After years of hype, High Definition Television sets, the much-touted TV of the future, have arrived in Los Angeles.
And despite a $5,500 price tag not to mention the fact that no programming has yet to be broadcast in HDTV’s digital format a few people are actually buying the things.
A Good Guys store in the Beverly Connection, the first and so far the only L.A. electronics retailer to stock HDTV sets, has sold four 56-inch Panasonic HDTV sets since Aug. 20. Three others have been purchased at one of the chain’s San Francisco outlets.
The buyers would best be described as “early adopters” that unusual breed of high-tech junkies who jump into new technologies in order to be among the first, said Gil Dennis, manager of the Good Guys store. Most of the sets have been purchased as components of elaborate home-entertainment systems, he added.
But the store’s display model seems to be grabbing the imaginations of less adventurous consumers, who have been lining up to get a peak at HDTV, Dennis said.
“They’re stunned” by the sharpness of the picture, he said. “It’s absolutely amazing. We’ve had crowds of people surrounding the television.”
With pictures that are four times sharper than today’s sets and sound that rivals that of a movie theater, digital television is being heralded in the consumer electronics industry as the most dramatic improvement in video technology since color TV appeared in the 1950s.
The problem is, owners of the new sets won’t be able to take advantage of the new technology until fall and even then, HDTV will be available only on a limited basis.
By Nov. 1, the four major networks ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are scheduled to start broadcasting a portion of their programs in HDTV format in the top 10 U.S. markets. By 2005, all stations will be mandated by the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast 100 percent of their programming in a digital format.
“Why buy one now?” asked Sean Kaldor, an analyst with International Data Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. “Early adopters will jump in to be able to say they were there first. But it’s going to take a long time for HDTV to evolve into a mainstream product. You need the content before the device.”
Nonetheless, Good Guys officials maintain that HDTV sets enhance existing broadcast, cable, satellite and DVD content, and expect to begin selling more of the sets as people become more familiar with the technology.
“The sets also have the best analog capabilities,” said Kari Seward, the chain’s associate television buyer. “People who want a high-quality set and have future-compatible product, they might as well get an HDTV.”
By the end of the year, the HDTV sets will be available in all of the chain’s 77 stores, Seward added.