56% Of US Homes Own HDTVs, But SD Viewing Still Prevails

Jonathan Sutton

More than half of American homes are now equipped with a HDTV display, but standard-definition content still makes up the majority of TV viewing, according to a report from one of the country’s most authoritative and influential media research firm.

When high definition televisions were first released, the prices were very high – it was then considered a luxury to own one. However, HDTV prices have dropped significantly over the past few years due to economies of scale. As a result, it is hardly surprising to find that 56% of households across the pond in the USA own a HDTV display, even in the face of a global economic downturn.

Despite the increased penetration of HDTV sets, recent figures released by Nielsen – the US-based media research company – suggest that over 80% of TV programmes are not actually viewed in high definition.

There are several reasons that account for such a low percentage of “true HD” experience. One is that nearly half of the homes in the US still do not have access to either a high-def display or a HD source. Also, because many US households have a standard-definition television in the bedroom or kitchen in supplement to the main HDTV in the living room, around one-third of all TV programmes are actually watched on SD sets.

But even for the Yanks watching a high definition television, 20% of what they watch is in standard definition. There are several factors for this. Depending on the cable provider and area coverage, some channels may not be available in high definition. Beyond that, many people watch the standard-def feed of a channel instead of the HD feed out of habit. SD channels are generally assigned with lower, double-digit numbers that people have used for years. They may not remember the channel numbers – usually three digits – for the HD stations when flipping through their channels. Therefore, people wind up sticking with the SD feed rather than seeking out the HD feed.

According to the Nielsen study, other reasons contributing to the low number of “true HD” viewership in America include inadequate prevalence of HD source, and some HD feeds not meeting viewers’ expectations in terms of picture quality improvement.