HDTV hardware makers fight customer confusion

Misunderstood technology is the "biggest concern" facing high-definition television, Sony and Panasonic execs say.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
2 min read
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--Consumers are confused about high-definition television.

Most buyers and potential customers do not have a firm grasp on what exactly this whole HDTV thing is all about, according to Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow and Panasonic North America Chief Technology Officer Paul Liao. But both executives say they'd like to help.

At the fourth annual DisplaySearch HDTV Conference on Wednesday, the two consumer electronics executives stressed the importance of educating both consumers and retailers about high-definition content, such as HDTV channel services and next-generation DVD formats, and hardware including TVs and HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players.

"Some of us have confused ourselves as to what's going on. You can imagine how consumers are feeling," Glasgow told the audience here at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

He cited a 2005 Consumer Electronics Association study that revealed 20 minutes is the average time consumers will fuss with a complicated product before giving in to frustration and returning it.

Panasonic's Liao said consumers routinely misunderstand the benefits and features of HDTV, such as improved resolution, color and brightness. According to a July survey by Panasonic, one-fourth of respondents thought the purchase of an HDTV automatically included high-definition picture on all channels (not true). About 30 percent who answered said they had no idea what to do with a new HDTV after opening up the packaging. They "really do need a lot of help," Liao said.

Glasgow said Sony has taken steps to combat misunderstanding over HDTV by investing in customer service on the company's Web site and working with retail partners and its own stores. For example, he said, the company allows customers to sample the product in the store before taking it home and figuring out they don't know how to operate it.

Panasonic is also aiming for what Liao calls "extreme customer satisfaction" by offering consumers help on how to better understand its products.

Anyone who buys a plasma display from Panasonic is automatically enrolled in the new Plasma Concierge program. It offers priority customer service appointments to members and over-the-phone consultations.

Liao said that level of personal service is going to be the company's hallmark. This "extreme" approach, he said, will boost the sales of plasma TVs and other Panasonic products.

Glasgow reiterated that their concern should be echoed by everyone in the business with a stake in HD. The best way to do this is to help potential buyers figure out exactly what they're purchasing so that the dreaded "R"-word can be avoided: returns.

"It's up to everybody in the industry to educate," Glasgow said. "In the end, consumers returning products hurts everybody."