HDTV slowly, but surely, gains fans

July 15, 2004|By Jerri Stroud | Jerri Stroud,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

High-definition television used to be only for the wealthy - or the particular - TV viewer.

No longer. HDTV sets are selling for as little as $550 for a 27-inch model or about $1,500 for the lowest-priced big-screen model, an informal check of retailers showed. Some high-end models cost $9,000 to $15,000 each.

And HD programming, once a rarity, is available from cable, satellite and broadcast sources.

"It's coming into the family rooms and the great rooms," said Tony Vieira, general manager of the Sound Room in Chesterfield, Mo., which specializes in high-end audio and video equipment.

Though just 10 percent of U.S. households have HDTV sets, 40 percent will have them by 2008, predicts Adi Kishore, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston. Kishore and other analysts estimate that Americans own about 10 million HD sets; about 2 million receive HD programming.

Retailers are responding to growing consumer interest by moving their HDTV sets toward the front of their showrooms. "It's definitely becoming more mainstream, and it will continue to become so as there is more and more programming available," said Steve Mullen of Circuit City Stores Inc., based in Richmond, Va.

But consumers might need to educate themselves before they shop because of the variety of sets and formats available. There are four main types of high-definition television screens - plasma, liquid crystal display, digital light processing and conventional cathode ray tube - each with advantages and disadvantages.

"It's a big change for people if they haven't bought a TV in a while," Mullen said.

To get high-definition pictures, you need a set capable of displaying such programs, a tuner that can receive the signals and a source of programming produced in HD format.

"The biggest problem we see is customers who take them home and don't use them on an HD signal," said Clancy Harms, owner of Dick's Radio & TV Inc. in St. Charles, Mo. "They complain that the picture is horrible, but there's nothing we can do. You have to have a high-definition signal."

Sets come with or without built-in tuners for receiving broadcast HD programs. Cable and satellite companies also sell or rent tuners to receive their programs.

Satellite subscribers might need a new dish and a new receiver, as well as a special antenna to get local channels in HD. Cable and satellite companies charge extra for HD subscriptions, though the increase in price from digital service is fairly small.

Crisp pictures are HD's strongest selling point. But most sets also come with sophisticated sound systems.

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