Thursday, June 28, 2007

High-Definition Sets, Channels to Match

Transitions to new technology is an old story in the broadcast industry. Recall color tv - standardized in 1953 but it was not till the early 1960's that more than 50% of the homes had a color tv. What caused the public to finally adopt color -- the tv show Bonanza, call it the "killer app" of its day.

So, when HDTV was standardized, the dates are confusing but let's use 2000 since that was when the final official standard was published (as I recall).
So, it will probably take until 2012-2015 before 50% of the homes have HDTV unless a "killer app" show appears. I have watched HDTV shows and the compelling programming to me is live sports - watching the action on a wide screen with higher resolution changes what you see in a game - but others might enjoy nature, history, and drama shows. But so far it has not happened and I doubt it will happen soon.

Here are some other significant, albeit stupid issues, that people have raised:

1. Custom built home entertainment centers that were designed for a 30"+ 4:3 set
will not easily accept a 40-60" wide screen display. Humm, rip out the woodwork? Install a projector?

2. Until very recently, you could not record HDTV programming for on-demand replay. Now there are HDTV dvd recorders and some early tape decks.

3. Until recently, HDTV was not available on cable systems. Over the air broadcasts are not as widely available as you might think w/o installing a tall antenna on your roof - remember those funny pictures of neighborhoods in the 1950's with every house having an 8-15 foot tv antenna. Satellite has carried HDTV for some time, but they have relatively few subscribers - maybe 10M out of 100+M homes. In the US over 75-80% of the homes have cable or satellite so the dominant distribution channel is cable.

4. Cost continues to be an issue. $6-10K plasma displays are selling well, but not in the 10's of millions. I was told once by someone in the tv manufacturing industry that the magic number is $1K. My sense is that $2K is an important price point too as many people have bought wide/big screen tv's for that price.

Finally, I was told by someone at Phillips that the average lifetime for a tv is 12 years. So, it will take at least 6 years before half the people have replaced a tv -people who will make a conscious decision to buy or not buy an HDTV. In the early years, the percentage who will try the new technology is going to be low for many reasons - lack of programming, cost, signal receipt problems, etc.

SO, I am continuing to watch for the "killer show" that will only be good if you can get it in HDTV. So far, I haven't seen it.
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