HDR Still Not Happening At Retail
4K Ultra HDTVs capable of delivering High Dynamic Range (HDR) may be one of the hottest new technologies on the television market this year, but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything about it on retail sales floors, so far.
Even though some of the latest and greatest HDR-ready (unofficial terminology) TV models are in stores, the feature isn’t being discussed by most retail sales people speaking to customers visiting TV showrooms.
That was the revelation of Deirdre Kennedy, TV market analyst for Gap Intelligence’s Quixel Research, who said some or all high-end HDR-capable models including: Samsung’s SUHD LED LCD TV lineup; Sony’s X930C and X940C LED-LCD series, LG’s EG9600 series 4K UHD OLED TVs and Panasonic’s TC-65CX850U LED-LCD TV are now in many stores, including Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Fry’s Electronics and Sears. But in each store she didn’t see a sign or hear a peep about HDR.
More on the high dynamic range retail disconnect after the jump:
“According to the salespeople I spoke with at Fry’s Electronics, Costco, and Best Buy/Magnolia, HDR-related sales pitches and training are not happening at the store level,” Kennedy told HD Guru. “Salespeople at all three stores said that they have not been given any training on the spec by the manufacturers. The floor person at Costco had never heard of it before, and he is fairly knowledgeable about the TV products they carry.”
High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the ability of a television through hardware and specially encoded content to produce a wider dynamic range (contrast ratio) than typical TVs and at much higher levels of brightness. At the same time, the TV keeps the dark areas of the picture as black as possible without crushing visible details and colors.
Currently, several multi-industry associations are in the process of determining standards for HDR, including exactly what levels of brightness and darkness will be used to define it. Currently an “open standard” from SMPTE (2084/2086) has been selected for one type of HDR that has been adopted in the Ultra HD Blu-ray player specification. The first such players may arrive later this year, but no announcements have been made yet about Ultra HD Blu-ray titles that might be encoded with HDR metadata.
Lack of content is one of the major issues keeping the industry from promoting HDR at retail thus far, executives with several leading TV manufacturers told HD Guru.
John Taylor, LG Electronics communications VP and vice chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association’s Ultra HD Working Group told HD Guru: “HDR content promises to further enhance the premium 4K Ultra HD viewing experience, but we’re not surprised that it isn’t being promoted broadly at retail just yet. That’s because there is very little content available right now. You’ll start hearing more from LG and others about HDR content this fall and certainly next year. As you know, the UHD Alliance, CEA and others are still finalizing definitions, specs and certifications for HDR. For all intents and purposes, 2016 will be really be larger-scale launch year for HDR enhancements to 4K UHD. That’s when you can expect to see more retail sales training and consumer education.”
Kennedy said that a pair of sales associates at Best Buy Magnolia departments said that so far HDR “is not a spec that they are incentivized to push. According to them, the people who can afford an HDR-capable TV don’t care about the specs, and the people who come in to the store and talk about it at length cannot afford to buy one. Blue shirts at Best Buy were equally unenthusiastic about the spec.”
Although the apparent HDR marketing hesitancy is related to lack of standards and content, the clock is ticking on selling some of these expensive sets that already sit on display walls. Kennedy said it’s too earlier for sales estimates, but anecdotal accounts say the models aren’t moving in great volume. Meanwhile, some of models won’t be able to play HDR until firmware updates are automatically downloaded and installed later this year, making showroom demos next to impossible.
In addition, beyond Amazon’s streaming of an HDR-encoded TV series called “Mozart In The Jungle” via it’s Amazon Instant Video Service for Samsung SUHD series TVs and eventually LG’s EG9600 OLED models and others, very little content is available with HDR for people to see. The TV series uses the same open HDR standard adopted for the base line HDR requirement in the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec.
Kennedy said that of all of the TV brands with HDR in the market, “Samsung is the most widespread vendor, with placements at nine of the retailers in Gap Intelligence’s retail panel, followed by Sony with four retailers and LG at three.”
“The stores sell fewer of them than other TVs because of their high price, but the message seems to be that if these models sell, it’s not because of the HDR capabilities. The Magnolia reps freely admitted that the TVs they push in any given week are the ones that have spiffs attached, and the same can likely be said about Fry’s Electronics, where they also work on commission,” said Kennedy.
A spiff is a bonus payment given by the manufacturer to a sales associate who sells a specific TV model. This is typically associated with products that have the highest profit margins or are in the greatest supply. The higher the spiff, the more incentive the sales person has to learn a model’s features and benefits in order to push it above other models in the retail assortment.
Similarly, Kennedy said none of the stores she visited is calling out the TVs’ HDR attributes in shelf signage, end-caps or other special displays and promotional materials.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick on the 2015 model year.
By Greg Tarr
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