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Consumer Reports advice on buying HDTV, Plasma TV, LCD TV sets
Posted Wednesday, March 15, 2006
March Issue Has Latest Ratings of HDTV, Plasma TV and LCD television sets
Yonkers, NY – A combination of holiday deals on high definition TVs, hoopla surrounding HD television broadcasts of the Super Bowl and Olympics, and the arrival of sets with bigger screens and lower prices will find many consumers pumped up about buying an HDTV. And the March 2006 issue of Consumer Reports magazine suggests that there’s no reason to hold off that purchase but also offers consumers some must-have advice when shopping for a new HDTV set. The March issue also contains CR’s latest expert and unbiased Ratings on LCD TV, plasma TV, rear-projection and picture-tube TVs.
New brands: Be open to some new names but wary of others. Some off-brands cost much less than major brands and consumers may expect them to be mediocre, as was the result in many cases. But several of the low-priced LCD television sets that CR tested did surprisingly well.
Time a purchase to take advantage of expected price drops. While lesser-known television brands are playing the price card, consumers also will find that major brands are becoming less expensive. The price erosion is likely to continue especially for the biggest, priciest sets. By summer, prices of 50-inch plasma TVs and LCD TV flat panels larger than 40 inches could fall by $500. But little change is likely for picture-tube TVs and CRT-based rear-projection TV sets. The magazine notes that consumers could save money on the biggest-screen TVs if they are willing to wait a few months. But CR also advises that there’s little reason to wait to buy a smaller LCD television or plasma TV set, or a tube-based set.
Buy a big screen TV to see the best HD broadcasts. Consumer Reports’ survey of 500 HDTV owners showed that viewing enjoyment increased with screen size, and many wished they’d purchased a bigger set. The magazine recommends opting for a 16:9 wide screen, which is better suited to viewing HD TV programming. And for optimal viewing, sit at least 4 feet from a 37-inch or smaller HDTV set and 5 to 9 feet from a 40-65-inch screen. Images may appear coarse to viewers sitting any closer.
Consider the digital-tuner setup. HD-ready TVs require an external digital tuner such as a cable or satellite box to receive high-definition broadcasts. Integrated HDTV sets have built-in digital tuners that enable them to receive free broadcast digital signals, including HD, via VHF/UHF antenna. But they need a cable or satellite box to receive HD programs and premium channels via those subscription services. Some integrated TV sets also have QAM tuners. Besides getting digital signals by antenna, they can receive unscrambled digital-cable signals – including the local HD channels in cable packages - via a cable into the set, without a box. Digital-cable-ready (DCR) televisions can tune in HD TV programming and premium channels with a CableCard (rented from the cable company for a few dollars a month) that goes into a slot on the TV. But CR notes that DCR TV is one-way, so there is no access to interactive program guides, video on demand, or pay-per-view ordering via the remote. Second-generation DCR-TVs aren’t due for a while.
Decide whether to pay top dollar for a state-of-the-art 1080p TV. In Consumer Reports initial tests of 1080p sets (the first with the potential to display all the detail in 1080i signals, the most common HD TV format) some showed very fine detail but others didn’t make the most of the high resolution. Improved detail related to 1080p resolution alone doesn’t guarantee excellent images. If consumers want the best possible quality and cost is no issue, CR recommends shoppers buy a 1080p set. But if excellent picture quality is top priority, consumers can save by buying one of the best non-1080p TV sets instead.
Consider differences in reliability. Consumer Reports notes that it’s too soon to know about the long-term reliability of many of these TV sets and advises that consumers not rule out an extended warranty for LCD television and plasma television sets, especially for off-brands and expensive models. But the magazine also warns that consumers should pay no more than 15 to 20 percent of the TV’s cost. Microdisplays using LCD TV, DLP, or LCoS TV technology have been the most repair-prone type during their first year of use according to CR survey data. Toshiba DLP TVs have been less repair-prone than most.
EA Drives Increased Efforts to Educate Consumers on Transition to Digital Television; Industry Agrees on Voluntary Label Program for Analog TVs
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 15, 2006--The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA(R)) today announced a broad-based, member-driven voluntary effort to help inform consumers about the nation's transition from analog to digital television (DTV). The effort will include a voluntary labeling program for TVs that have only analog TV tuners, as well as general consumer education about the transition to digital.
"We have reached an important milestone in the transition to DTV with the adoption by Congress of the February 17, 2009 date for the switch over to all digital broadcasting," said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. "CEA has long supported a cut-off date but our job is not yet done. CEA and its members are now focused on continuing to educate consumers about this exciting new era in television."
The CEA Executive Board asked the Video Division Board to draft and agree upon voluntary language for a Consumer Advisory Label to help inform consumers about television sets that are equipped with only an analog (NTSC) tuner. The language agreed upon is as follows:
Notice: This TV has only an 'analog' broadcast tuner so will
require a converter box after February 17, 2009 to receive
over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna, because of the
nation's transition to digital broadcasting on that date, as
required by Federal law. (It should continue to work as before
with cable and satellite TV systems, gaming consoles, VCRs,
DVD players and similar products.)
The Consumer Advisory Label will be placed prominently on analog only TVs. CE manufacturers also will agree to include such language permanently and conspicuously on the outside of the retail packaging of analog-only TV. CEA and TV manufacturers are working with retailers and others on implementation dates and overall DTV consumer education, in order to have the broadest impact.
