Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Players #5: Manufacturers

Let me say right up front that this will not be a hardware-centric blog. You can get tons of detailed tech specs, etc. from many other sources, such as HDTV Magazine (they publish an extremely extensive annual review by Rodolfo La Maestra). But the hardware that is made (and sold) will clearly affect the programming that is produced and distributed, and the channels that are launched and carried. That makes hardware developments that illustrate some aspect of the bigger picture fair game.

Here's an example. Recently a federal mandate went into affect that says that all TVs 25" and over must include a digital tuner, unless they're simply a monitor with no tuner at all. Note that this applies to manufacture, not sale, and does not cover existing stocks. However, it didn't take long for the "big box" ads to list every analog set (in that size range) in their circulars as a closeout. More importantly, we're starting to see ads for their replacements, the "digital SDTV".

And the digital SDTV worries me. I first heard about it last summer, and wasn't sure it had any future. But the more I think about it, the more I see the potential for it to become a big hit. The combination of a near-analog price and familar 4:3 aspect ratio could be just the thing for that segment of the public (which I'm guessing is pretty large) that would really rather have the TV experience they grew up with, or as close to that as can be had in the post-analog age. This effect will only increase next year when the mandate applies to even the smallest sets.

If these sets do become the replacement set of choice for all those analog sets out there, what does that do to plans for HD programming and new channels? How much of existing and planned investment was based on the idea that everyone would be watching HD in the not-too-distant future? Will those investments still be worth it if most people are watching a letterboxed (or cropped) image in 480i?


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