It was as clear as Ultra HD 4K at last week’s CE Week retail panel on “Present and Future Challenges of Selling TV” that the panelists were as jazzed by High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology as they were, years ago, about the move from standard definition TV to HD. But getting the public just as jazzed means dropping the jargon, ramping up the demos, and making the tech story palatable and believable to a consumer base that had been inadvertently led on – and let down – before (read: 3D TV).
The advent of HDR “should be Golden Day One for retailers - and it’s not,” opined Joel Silver, president of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), which conducts training in video calibration and helps companies meet video reproduction standards. He cited a string of past squandered opportunities – such as the “crash and burn” of 3D TV, “streaming – convenient, but not resembling good” quality, and often, even 4K, which can “look the same as 2K from a normal viewing distance” - that have created a “credibility issue” with the public.
But Silver suggested that redemption is at hand with HDR, where consumers can see the benefits “across the store… The challenge is not the technology. We need to get consumers in the stores. The industry’s cried wolf before; this time, we’re telling the truth.” Silver credited the engineering forces at companies such as Dolby Laboratories and the standards-setting influences of organizations such as SMPTE (the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers) with helping to forge and refine HDR technology, which he characterized as “a new language of light…There’s tons of content available – we just have to tell them at retail.”
Tom Campbell, panel moderator and chief technologist for the Southern California-based retailer Video and Audio Center, pointed out that although the advancement of the TV category is essentially driven by technology, it is also propelled and fortified by the brick-and-mortar presence of all manner of CE dealers – not just specialists. “People are surprised when they hear me say I like Best Buy, but we need strong competition” to bolster brick and mortar and assure its survival as a whole, he said. Video and Audio Center, which is known as an experiential retailer that manufacturers regularly use to showcase their newest TV technologies, has doubled its business year to date, he said, compared with the same period last year – a measure of its success in getting feet in the door.
Echoing the benefits of demonstration was Robert Zohn, president of Scarsdale, N.Y.-based specialty retailer Value Electronics, who said that his closing rate on HDR-endowed TVs is “near 100 percent… Business is up every year. HDR is the single best thing that’s happened to us. It’s the first time in more than 20 years that there’s a compelling reason to spend on a premium TV.”
Kevin Miller, president of the professional display calibration consulting company ISFTV, added that “HDR is driving my business way up. I do post-production calibration in New York on broadcast-quality displays, and the evolution of consumer TVs impresses me – they’re capable of being incredibly accurate, if calibrated correctly… For people with no technical experience it is instantly and demonstrably superior.”
“Mention wide color gamut – [consumers have] no idea what we’re talking about,” said LG Electronics’ Tim Alessi, senior director of product marketing, Home Electronics, who weighed in from the manufacturing perspective. “We’ve got to turn it into a consumer-facing message.” LG, he said, is helping to pave the path to education with video clips that demonstrate HDR’s benefits. “We’re on our fourth generation of OLED now, and it’s being sold by a range of retail associates, at ‘clubs’ and other places. There’s a wide range of expertise out there, so we need to boil it down. It’s true innovation that people can see.”
While Alessi said that streaming-media demonstrations on premium TVs are not the optimum way to present the hardware’s features to best effect (“it’s evident that streaming has a long way to go in maintaining picture quality,” he remarked, referencing the way streaming content displayed on the several premium TVs that were entered in CE Week’s TV Shootout performance competition), he added that he did not believe that streaming-media viewers had no interest in accessing the display attributes of today’s premium TVs for other than streaming content. “The TV is still the family’s communal activity. The family’s not gathering around the iPad to watch the Super Bowl. It’s just that the [content] pie’s growing bigger.”