Video Placebo: Is that Really HDTV You Are Watching?

by on December 7, 2005

News of the video bizarre: According to a just-released survey by Scientific-Atlanta, millions of people who have HDTV sets apparently think they are watching high definition television, but aren’t. The survey was spurred by an earlier Forrester Research projection that by the end of the year some 16 million U.S. households will have HDTV sets, but only seven million wll have HDTV reception. The Scientific Atlanta survey found that, yes, some 49 percent of households were not taking advantage of their HD equipment. About a quarter found that their HD set itself provided better reception, without taking the additional steps necessary to view HD. Eighteen percent said they didn’t even know needed additional equipment, such as a set-top box or antenna. A quarter admitted they thought they were watching HD video because, after all, the programs said at the beginning that they were broadcast in HDTV.

The survey confirms the long-standing prejudice of many of us non-videophiles that HDTV really isn’t all that impressive. Still, it is milding shocking that so many people plunk down money for an HD set, but never catch on that it isn’t actually turned on.

This could open up a slew of innovative policy options for the digital transition. Perhaps, instead of actually allocating spectrum to HDTV broadcasts, the FCC could just say it has done so, saving the spectrum for more valued uses. And instead of requiring HD tuners on sets, the FCC could just require a sticker saying the set has an HD tuner. The possibilities are endless.

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