Nielsen Brings Clarity To High Def: Depends On The Def-inition

Thanks in large part to America's conversion to digital broadcast spectrum next month, HDTV sets are closer to becoming the TV industry standard. But the picture may not be as clear as that. When it comes to the ability to actually receive a high def TV signal, Americans are much slower on the uptake. Those are among the conclusions of a new study on the penetration of high-definition TV, or HDTV released Thursday by Nielsen.

"There are a number of reasons that may explain this difference," the report explains. "One reason is that consumers may often confuse content they view on an HD set as HD programming. Not recognizing the need to upgrade their cable or satellite subscription to receive HD content, many consumers buy HD sets and connect them to their current (non-HD) set top boxes, believing that what they are watching is in HD when, in fact, it is not."

Nielsen estimates that a third of the U.S. population had at least one HDTV set in their homes as of February of this year, but that only 28.8% were actually capable of receiving an HDTV signal in their home.

Nielsen surmised that another mitigating factor might be the additional costs associated with subscribing to high def TV reception on an ongoing basis. Many of the households that have purchased an high def TV set, bought them to replace older standard definition models, or bought new digital TV sets thinking they had to in order to be capable of receiving a broadcast TV signal following the digital broadcast spectrum conversion next month.

"While consumers may be willing to incur a large, one-time expense to buy an HD set, they may be less inclined to immediately add the monthly cost of receiving HD programming from their cable/satellite service provider. This is especially true of homes with multiple sets, as each requires a separate set top box," the Nielsen report explains.

Interestingly, the study shows that high def TV sets tend to be placed in the family or living room of most households, suggesting that if/when they do receive high def TV signals, that programming may be more of a "family viewing" experience.

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