The power of high definition suggestion

Pay-TV operators and broadcasters have long been concerned that far too many consumers do not realise that there is more to receiving high-definition television programmes than simply buying an HD-capable television set.

After all, it is a tough job convincing people to pay for HDTV subscriptions if they have not noticed that they are missing out in the first place. Now a Dutch study suggests that the key to convincing consumers of the benefits of high-definition picture quality is less about how good that picture actually is and more about creating the right expectations.

Researchers led by the University of Twente in Enschede conducted an experiment in which they showed the same piece of standard-definition footage to two groups of consumers and then asked them what they made of the picture quality.

The difference: one group was told that they were about to experience HD quality (reinforced by posters praising the benefits of HD and – hilariously – a particularly thick cable connecting set-top box and TV set); the others were told to expect standard-definition quality.

What they ended up with was the digital-TV equivalent of the placebo effect: consumers will convince themselves that they are watching a superior-quality picture if they have been told to expect one, regardless of how good the quality actually is.

There are some interesting lessons for operators and broadcasters to be taken from this.

As one of the researchers involved in the project said to the New Scientist, if consumers are not really very good at telling the difference between standard- and high-definition pictures (unless they are presented with a side-by-side comparison, as is now often the case in television retailers) framing – or the lack thereof – could be the decisive factor in whether a consumer decides if HDTV is worthwhile.

The good news is that the framing effect also appears to work the other way around.

Those consumers who already subscribe to HDTV services and have bought the necessary reception equipment are likely to convince themselves that they have made the right investment – and therefore believe they are watching a better-quality picture even if they, too, cannot really tell the difference.

One comment

  1. Avatar computers for less 05/11/2009 @ 4:46 am

    Great article about the placebo effect pertaining to HD vs SD content. There are many days that I feel tv on my lcd monitor is better viewing experience than my tv in HD. It would be very interesting to read about the details of the findings in the study.
    btw – I have convinced myself – the hdtv hardware is worth the extra money 🙂

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