By Brian L. Clark
A friend of mine who happens to work for a major consumer electronics company once told me about a very chi-chi party he attended on the West Coast. The owner of the house, who was quite pleased with himself, had flat panel HDTV's everywhere. He cooed about how wonderful the sets were, how great the picture looked and that HD was the best thing since, well, TV. Problem was, none of the sets were hooked up to an HD box.
Last week I wrote about the pitiful state of HDTV knowledge among salespeople in many large department and consumer electronics stores. Fortunately, the industry recognizes the problem. We re focusing on education at the retail level, says Jeff Joseph of the Consumer Electronics Association, which offers tip sheets and certification programs for retail sales staff. OK, so I haven t seen a lot of salespeople proudly displaying their CEA certification, but the fact it s available is a start.
Some manufacturers try to educate salespeople, as well. Sony, for example, offers in-store training to associates in larger markets. But because it s impossible to send someone to every nook and cranny of the country, the company also provides online training in English and Spanish via CyberScholar.com.
Larger retailers also see the need for training. Circuit City salesmen, for example, receive training online and in person, and they re tested on what they know. HDTV is a very big business for us, says Jim Babb, a spokesman for the Richmond, VA-based company. So it s important for our salesmen to keep as up to date as possible through periodic retraining. That s not to say every person selling TVs at Circuit City knows what they re talking about, but at least the company s providing the tools.
The reality is, in spite of manufacturers best efforts, the burden to know the ins and outs of HDTV really is on consumers. And who wouldn t want to spend 30 minutes doing research before spending thousands of dollars on a television, you ask? Apparently, more people than you think. Last fall, Scientific-Atlanta sponsored a survey of over 500 HDTV owners. Nearly half had no idea they needed a special box or antenna to actually receive HD programming.
So before you hit the stores, do an info download at one or two of the myriad sites available to HDTV shoppers. Sony 101 offers online classes on Sony Televisions: There s One That s Right For You. Samsung has its own fairly informative Interactive Guide To HDTV although it s buried several layers into the site. Alas, Panasonic, the country s leader in Plasma sales, does virtually nothing to educate consumers, save provide links to its latest ads and professional installation service.
Retailer websites can also be a good place to go for information, although you may have to go to another store s site for information before you head to your own local dealer. For example, Best Buy and Circuit City have sections on their sites devoted to HDTV. Sears, one of the top TV sellers in the country, offers nothing. Neither does Costco. And if your local retailer is Fry s, you re pretty much on your own, as well. The company s partnership with Outpost.com yields little online information, save specs for the products they sell.
One of the best HDTV resources is CEKnowHow, a series of Flash videos from CEA originally created for retailers. So the next time your cousin s brother on your mother s side asks you about this new-fangled thing called HDTV, you can tell him where to go...literally.