Buying an HDTV and Not Even Knowing It

In the retail rampage that is Black Friday — and beyond — HDTVs are expected to be among the hottest consumer electronics categories (see Happy HDTV Holidays).

Early sales indicators show TVs will be strong sellers, as Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon and other retailers started earlier-than-usual promotions for televisions, the WSJ reports. And U.S. consumers spent 6.1% more on electronics in the first half of November than a year ago, according to a recent analysis from MasterCard SpendingPulse.

But it seems many people who do buy a spankin’ new HDTV may not be aware of what “HD” is.

About 35% of consumers report owning an HDTV set, according to a survey by Frank N. Magid Associates fielded in October 2009 — while an additional 8% describe their primary TV set as “plasma,” “LCD” or “widescreen” but not HD, suggesting that those households own an HDTV set “but aren’t truly aware of it,” the research firm says. All told, Magid estimates, 43% of U.S. households (approximately 49 million households) own an HDTV set.

Other research data points: A Nielsen report in February 2009 found 33% of U.S. television households had at least one HDTV, while a CTAM analysis of June survey by Centris said 53% of households had HD sets.

Meanwhile, among those who do say they have an HDTV, just 66% have HDTV service from a cable, satellite or telco TV provider (nearly unchanged from 64% in 2008), according to Magid. That’s 14 million households with HDTV sets, but without a high-def programming service, the research firm says.

Of those “sideliners,” 42% say that “options are not worth the fees” and one-third cite cost and affordability as the primary reasons for not buying service. “Consumers are increasingly satisfied with HDTV sets simply for the design, with 32% saying they ‘like the way the set looks; don’t need HD programming,’” Magid says.

When asked if there’s any chance they may eventually arrange for HD programming service, 22% of recent HDTV set buyers say they may sign up for cable HD in the next six months, while 16% may sign up for satellite. That suggests service providers have the opportunity to pick up another 4.5% of TV households as HD programming customers, according to Magid.

Magid’s online survey polled 1,373 adults 21 years or older who own an HDTV set.