Your parents may still be clinging onto the standard-definition TV set they bought to watch the Congressional Watergate hearings, but the rest of the free world has, for the most part, eagerly embraced the HD standard—after all, who wants to watch the Super Bowl in anything less than 1080i? And with the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 mandating a 2009 shut-off date for all analog TV transmissions in the U.S., digital transmission in general (and HD transmission specifically) isn't just a cool fad for techies to salivate over anymore—it is, as Howard Hughes was known to mutter during his paranoid episodes, "the way of the future."
It only stands to reason that once the boob tube started moving toward the high-def arena, camcorders would follow. It's not enough for your customers to capture their memorable events in standard definition anymore: These precious memories need to be documented with at least twice the linear resolution as your old camcorder could produce, resulting in more brilliant colors, improved contrast, and greater detail.
But do consumers understand the difference between standard def and high def? Do they care? And what can retailers and manufacturers do to educate them?
Getting Over the Tech Hump
As HD broadcasts and HD-ready TVs proliferate, camcorders keep pace (see sidebar: "What's on the Shelves" for some recent offerings from top camcorder manufacturers). "The HD camcorder category is steadily growing," says Yolanda Hunt-Boes, senior PR strategist for Sony Electronics. "Customers who already own an HDTV—30 million installed units, according to the Consumer Electronics Association—will benefit from an HD camcorder."
But consumers who still haven't stocked their home with the latest and greatest consumer electronics may have a few questions before making the leap of faith into the high-def camcorder world. First, a basic explanation of the difference for customers who need to decide it's worth it to pony up the dough: Shooting in high def mainly means greater resolution—in the 1080i high-def video format, for example, the number of scanning lines that compose the image is increased from the conventional 576 to 1080 (layman's terms succinctly offered in Panasonic's latest AVCHD brochure). HD also uses the popular 16:9 aspect ratio, leading to more comfortable and natural viewing. But shooting in high def can take up a good amount of memory and requires a computer that's up to the task of editing and processing the hefty files. And what if you still have a TV that isn't HD-compatible on which to view your crystal-clear HD videos? "If you shoot high-def video, you can down-convert the footage to play on a standard-def TV set," assures Mitchell Glick, assistant manager, Product Marketing, Consumer Division for Canon USA. "You also don't have to record in HD—our camcorders allow you to record in standard def, although I don't know why you'd want to do that." In other words, you could record in high def now, down-convert for viewing purposes, and then still have the original high-def file for when you eventually upgrade to an HDTV. To view some HD formats on some computers, however (including the AVCHD format jointly developed by Panasonic and Sony), you need to use software included with the camcorder.
Many people already do have a basic sense of what recording in High Definition would mean for their home movies. "There's less confusion today about High Definition among consumers than in years past," explains Sony's Hunt-Boes. "Today, there are a number of resources made available for customers by retailers, as well as [by the] manufacturers."
Store owners can indeed try their hand at educating their customers. "[Some retailers] have set up in-store demonstrations that effectively show the difference between HD and Standard Definition video," continues Hunt-Boes. "Since ‘seeing is believing,' the advantage for the retailer is better sales."
Of course, this isn't always an easy endeavor. "It's difficult to demonstrate HD on a retail level, unless the retailer has the space to have an HDTV set up to show that difference," says Canon's Glick.
Manufacturer Marketing Materials
Here is where retailers can take advantage of the educational initiatives already in place by the manufacturers. Canon, for example, features a newly created ad campaign on its website that helps walk consumers through the mysteries of HD.
"We have an expert on the website who comes onto the screen when you click on the HD banner," says Glick. "This expert will help you with your questions about HD. We also have image clips on our site that show everything from 1080p to iPod-size so consumers can see what HD looks like."
Sony is also pushing its high-def products. A humorous marketing campaign, encompassing print, TV, radio, and online ads, shows how both the company's Cyber-shot digicams and the Handycam high-def camcorders help to capture life's precious moments.
In the Handycam television commercial, a couple bathes their adult son in the sink to re-create that special moment when he was a baby. It is a scenario that could have been avoided had they videotaped those early days with a Sony camcorder, and a scenario that perhaps won't be lost on your customers who want to make sure they document their memories in the highest-quality available.