Tuning Fork

Education In the HD Era


by Brian L. Clark
I have this annoying—some would say pathetic—habit of trolling around television sections at consumer electronics and department stores, listening to what salesmen tell customers shopping for an HDTV.

It s been an educational experience.

I began thinking about this because earlier this week, I had some time to kill and wandered into a major consumer electronics retailer. BTW, if you want to set the vultures to hovering, go into one of these places in the middle of the afternoon. There must ve been 10 salesmen and me not exactly a comfortable ratio. Fortunately, I have the old, No thanks, I m just looking routine down pat.

Well this particular day, I walked up to a wall of CRTs to check out the prices for widescreen sets and was approached by an older gentleman. We discussed the relative merits of CRTs over other forms of HDTV and he actually seemed to know what he was talking about. But once our conversation ended, I couldn t shake him. The guy followed me wherever I went. Every time I turned around in the flat panel section on the other side of the showroom or in the room filled with projection sets—he was there, creepy and, it seemed, desperate for a sale.

But at least this guy knew what he was talking about. Once, when HDTV was in its infancy, I overheard a salesman at a rather large retailer telling customers they would have to buy a set-top box that would cost them several hundred dollars to actually see HDTV on their new set. He never bothered to ask who their cable provider was or whether they had the option of HD via satellite. I waited till he left and told them to make a few calls before they bought the box or his BS.

Then there was the time I heard another salesman describing the wonders of hanging a flat panel on a wall just like on a television commercial. Again, I lurked, this time telling the folks that if, indeed, they wanted to hang this thing on a wall they d probably want to hide the unsightly cables. They agreed and I informed them they d have to go into the wall to do that. Otherwise, this beautiful flat panel would be hanging on their wall, cords dangling. That meant finding a space and sticking to it unless, of course, they had a good contractor to patch the holes.

More recently, I encountered a young rep at a major department store telling a couple that 720p was not high definition. This time I didn t wait for him to finish his spiel. I interrupted to say that wasn t true. His response: Excuse me, but I sell these things for a living. Unfortunately that s the problem, I almost responded. In any case, we continued our disagreement and when he left I turned to the couple and said he was absolutely wrong. The guy thanked me and introduced himself. It turned out he was a producer at Good Morning America. Now here s a guy who was in the television business but didn t know jack about HDTV, and he was completely at the mercy of a salesman who didn t know his ass from his elbow.

I d be interested to know if I m the only salesman stalker out there. I d also be interested in hearing any stories you may have regarding your experiences challenging them. Maybe en masse we can convince manufacturers to work a little harder to educate these people. Hey, it s worth a try.

Brian L. Clark is a reporter and consultant on all things digital, runs the The Tech Enthusiast’s Network, and writes for Money, Men’s Health, and Laptop. Read more Tuning Fork here.