Consumer Confusion Lingers Over HD

Relatively high price points were often cited as the key reason why most consumers had not yet jumped onto the slow-rolling DTV bandwagon. That once-legitimate excuse is not nearly as credible today as even a year ago, but another reason for hesitancy persists: TMI, or "too much information."

Despite impressive-sounding sales numbers for flat-screen LCD, plasma and other forms of DTV products in the third quarter of 2005 and leading into this holiday shopping season (admittedly, prominently featured in this week's HD Notebook), some serious confusion at the retail level continues to linger.

For example, a recent holiday shopping item in the Dallas Morning News quotes a bevy of industry observers/researchers about the HD conversion, including one analyst who finds some of her seemingly contradictory research "fascinating" because of what it may reveal.

What is of interest to some observers is the oft-repeated query that a lot of industry groups use to either bolster their argument, or help determine what consumers may do in the near-term future, for example: "Do you plan to buy an HDTV set in the next year or so?" Analysts have learned that if 10 percent say yes, they "plan" to, typically no more than 7 percent will actually follow through on their intentions. However, in some HD research, only about 3 percent end up buying an HD unit--or less than half the typical numbers.

Why such a low follow-through rate? Analysts in the Dallas article and other publications cite lingering confusion at the store level (including, uninformed or misinformed sales people who are often temporary seasonal help and/or poor-quality floor demos).

Even the most determined HD buyers, they say, are walking into U.S. stores this month and are so overwhelmed with various HD technologies and the cable, DBS and terrestrial options, as well as mixed signals on exactly how much HD content is currently available to them, that consumers reluctantly decide to wait a while longer until they can understand what they're literally buying into. In other words, they continue to stall.