‘The wire’ confuses hi-def buyers

HDMI adds new issues to tech wave

Add one more ingredient to the confusingly thick acronym soup of high-definition video: HDMI.

Adoption of standard-def DVD was undoubtedly quickened by the fact that consumers could plug their new players into their TVs with the same analog video cables they used for their VCR.

The new High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) found on HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players simplifies this hookup with a single digital cable that doesn’t leak picture or sound signal. For the studios, the interface also offers added security.

The problem is, HDTV sets built before 2004, as well as a lot of home theater equipment, don’t support the interface. Analog jacks can still be found on new HD DVD and Blu-ray players. But hardware suppliers say that if you’re not using HDMI, you’re just not getting the full hi-def experience.

Even worse for marketers of hi-def discs — who operate under the maxim that a buyer usually says no — is that few consumers even know what HDMI is. According to a Digital Entertainment Group survey, nearly one-third of HDTV set owners are unsure how their TV is connected, and just 11% believe they’re using HDMI.

Already faced with competing formats, are consumers likely to plunk down hundreds of dollars on a new disc player after they find that they’re existing equipment isn’t entirely compatible?

Accordingly, hi-def disc proponents are mounting a major education effort at retail. Trade group DEG, for instance, is distributing a consumer’s guide that explains HDMI and other hi-def tech.

Electronics retailers and accessory makers perhaps stand to gain the most from an HDMI-enlightened consumer base. On CircuitCity.com, the entry-level consumer will pay $27 for a generic HDMI adapter plug or $81 for a 1-meter Monster brand cable.

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