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Surveys Indicate HDTV Sales are Big and Getting Bigger

HD-capable TV sales continue to increase in the United States. Information reported by the Leichtman Research Group indicates that the number of households with HDTV-capable sets doubled in the past year, and that currently 7 percent of U.S. households have an HD-capable set. They further report that the mean household income of HDTV owners has dropped from $95,000 to $80,000 per year during the same period.

In addition, it seems that advanced displays are well on their way to replacing CRTs on the shelves. We have previously reported on the increasing popularity of flat-panel and shallow rear-projection sets among consumers. The quality of the images displayed on such advanced displays is getting better, as prices are dropping. The venerable CRT can deliver very good image quality, but at the expense of physical size and weight, which increases geometrically with screen size.

Advanced displays attracting today's customers include liquid crystal display (LCD) panels, plasma display panels (PDP), and rear projectors based on DLP and LCD microdisplays. A once-promising newcomer, LCOS--a hybrid microdisplay device combining elements of DLPs and LCDs, faltered as it came out of the starting gate, at least temporarily. Another new technology, Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display (SED) will be the latest to join the new display technologies in the marketplace (see below).

Another recent survey, by telecommunications information gatherer IDC, asked likely TV buyers about their preferences for TV types, display technologies, sizes, and other factors. It indicates that LCD and PDP flat panel displays have attracted most consumer attention, but that microdisplay-based projection sets and HDTV-capable CRTs are also on potential buyers' radar screens. It also shows that this holiday season's likely purchaser wants to buy a 42-inch flat-panel HDTV priced under $2,000, made by a major consumer electronics manufacturer, and purchased at a familiar consumer electronics retail store. Survey results and comments elicited from survey participants revealed that the two key issues arising are that price points are a major inhibitor in this market; and that consumers are overwhelmed and confused about choices and options.

A recurring theme in the HDTV market research is consumer confusion over what is available, and what it does for them. Many consumers do not understand that not all advanced displays have HDTV resolution capabilities. Other marketplace problems repeatedly cited by those in the business include factors such as too many remote controls, cables, options and choices. At the August HDTV Forum, an annual conference sponsored by the advanced display industries, these issues were repeatedly cited as some of the greatest hurdles to be overcome by the display industry, if consumer acceptance is to be maximized.

A third recent survey, this one commissioned by cable MSO Comcast, found that 49 percent of Americans surveyed said that HDTV would be a critical component of their ultimate home entertainment experience, and 43 percent said that they never expected to buy an SD television again. It is interesting to note that of those stating that they are planning to buy an HDTV set during this holiday season, over half plan to buy one for themselves.

This survey also indicated that the confusion factor over HDTV is still high--40 percent of respondents replied that they did not know whether it is true that one can enjoy the high-definition experience simply by plugging in an HDTV set.

It is apparent that, although sales of HDTV and HDTV-capable hardware are high and rising, the consumer electronics and program distribution industries have their work cut out for them. Consumer confusion and the daunting proliferation of choices must be addressed.