Home > Clint's Blog > Joe Consumer Doesn’t Need HDTV

Joe Consumer Doesn’t Need HDTV

December 31st, 2007

Boy, did I get some eye openers this Christmas. Talking to my family, I decided to ask some probing questions and just take in the perspective that non-enthusiasts had regarding high definition, flat panels and the world of home theater in general. What I found was a mix between disturbing and humorous.

People are being forced into HD. They could just about care less…

Some interesting “observations” from my stealth investigative reporting:

  1. People care more about matching their existing furniture than anything else when deciding the size of the screen they will get
  2. No one. Let me reiterate: NO ONE understands the difference between plasma and LCD or how to tell the difference (this was the #1 question I got asked by almost everyone)
  3. Of those who aren’t furniture restricted, SIZE is the #1 (and often ONLY) important factor in buying a new television
  4. No one understands high-definition television as it pertains to resolution, aspect ratio or what they need to get it
  5. Most people think DVD looks great and don’t have the imagination to conceptualize anything better
  6. Most of my family still buy DVDs and do not use NetFlix or Blockbuster Online
  7. Everyone thinks “big screen” is some kind of understood term with a real number/size attached to it, rather than a subjective size one has to determine for themselves
  8. Surround sound is “hard” and anyone with 5.1, regardless of quality or configuration, is amazing.

As I said, this was somewhat humorous but also disturbing. I think the lesson learned is that, left to their own devices, most people would be watching standard definition on 32-inch CRT screens and happy. The consumer electronics industry should be congratulated (in a capitalist success sort of way) for bringing new technology to market so quickly and all but forcing consumers to buy it. I’ll just hope some of the advice I gave was well-received. Perhaps we’ll see when I ask the same probing questions next year…

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  1. AustinM
    December 31st, 2007 at 20:59 | #1

    One of the things that convinced my mother that buying a new LCD last year was a good idea was that she was embarrassed by their 17 year old Mitsubishi wooden cabinet TV. When she was at a party and heard people saying, “Do you remember back when we bought TVs in those big wooden cabinets? (laughter ensues)” After that, my mother wanted a new flat panel before she threw her next party.

  2. January 1st, 2008 at 13:33 | #2

    Nothing motivates like a little shame and social fear! 🙂

  3. IamAhab
    January 1st, 2008 at 15:16 | #3

    If only peer pressure always resulted in such a positive outcome.

  4. skris88
    January 1st, 2008 at 20:31 | #4

    Sorry that it took you so long to find out Clint that the majority of consumers have NO idea what digital video is all about.

    The problem is increased when sales persons in the consumer electronic stores themselves don’t understand the technologies and the benefits it brings. To my mind, SDTV (DVDs are SD too) is a huge improvement over analog TV and VCRs, why the industry is promoting HDTV is beyond me (other then their ability to make money). People also download Podcast video which are lower than VCR quality (MUCH lower!) and are ‘happy’ watching same on huge flat panel and projection screens!

    The clearest way for an in experienced viewer to learn the difference between SD and HD is if the two displays are side by side and each display is actually 4 times larger than normal – since there is approximately 4 times more data being displayed on HD; 84 inch HDTV plasmas for everyone? 🙂

    I went home and cried after I discovered my friend of many years purchased the best and most expesive Sony 50 inch LCD 1080-lines HDTV, but was watching only the analog 480-line channels – it had dual analog and digital tuners (this person is a professional and and expert in his field, a “high-IQ” person – as are his wife and children).

    When I switched to the HDTV of the same programming, him and his family were ho-hum about the difference in image quality, but chose insted to comment on the new “huge” delay when switching between channels…. Sigh!

    The good thing is, now – after several months – they go OUCH when they accidentally switch back to an analog channel. They still watch the TV with garish contrast, brightness and saturation settings though!

    My next goal is to get them to understand hi-fi audio….

    It’s a long, slow (and very painful to us) process Clint!


  5. Rob
    January 2nd, 2008 at 05:00 | #5

    To be fair, what Clint experienced is the same thing any enthusiast of any hobby experiences when they talk to someone who has no keen interest in that hobby. I know next to nothing about cars. I know how to drive one and put gas in it, but that’s about it! When I talk to car enthusiasts, I do the same thing as most people do when I talk to them about home theatre: I nod, I say “uh huh” a lot and I just try not to say anything too stupid, which is hard because I don’t know what I’m talking about!

    Sometimes, we home theatre enthusiasts use the argument that pretty much everyone has a TV and watches movies fairly regularly, so shouldn’t they care about quality and at least a basic understanding of how it works? Well the same argument could easily be used about cars. Pretty much everyone has one and even if they don’t drive, they almost certainly ride in cars a lot. Shouldn’t everyone care about quality and have at least a basic understanding of how they work?

