HDTV was implemented within the effort of the DTV transition and since 1998 the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) published yearly statistics of shipped DTVs. Just a few years ago estimates of 113 million (M) households with 3.1 TVs on average per household were published (up from 2.6 a couple of years earlier).
The current data is 119M households (Census) and 3 TVs per household ratio (CEA) on average. I am using these new published numbers for this article to analyze and measure HDTV sets penetration and analog TVs that are still in use, a different perspective from the HDTV adoption in households that is customarily reported by research firms and articles, which typically show percentages of larger penetration than the perspective of TV sets.
Research firms often make their independent surveys about of the TVs consumers have at home. The last research from Leichtman Research Group (LRG) sampled 1252 households. Applying the percentages of that survey to CEA’s 119M /3 TV ratio per US household could amplify LRG’s perspective of TV sets per type rather than by household.
I followed the DTV transition implementation since 1998 and kept my own statistics, which I reconciled with CEA's published numbers on a yearly basis after CES. The data and analysis were published in the yearly HDTV Technology Review and a series of "DTV transition" articles of which the CEA requested me to make a consolidated version a few years ago. This is a follow up of those articles.
I discontinued my monitoring of the DTV adoption because the DTV transition was completed almost 4 years ago and there were many other rapidly evolving subjects of technology that deserved coverage for the readership of HDTV Magazine. There was too much to review in the digital TV world, such as 3DTV, LED, streaming and pre-recorded media, compression technologies, and now UHDTV and OLED.
But this is a good opportunity to take a snapshot of the HDTV adoption because several publications have recently published numbers on the 75% household HDTV adoption range, including CEA’s 88% and 68% household penetration reports depending on the study and analysis.
According to CEA:
The reason of this article is to analyze the penetration of DTV sets in the television market, rather than households adopting TVs.
A bit of History of how we got here
If you started with HDTV in 1998 you may recall that first generation HDTV sets were mostly large cabinets with 1080i rear projection CRTs, 50-70 inches diagonal, from Toshiba, Pioneer Elite, JVC, Panasonic, Phillips, etc., they had no 720p inputs but could accept 480p progressive DVD, which was an attraction point.
Anamorphic DVD was one of the main reasons pre-recorded movie lovers invested in these expensive first generation HDTV sets, rather than because we were eager to watch a few loops of HD broadcast with just a couple of hours of original content shown over and over again at prime time.
I must remind those criticizing U-HD/4K TV that there is nothing wrong with a reasonable wait for the arrival of 4K content, it eventually arrives as it did with HDTV, meanwhile you can enjoy 1080p Blu-rays upscaled to four times their resolution by the U-HD TV, similarly to when 480p DVDs were upscaled to six times their resolution by an HDTV, but easier and cleaner because the 1080p to U-HDTV scaling is evenly doubled vertically and horizontally.
HD-Net (a channel available in satellite back then) was the best it happened to HDTV content, always striving for image quality, and still does today, congratulations to Mark Cuban, its owner. I wish Mark eventually produces 4K content for a new 4K channel the way he did with HD.
Another reason for buying those early HDTV sets was also to view letterboxed original aspect ratio laserdiscs, the pre-DVD niche format of movie collectors, which still showed a widescreen image sandwiched between top/bottom black bars even on the 16x9 TV but the bars were slimmer than when shown in 4x3 digital TVs.
Other than the early adopter fans of quality video, the mandated DTV transition gradually prompted people to buy their first HDTV, which also set in motion a continuous shift of perfectly functional TVs to other rooms in the household.
Some said attrition would result in the same total number of TVs in a household, but actually the number of TVs per household was gradually increasing because the shifted TVs were in good working conditions and there was always a good reason for one more analog TV to be shifted to a secondary room, den, basement, video gaming, home-office, assisted living room for an old family member, etc. rather than dump the TV for recycling.
In other words, many millions of perfectly functional legacy analog TVs are still in use, especially in lower income households.