CEA forecasts that U.S. consumers will purchase more than 18 million DTV sets and displays this year, marking a 50 percent increase over 2005 sales. Just within the first 8 weeks of 2006, more than 1.6 million DTV units have been sold to dealers. This represents a 60 percent increase over the same period in 2005. By the end of 2006, CEA forecasts total DTV unit shipments will be over 48 million. 2006 also marks a landmark year in which DTV units - even HDTV units - will outsell analog television sets.
CEA also will continue its award-winning efforts to educate consumers about the DTV transition. CEA's wealth of voluntary education and promotional initiatives includes websites, printed collateral and media outreach. CEA currently operates various websites that promote the DTV transition through consumer and retailer education.
"We look forward to working with manufacturers, retailers, government and all other industries involved in the switch to DTV to develop and implement a vast array of consumer educational programs," concluded Shapiro.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is the preeminent trade association promoting growth in the consumer technology industry through technology policy, events, research, promotion and the fostering of business and strategic relationships. CEA represents more than 2,100 corporate members involved in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution and integration of audio, video, mobile electronics, wireless and landline communications, information technology, home networking, multimedia and accessory products, as well as related services that are sold through consumer channels. Combined, CEA's members account for more than $125 billion in annual sales. CEA's resources are available online at www.CE.org, the definitive source for information about the consumer electronics industry.
igh Hurdles in Digital-TV Race
With deadline ahead, television industry assesses nagging issues
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/20/2006
Consumer-electronics manufacturers, broadcasters and legislators descended on Washington last week for the Consumer Electronics Association's Entertainment Technology Policy Summit. The mood was upbeat, as set-makers spoke of the growing adoption of high-definition TVs and programmers touted their increased HD output.
But the tone at the show (co-sponsored by B&C) was at times sober, as attendees spoke of the obstacles they must overcome before analog TV gets turned off.
CEA chief Gary Shapiro said that, for the first time, set-makers will sell more HDTV sets than analog TVs in 2006. The association predicts 12.2 million sets with integrated digital tuners will ship this year and 27.1 million DTV sets in 2009, when analog signals are scheduled to cease.
Shapiro added that the DTV budget bill signed last month by President Bush, which set the “hard date” of Feb. 17, 2009, for the turnoff of analog signals, was a significant milepost in the industry's long march to HDTV: “We, in essence, set the finish line.”
But reaching that finish line remains an issue, given the potential roadblocks.
In his keynote address, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said most Americans don't realize that analog TV signals will cease in 2009. He called for a national campaign to educate consumers about the turnoff and their options for receiving DTV service, which include purchasing subsidized set-top boxes that will receive digital signals and convert them to analog for viewing on older sets.
“If we don't get this right,” Adelstein warned, “we could face a tsunami of public outrage.”
He added that one of the major problems facing the transition is that “consumers are buying up analog TVs at bargain-basement prices” and creating a bigger universe of potentially obsolete sets, despite set-makers' efforts to gradually integrate DTV tuners into their products per federal mandate. He would like to see the FCC work with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is overseeing the digital-to-analog converter-box program, to create a “federal DTV task force” to improve consumer awareness. He also called for more help from consumer-electronics companies, the entertainment community and broadcasters.
Even if “late adopters” get the message about the turnoff and apply for their $40 subsidy for a converter box, there are concerns about the boxes themselves. Electronics manufacturers say ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee)-compliant receiver chips are in their fifth generation of development and can reliably receive DTV signals on small indoor antennas, but there is no guarantee that the latest chips will be in low-cost DTV set-tops. That may mean that people who buy the boxes will need to replace their “rabbit-ear” antennas with specialized indoor antennas or even install a rooftop antenna.
“You have no way of knowing what generation of chip you're buying,” notes Ira Goldstone, chief technology officer for Tribune Broadcasting. “If you're buying an HD set today, it doesn't say 'second-generation ATSC tuner' on it.”
CBS VP of Advanced Technology Bob Seidel says his network has seen a broad range of performance in DTV tuners it has tested over the years, and he believes differences in quality will get wider as companies from China and Taiwan enter the digital-to-analog converter-box market. “Some manufacturers will be looking to enter the market with the lowest possible cost,” says Seidel. “So instead of the $5 tuner, they might go with the $1.25 model.”
The suggested $40 rebate and projected $50 total cost of the boxes is unrealistic, he adds, noting that CBS research indicates that the price of the parts and the technology licenses for such set-tops will add up to $40 per box before the retail markup.
Circuit City Chairman Alan McCollough, for one, doesn't like the idea of a converter box in the first place, because DTV set-tops are already a high-return item at the retail chain. Instead, he would like to see broadcasters offer all their programming, both analog and digital, in the widescreen format to spur consumers to upgrade to DTV sets. “I'm suggesting all wide, all the time,” he says.
Several attendees indicated a lack of confidence in policy-makers. Brandon Burgess, CEO of Ion Media Networks (formerly Paxson), says the government is at fault for failing to enact rules on pressing issues like converter-box requirements, digital must-carry and the broadcast flag. “Putting off rules is a way to delay the hard date,” he says. “If it becomes apparent around election time in 2008 that this thing isn't working, you are going to see a delay in the hard date.”
Most agree there's a load of work to do before the hard date arrives. Rick Chessen, former associate chief of the FCC media bureau and now a lawyer with Washington firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, notes that 200 stations are not yet offering a digital signal, 50% of DTV stations are still operating at low power, and some 500 stations will be moving their DTV channel assignments as part of the transition.
He says, “There is a very complicated dance that needs to happen over the next two years.”
CEA also sponsors and manages the International CES - Defining Tomorrow's Technology. All profits from CES are reinvested into industry services, including technical training and education, industry promotion, engineering standards development, market research and legislative advocacy.
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