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Nielsen Study: Thumbs Up To HD Picture Quality

In a survey of high-definition TV customers, cable and satellite subscribers both showed the same satisfaction levels with their HD-picture quality, Nielsen Co. reported Wednesday.

Nielsen’s “2007 High Definition Survey” found that roughly 85% of both cable and DBS subscribers with HD sets gave a 4 or 5 rating -- with 4 meaning “above average” and 5 meaning “excellent” --  for their  picture quality, according Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes.

There has been a flurry of lawsuits between cable operators and satellite provider DirecTV over claims, and ads, over which platform presents the superior HD picture quality. DirecTV has such a false-advertising suit pending against Comcast in Chicago, where the cable operator has lodged a counter claim.

Nielsen’s new survey found that more than one-half, or 60%, of respondents receive their HDTV signals from a cable provider, and nearly another one-third, 31%, from a satellite provider. Only about 6% reported receiving HD signals via an antenna or over the air.

Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner were the three largest distributors reported among participants.

According to survey results, in general HD-set owners are much more satisfied with the picture quality of than they are with the amount or selection of enhanced programming. Nielsen said that overall, 85% of HD-set owners gave a 4 or 5 rating for picture quality, but only 39% provided the same rating for programming selection.

Nielsen found that women were slightly more positive about the picture quality than men, and that there wasn’t any difference among cable versus satellite subscribers.

Respondents, in general, were less happy with the actual number of HD channels they receive, as fewer than 40% were somewhat or very satisfied with the number or selection of HD programming. Women and older respondents - ages 50 plus - were most positive, while those with an HD-DVR unit were least satisfied with the HD channel selection.

“Nielsen's High Definition Survey shows that HD technology is outpacing content, although a few networks do score high in consumer satisfaction,” Steve McGowan, Nielsen senior vice president client research initiatives, said in a statement. “Television owners clearly feel that HD viewing is a more intense experience than standard television and there are early indications that the acquisition of an HD television can, initially at least, stimulate the type of television that is viewed.”

Sports and movies are the categories most frequently watched in HD, while music and reality shows are the least frequently watched HDTV content.

ESPN HD was the most popular sports channel, while Discovery HD was the most-watched channel for documentaries. HBO HD was the most-watched channel for movies.

Other study highlights included:

* There was no runaway winner in terms of which network provides the “best picture,” but among HD networks, Discovery HD Theater ranked first (12.7%). CBS HD and NBC HD tied for second.

* Nearly one-fifth (19.7%) of respondents reported that they watch more TV since they got their HD set.

* Consumers continue to embrace television as an entertainment platform and many are investing in sophisticated home theater centers, with a HD TV as the centerpiece. Nearly three-fourths of respondents placed a set in the family/living room (74%).

* Over one-third of respondents report getting at least one premium pay channel, led by HBO, Showtime and Starz!

Nielsen conducted a telephone survey with 511 respondents from June 28 through July 10 to learn how satisfied HD owners are with their TV set, as well as the HD programming they receive. Respondents were previously identified through a telephone omnibus survey as HD-set owners who also receive HD content.