In interviewing Macworld’s Jason Snell for this week’s special holiday episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I heard some information that didn’t surprise me. You see, many of you haven’t had an easy ride hooking up your new flat-panel TV to get real high-definition programming.
You’d think it should be an easy task. After all, virtually everybody has a TV and most of you have several around in your home and perhaps office. But hookups aren’t so easy any more. The connection panel of a typical HDTV these days has a plethora of jacks, with such arcane names as S-video, component, DVI and HDMI. VIZIO, a small company that has soared to the top of the flat-panel TV market from out of nowhere, uses the PC metaphor in identifying the proper connection schemes. Indeed, the jacks are color coded for easy identification and a single-page quick setup guide helps a fair amount. But the cable makers don’t color code their products, and, besides, what connection scenario is going to get the best possible picture quality?
Now if you don’t want to mess with this stuff, perhaps you’d be inclined to let your dealer or perhaps the cable or satellite service handle the installation process for you. But Jason says that doesn’t always work, because quite often they don’t hook your set up to get genuine high-definition reception. So you spend a thousand dollars or perhaps a lot more for the latest and greatest TV with a large screen and you’re getting standard definition fare instead.
Something is indeed seriously wrong with the industry if even the so-called expert installers can’t figure out how to get you properly connected. To make matters worse, come 2009, analog TV in the U.S. will be history, which means you will be forced to hook your old set to digital cable, satellite, or get an outboard set top adapter to convert the analog signals to digital.
The government is going to give you two $40 certificates to buy the adapterÂ box, although they’ll probably cost somewhat more than that. I just wonder what logic they used to get that figure, if it doesn’t cover the full purchase price. Anyway, if you don’t want to just stretch the life of your existing set, you might indeed want to enter the digital TV age with something brand new.
But it’s not just the hookup process that can get a little confusing. TV specs themselves often make little sense to regular people, such as whether you need 720p or 1080p resolution. What about LCD versus plasma, and direct view versus projection? The typical consumer electronics store has dozens of sets on display, and the salespeople aren’t always so well educated about the various feature distinctions, let alone how to explain it to someone who isn’t technically savvy.
And even if you connect the thing properly, what about all those strange options in the setup menu? Can you sort them out, or do you just let it play in its default mode, even if you’re not getting the best quality picture.
Some of this reminds you of the wireless phone mess, where most of the existing products contain features only power users can use, let alone master.
Of course, there’s salvation in the wireless phone space, in the form of the iPhone. And even if it doesn’t sport every conceivable feature on the planet, it can do more simply because you and I can figure out how things work without navigating through numerous complicated setup screens that are dangerously reminiscent of Microsoft Windows.
Today, there is the Apple TV, but it’s just another set top box. Easy to use, yes, but it still means connecting another gadget to a product that still remains mystifying.
So would it make sense for Apple to go up against dozens of TV makers, from the big consumer electronics conglomerates to the folks who build the cheap products? Surely, Apple is best equipped to devise a connection and configuration interface that would allow you to get the maximum pleasure from HDTV. But would they really want to go up against all that entrenched competition with such costly products?
Then again, didn’t they say the same thing about cell phones?
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