More TV Options Mean More Confused Consumers Digital TV? HDTV? If you don't know whether the one is equal to the other, take comfort: You're not alone. An expanding range of options, and the looming switch to all-digital broadcasting, make a couch-potato evening much more complicated than it used to be. Luckily, there are teenagers to help untangle things.
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More TV Options Mean More Confused Consumers

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More TV Options Mean More Confused Consumers

More TV Options Mean More Confused Consumers

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On Mondays we talk about technology. And today, complicated TVs.

The Consumer Electronics Association says about a quarter of households now have a high-definition television set, and TV technology doesn't stop there. There's also digital broadcast and a push for a new kind of V-chip. These days it seems as if you actually have to be really smart just to turn on your TV the right way.

Cory Moore reports.

COREY MOORE: If you're looking to shell out big bucks for an HDTV, brace yourself. Confusion often begins at the electronics store.

(Soundbite of music)

MOORE: But Harold Greenbaum(ph) is happy to help. He's been in the business 30 years. You'll notice a gleam in his eye when he explains why HDTVs are so cool.

Mr. HAROLD GREENBAUM (Businessman): It's pretty awesome because if you watch, let's say, a college football game on a Sunday afternoon, you will actually feel the sunshine. That's how vibrant and succinct the picture is.

MOORE: But buying an HDTV might be the easy part. Greenbaum, who works at the Ken Crane store in Los Angeles, says people often get their HDTVs home only to discover that football game doesn't look as good as it should. And the numbers back him up.

A recent study by Forrester Research showed by the end of 2005 only about half of those who owned an HDTV were actually receiving high-definition pictures.

Mr. GREENBAUM: What people don't realize is that it's free. You could actually get all local stations in high definition through a rooftop antenna, providing you're in a good location.

MOORE: You may think your TV is connected to high-def through your cable service, but you could be wrong. Not sure? What many people do these days is ask a teenager.

Fifteen-year-old Aaron Freedman co-hosts a podcast called The Teen Tech Buzz.

Mr. AARON FREEDMAN (Podcaster): You need not have the cable guy come in and give you your new box. You've got to hook it up with the right cables. That's a big thing. People don't hook up the HD cables.

MOORE: Since the cable engineer is already are at your house, you may as well ask how the V-chip works too. It's supposed to help parents block programs too racy or violent for children. But a lot of parents don't use it because it's too complicated and confusing.

Mr. FREEDMAN: The V-chip is built into the TV, not necessarily the cable box. So if you have cable, like just consult the manual or call up, and there's like Time Warner, which is what I use, has parental controls in it. And that's really useful. You set like a password; you can use the interface.

MOORE: The confusion's enough to drive any consumer up a wall. That's why market researcher Eric Haruki says big companies like the ones you pay each month for cable service should step in.

Mr. ERIC HARUKI (International Data Corporation): DirecTV, Dish, you know, Echo and Time Warner and Cox - they all need to come together and form a cohesive message for the consumer as to bringing them through the whole chain of buying and then receiving a quality signal.

MORE: Haruki studies consumer TV trends for IDC, a marketing research firm. Look out for another curveball. Haruki reminds consumers that while all HDTVs are digital, not all digital televisions are high def. Planning to keep it simple by holding on to your old-school television with rabbit-ear antennas? You're out of luck.

The federal government plans to shut off all analog signals by February of 2009. If you can't afford a new digital TV, the government will issue vouchers to help defray the costs of a converter box. You can apply beginning in January. Good luck with the paperwork.

For NPR News, I'm Corey Moore.

MONTAGNE: And you'll find a few tips on how to fine-tune your HDTV at

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