We're still confusing the consumer

How many consumers, do you think, go out to buy an HD-ready TV and then drive it with the 480i output from one of these receivers?
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The following correction notice appeared in my regional newspaper recently. It related to an earlier Gateway insert:

“The insert advertises the Gateway 41-inch plasma TV for $2499.99 after $300 mail-in rebate, after $299.99 bracket purchase. The insert states that this model is “HD-ready” (capable of displaying high-definition TV). This is incorrect. The insert should describe this model as “HD compatible” (capable of receiving high-definition input, but not capable of displaying high-definition TV). Gateway also offers a 42-inch plasma TV, which is HD-ready. This model is available for $4499.99. We apologize for this error.”

Going to Gateway’s Web site does not show much improvement in what must already be incredibly confusing lingo to the average consumer. The company offers three different 42-inch plasma displays. The one on special boasts a 600:1 contrast ratio with a native resolution (my words, not theirs) of 852x480 pixels. They call it “ED,” without definition. The company also offers an ultra bright version with the same resolution, but the contrast ratio is increased to 1000:1; still ED. Then the HD version — for that extra $2000 — has a native resolution of 1024x1024 pixels.

In the nitty-gritty detail of the ED version, although there is mention of scaling, there is the wonderful statement, “Compatible signals display resolutions up to 1280x1024.” What should the public make of that?

But then, if you read the FAQ on the HD display, comparing it to the ED version, “You will also notice a slight improvement in image quality when displaying HDTV signals.” There are more than double the pixels in the HD display. Why is there only a “slight improvement”? If that were really the case, the first thing to come to mind would be: Is there something seriously wrong with their video amplifiers?

At least with all the stories going around about shortened lives of plasma displays, Gateway does offer that display life will be “25,000 hours to half luminance (sic)” — but without any guarantee. And we won’t get into their “NTSC tuners.”

This little experience made me curious about what else the consumer was being told out there. A little reading through newspaper advertisements turned up some interesting questions. One vendor offered a Bose surround sound home theater system with “three wires, two speakers” (actually pictures three speakers). “It plays DVD, CD, MP3, plus AM/FM tuner.” “Feels like you’re at the game,” screams the banner. Doesn’t home theater imply pictures as well? I would have thought you might want a tuner and monitor to feel that close to the game, or even to get the best out of those DVDs you’re going to play.

How about a Toshiba “46-inch HD widescreen 16:9 HD monitor” that has an “HD Window Dual Tuner PIP.” Or a Mitsubishi 65-inch widescreen that “provides enhanced pixel multiplication.” Maybe we can get them breeding so that the display gets bigger every day!

Then there is a vendor offering a variety of models of a TV with “Velocity Scan Modulation” and lots of products with “3DYC digital filters.” And in the small print for an “HD-ready” TV it says, “Signal and tuner required.” But the accessory that I just have to get is a “universal glow remote!”

We have been bemoaning the lack of DTV terrestrial tuners over the last few years and the pressures to get them fitted to new receivers — in other words, to actually make them into receivers for DTV, discounting the analog “NTSC” tuner(s) that are fitted. There are now a number of HD/SD tuners on the market and the majority, which fall into the $499.99 to $699.99 price range, also offer satellite reception for DirecTV and DirecTV HD (sold without a dish or the LNB converter). But all of them offer scaled output, so you can set them to output 1080i, 720p, 480p, or 480i. At least one also offers a scaler for 480i to go up to 720p or 1080i. How many consumers, do you think, go out to buy an HD-ready TV and then drive it with the 480i output from one of these receivers? Or upscale their off-air analog signal (to make it better) and then watch on a native 480p display?

You may think either of those scenarios are absurd; however, recent research by the well-respected Yankee Group found that 26 percent of questioned consumers thought they already had an HDTV … No, of course they’re not confused. BE

Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.