    So really, it’s that way with any interest. How about medicine? We all have bodies and we all get sick? But a whole lot of people are really quite ignorant when it comes to anatomy and biology and how the body actually works. How about how to build a house? Or how about how to grow food? How about astronomy, philosophy, history or math? What about economics or investing?

    There are tons of things that are important – far more important than home theatre – that many people are ignorant about. How many among us can truly say that we’re genuinely well versed and familiar with all of the topics I just listed?

    The thing is, when we are ignorant about a subject, we don’t really have a desire to learn about it for ourselves, but we still have some need or interest in it, what do we do? We ask an expert or an enthusiast for advice, or we pay them to do it for us, of course! So when it comes to home theatre, something that truly exists primarily for entertainment, it isn’t the least bit surprising that the majority of people do not actually have a keen interest in it and are therefore, mostly ignorant about it. But we are the experts and enthusiasts, and the best thing that we can do is to offer our knowledge when asked and if there is no genuine interest in learning, to charge money to do it for them! It’s the same arrangement as for any other topic – but at least ours is more fun 😀

  6. January 2nd, 2008 at 12:33 | #6

    ” I nod, I say “uh huh” a lot and I just try not to say anything too stupid, which is hard because I don’t know what I’m talking about!”

    THANK YOU, ROB!!! This is how I feel during many podcasts. I actually continue to learn due to over exposure but I think your point is well made. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE our home theatre but I don’t understand how or why it works. And since I married a geek, I won’t ever have to. And it may frustrate my geek (and Tom) but there it is.

  7. AustinM
    January 2nd, 2008 at 13:49 | #7

    What upsets me are people who refuse to learn. Dina says she doesn’t understand and doesn’t have to, but at least she is open to expanding her knowledge through exposure.

    When people ask me about HDTV, I try to walk them through all the stuff, but too often they cut me off and expect a simple answer. They are very unhappy when I tell that there is no simple answer and that they will have to learn this stuff in order to be an informed consumer.

  8. January 2nd, 2008 at 18:20 | #8

    Hey Rob, that’s a pretty good commentary! I never thought of it that way.

    I wonder… Hmmm.. Next time someone asks me a question, I should probably charge them $100 for an hour consultation, even it if takes 5 mins to answer them. *laugh*

  9. allargon
    January 5th, 2008 at 11:42 | #9

    Dina knows a lot more than she claims. I’m not buying her clueless act. I do like how she puts us in place when discussing huge, overbearing loudspeakers in the family room. Big rooms need big sound, eh? Many peole I know still have big (by Hollywood home video standards) 27″, 32″ CRT’s on display. One guy even had a yellow tinge (smoker–not even a tint–more like a tinge) to both of his CRT’s. I kept my mouth shut since these were friends. I do bring a calibration disc along for people who ask–only those that ask.

  10. Dan
    January 7th, 2008 at 19:11 | #10

    Geekboy wrote: “I think the lesson learned is that, left to their own devices, most people would be watching standard definition on 32-inch CRT screens and happy.”

    You make that sound like it’s a bad thing. Sorry, but I’m a big fan of contentment in all its forms. And perfectly happy with my 32-inch CRT.

    Looking forward to upgrading to HD, but nonetheless happy in the mean time.

  11. vicki
    January 9th, 2008 at 22:27 | #11

    Clint, Gary and I experienced the same conversations with both families over the holidays. I would also add the following (from a woman’s viewpoint):

    * Men will quickly spend $1500-$3000 on a flat screen (either LCD or Plasma) but completely freak over the $100 price of a cable to hook up their components! (Not that a $100 cable is needed, but Circuit City gladly talked my brother into buying one!)
    * Many, many, MANY people think “overhead projector” from elementary school when you try explaining about the projector in your home theater. NO CLUE!
    * My friends say,”I don’t want him to take up one WHOLE wall in the House!” Ahhh… that, my dear, is where the retractable screen thingy comes in! (Yes, Tom, I am friends with Dina.)
    * Finally, the priceless Mother comment which sums up the average female consumer (of which Dina and I am not) when arguing the point of why my dad shouldn’t get a larger TV to watch his NASCAR races on (in HD, I urge)… “I don’t think I need to see Oprah THAT big!”

    I LOVE my HD television that I pushed to get in the living room (yes, I bought one that would specifically fit in the pre-existing hole over the fireplace) for the kids and I to watch tv on when Daddy is not home or to watch college football (in HD) when I am fixing snacks in the kitchen… but I do absolutely CRINGE every month when I pay the cable company for the 2 HD boxes and the HD cable package. OUCH!

  12. January 11th, 2008 at 13:54 | #12

    Dan – sometimes ignorance truly is bliss. I have heard about the joys of Tivo but since I’ve not experienced them, I’m perfectly happy with my DVR.

    Vicki – If you are one of the lucky ones to live in an area where cable has competition (other than satellite) – you know what a racket cable is. All the rest of us are paying way more for way less features and service. I just try not to think about it as much as possible and keep praying for FiOS.

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