HD at home

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Although HD is becoming a standard feature of CE products, consumers still need to be educated about the benefits of HD and availability of HD products and content, advises George Cole.

There was a time when the high definition market was confined to enthusiasts with deep pockets, but these days, HD is becoming a mainstream proposition. While it’s true that HD capability still commands a premium over standard definition, the gap is narrowing and many more products (such as large screen televisions, home theatre systems, camcorders and PVRs) are offering HD as a standard feature. HDTV channels and HD packaged media like Blu-ray are also becoming more widely available and more affordable.

HD product offers

So are consumers generally switching from SD to HD? “The digital switchover has been a big driver for HDTV,” says Christian Brown, Sony’s senior category marketing manager. Many consumers have replaced the main TV with a large flat screen display in order to receive digital TV, and as a result, now have an HD ready TV set in the living room – even if they are unaware of the fact. Tom Henderson, Philips’ trade marketing manager for TV/AVM, says, “Consumers are definitely switching from SD to HD. The cost of HD devices such as Blu-ray players has come down dramatically in the last few years, while the availability of HD content, from a wide range of sources, has grown exponentially. HD is now constantly in the public consciousness and entry is relatively easy, making HD a natural choice for many consumers.”

George Mead, LG’s marketing manager for home entertainment, says, “UK consumers love watching television and we’ve seen their appetite for high definition TVs dramatically increase over the past couple of years, very much in line with the increased availability of HD content.” Andy Griffiths, Samsung’s vice president, consumer electronics, also thinks there a shift towards HD, but strikes a note of caution, “Many consumers are shifting to HD products, but are unaware that the content is also different – they put the quality differences down to just the product. However, HD is one of the better understood technological advances, when compared with many others,” he adds.

The range of HD products on offer is impressive and includes TVs (HD Ready sets and HDTVs), PVRs, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players and recorders, and camcorders. The product categories attracting the most consumers to HD are television and Blu-ray, says Philips’ Henderson, “The starting point for HD has always been the TV, and most manufacturers sets are now Full HD products by default. Also, Blu-ray players have now reached prices where they become obvious replacement products for DVD players.” All Philips TVs over 32in screen size have been offering Full HD for some time, while the company also has a wide range of Blu-ray players. All of LG’s 2010 home entertainment products are high definition ready, and over half of LG’s current television range includes built-in Freeview HD. “This really reflects the demand for not only HD picture quality but readily available HD content,” says LG’s Mead, “this is just one of the reasons there are now around 4 million households already enjoying the great benefits of high definition television.”

Sony’s Brown agrees that TV and Blu-ray products are driving the HD market, pointing out that 75% of Sony’s Bravia range of TVs now includes HD as standard. HD has also driven the 3D market and Sony has put 3D in HD functionality on a number of Bravia models. Samsung’s Griffiths also thinks TVs are driving the HD market, although he reiterates his point that consumers often buy HDTVs and think that this means they now have HD, unaware that they could improve their viewing further by upgrading the content from SD to HD.

HD services

HD services are available on cable, satellite and terrestrial services. Free HDTV services can be received via Freesat and Freeview (Sky also offers Freesat for a one-off payment). Freeview HD offers HDTV through a rooftop aerial and is currently available to around 55% of homes. The Freeview HD channel line-up at the end of 2010 consisted of BBC One HD, ITV 1 HD, 4HD and BBC HD. FreeviewHD is available via FreeviewHD TV sets, PVRs and set-top boxes, and three quarters of Sony’s current Bravia range offers Freeview HD.

Sony’s Brown says consumers are attracted to Freeview HD TVs because, “They offer easy access to subscription-free channels and there’s no need for an extra set-top box. It allows consumers to watch all their favourite programmes in brilliantly clear high-definition detail.” Freesat is now in more than 1.4 million homes and offers BBC HD, BBC One HD, and ITV HD channels in England, Wales and the Borders TV region in Scotland. Freesat HD can be received by HDTVs, PVRs and set-top boxes; offering consumers various ways of receiving the service.

HD content

But some wonder if there is enough HD content to persuade consumers to trade up to HD products. LG’s Mead thinks so, “The last couple of years have seen a significant increase in the availability of HD content, with the launch of broadcast services like Sky HD – which now offers over 50 channels in high definition – as well as Freeview HD and more movies available on Blu-ray. This has caused more people to change the way they are watching television and look for programmes on high definition channels. In time, all television viewing will be in HD.”

Sony’s Brown says that in addition to Freeview HD, “Consumers will also have the choice of watching HD content via online sources. Broadcasters including Sky, Virgin Media and BT Vision all provide HD channels with new content being added all the time. Our 2010 Blu-ray players and home theatre systems all have DVD upscaling, to 1080p, producing an excellent HD picture.” Samsung’s Griffiths sees more HD content coming from the internet, such as the HD content available from BBC iPlayer. Philips’ Henderson points out that, “HD is not just about Blu-ray but is a format that includes games and even user generated content”. User generated HD content is possible thanks to affordable HD camcorders, and also pocket-sized camcorders that store HD video on memory cards, like Panasonic’s HM-TA1 and Sony’s Bloggie PM5. These can record Full HD video, which can be transferred to a PC and then uploaded to the web.

But some wonder whether the quality leap from DVD to Blu-ray is sufficient enough to tempt consumers to trade up to the HD video format. Philips’ Henderson says, “While many users may be happy with DVD, the average TV screen size has increased over the past few years, from 28 inches to around 37 inches. On this screen size, consumers can see that HD is clearly better in terms of both picture and sound. It then becomes a question of cost and availability of content.” Samsung’s Griffiths adds that for the majority of consumers, opting for DVD or Blu-ray is still about content. “DVD still has that advantage and the large amount of content is the big draw for DVD. It’s perhaps not understood that Blu-ray is backwards compatible and DVD’s will playback on Blu-ray players.” Griffiths also thinks that too much emphasis has been put on the benefits of Blu-ray’s picture quality, with the result that, other benefits, such as HD Audio and interactive features, have been missed. “When DVD took off, the picture quality was not the only reason most consumers adopted it – the ease of use, available content and sound quality played a big part too,” he adds.

Educating consumers

There are many HD products to tempt consumers, but education on the benefits of HD, the wide availability of HD products and content, and how consumers can get the best out of their HD investment are importa
nt, says, Philips’ Henderson, “There is still some need to educate and reach out to the mainstream consumer to help them learn the benefits of HD and how to get it. It’s not an instant process and takes time but the industry is definitely making great headway.”

LG’s Mead thinks that the increase in sales of HDTVs reflects the fact that more people are realising that high definition offers significantly improved picture quality, and in turn, improves the viewing experience. “Retailers are continuing to support this education of consumers by showcasing the difference in picture quality via in-store demonstrations, and the launch of services such as Freeview HD and Sky HD having also bolstered this awareness of HD,” he says.

However, Mead adds that there are still many people who haven’t made the leap from SD to HD, and these might not be aware of the benefits of watching television in HD. “For example, there is still some confusion around the fact that Blu-ray players can play both Blu-ray and DVD format discs – so, there’s no need to replace your whole catalogue of DVDs just because you upgrade your player,” he notes. LG has produced an online buyer’s guide, which explains the differences between SD and. HD, and the company also runs consumer road shows. With so many HD products out there, and HD content increasing all the time, there is much be optimistic about the growth of the HD market in the coming 12 months.

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