and fueled by those trying to make a buck. Below is my response to an email sent by a visitor to my website. He was under the impression that a special HDTV antenna and an HDTV was necessary to get free over the air TV after the February 17th 2009 analog shutdown date.

The word HDTV antenna is used very loosely and it applies that there are special TV antennas for HDTV. The fact is HDTV is a format that provides a sharper picture, wider picture on the TV screen, but it's more of a format then it is a signal. The type of signal that can carry the HDTV format is a digital signal. Digital signals for the most part are transmitted in the same manner as analog signals. The big difference between the two is the digital signal is data, 0's and 1's and it takes up a lot less frequency space to broadcast. Think of digital signal as a code that's deciphered by the digital tuner. The same over the air frequencies are used to broadcast both analog and digital signals. However, the digital code is much more efficient and can fit in a smaller space. This allows digital signals to carry more information and provide you with sharper pictures, more channels, on screen programming guides, and who knows what in the future. To produce an HDTV picture requires more information be sent to the tuner and the analog signal can't carry the amount of information required for HDTV, but the digital signal can.

TV antennas are designed to receive certain frequencies, VHF channels 2-13, UHF channels 14-69, or a combination of both VHF and UHF. Choosing a TV antenna for digital/HD reception is not much different then choosing an antenna for analog reception. Since digital signals are broadcast on both VHF and UHF frequencies just like analog, the same antennas are used to receive both the digital and analog signal. If you haven't already, I suggest that you visit a page I wrote called "HDTV Antenna or Digital TV Antenna" - It doesn't matter what you call it, it's still a TV antenna and you better choose the right one.

Also, you don't have to have an HDTV to receive the digital signals. I get upset when I hear people who are in a position of expertise say, "you have to have an HDTV to get TV after the analog shutdown in 2009", this simply isn't true. Just recently I heard these very words spoken by a guest expert on one of the network morning shows. To receive over the air TV after February 17th 2009 all you will need is a TV with a digital tuner built-in, not necessarily an HDTV. Although most HDTV's have digital tuners built-in and will receive the signal, there are standard TV's available everywhere with built-in digital tuners for much less money, You can get a 27" digital TV that will work fine after the 2009 deadline, provide you with a better picture then your old analog set, for less then $200.00. You can also get a digital set top tuner for your current analog TV that will convert the digital signal back to analog signal for your current TV. The Federal government will soon be offering $40.00 coupons towards the purchase of a set top digital tuner. I can't even imagine how much money is being wasted on HDTV's when the consumer would have been satisfied with a standard digital TV had they known. Yes, there are those who want HDTV, but many more are buying them because they think they have to.

The bottom line is, (1) HDTV antennas don't exist and you don't need a special TV antenna to receive digital broadcasts. (2). You don't have to buy an HDTV to receive free over the air TV after the analog shutdown on February 17, 2009, a digital set top tuner for your current TV or a standard TV a DTV with a built-in tuner is all that's needed.

Denny Duplessis
TV Antenna Source