Just before the DTV Transition was completed I published the following table in the publications mentioned above:
HDTV Adoption Today
CEA's updated data below shows that a total of 244M DTVs were shipped since 1998. Notice that some of the earlier years data was corrected and the projected trend for the 2008-2011 period (32-35-38-40M) actually stayed within the 33M+ level per year, projected as well for 2013.
(*) Out of a total of 357M TVs in the US (119M households x 3 TVs per home), the shipped 244M DTVs is 68% of technology penetration in terms of TV sets, irrespective of adopting households. The other 32% (113M) are still analog TVs.
However, I expect the 113M of analog TVs to be much higher considering that many millions of the DTVs purchased within the 244M since 1998 replaced previously purchased DTVs because of irreparable damage (a DTV replacing another DTV rather than upgrading an analog set).
Regardless of the percentage of household penetration one may use from the CEA (68% or 88%) there are still at least 113M analog TVs in use in the US.
From another Research Perspective
According to this most recent study from Leichtman Research Group (LRG), today's HDTV landscape in the US is as follows, and I quote from their press release:
Applying LRG’s percentages to Census’ 119M US households at CEA’s 3 TV per household average ratio the following can be extrapolated:
29M households (25% of 119M) do not even have one HDTV and still use 89M analog TVs (119 x .25 x 3 TVs per household ratio).
Since 59% of the TVs used in 75% HDTV households are HDTVs, the other 41% are analog TVs, at the 3 TV average ratio per household that totals 109M ((119 x .75 x 3) x .41), making the estimate of analog TVs as high as 198M, or 55%, and making DTV sets penetration to be just 45%, much lower than CEA’s 68% DTV set penetration (not household penetration).
Extrapolated from LRG’s research
Comparison of LRG and CEA estimates
Measuring the adoption of HDTV technology in TV sets provides quite a different perspective than measuring adopting households. During the DTV Transition there was a concern about the number of households that were able to have at least one tuner-integrated DTV set or a method to receive an emergency over-the-air broadcast when analog broadcasting be discontinued, because the public and stations were mandated to migrate to digital.
Now that the DTV Transition is completed I prefer to only evaluate HDTV technology adoption in number of DTV sets, as they replace analog TVs, rather than in number of adopting households, and, regardless which research is used as source, approximately one third to half of the TVs in use in US households are still analog TVs, and that is too many after 15 years, especially considering that Ultra HDTV displays have already being introduced as the successor of HDTV.
I expected the HDTV penetration in TV sets to be faster and in higher numbers by now. This is analogous to figuratively still having a third/half of TVs just in B/W when HDTV was introduced in 1998 to replace analog color NTSC TVs, If you get the point.
One of the factors that could have slowed down the HDTV adoption may have been the never ending introduction of newer technologies, LED (viewed as a miracle medicine for LCD technology limitations), LCD selling more than the better image of plasma, 3DTV introduced as a new TV system rather than just a feature, U-HDTV/4K in all its conflicting definitions, OLED's continuous announcements of availability, even curve and in 4K but still a promise, and the list goes on.
Those contribute to consumer confusion and to uncertainty when buying a new TV, motivating the delay of a purchase under the expectation and rumors that in a few months a near future model would be much better and cheaper, which is the reality of this fast evolving industry, no one likes to experience the feeling of accelerated obsolescence when buying a TV that is superseded just a few months later.
Competitiveness and innovation in this industry always brought better products to market, and is great, but also motivated the attitude of "let me wait for the next model, it should be better".
Considering CEA’s 113M analog TVs and the projected shipping DTV rate of 33M x year, it may take about 4 years to fully replace them with DTVs (6 years with LRG’s 198M estimate), but it would actually take more years considering that many millions of the new DTVs will continue replacing older DTVs when they are irreparable.
That may put us on a 20-25 year DTV replacement effort since 1998. However, many millions of households that are below the poverty line may not be able, nor they may justify, to ever change their still functional analog TVs.
And now let me ask you: What would you think if someone tells you that the 15-year reconstruction of your home is 88% complete but a minimum of 4-6 more years may be needed for the remaining 12%?
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 28, 2013 7:40 AM
About Rodolfo La Maestra
Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines. In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.
Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities. Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers. After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.