Energized by CES we ventured out to sample HDTVs at 2 of the biggest electronics retailers in our area, but found mixed results. Best Buy in Rockville, MD, was the better of the two. The staff knew its stuff concerning CableCARDS and told us to be sure to tell Comcast we wanted an HD set-top, so we’d get HD programming. They even had a CEA tip-sheet (albeit an outdated version). Things then went downhill at Circuit City in Tysons Corner, VA. The clerk was OK with CableCARDS, but knew nothing of the tip sheet. The real problem was the display of HD sets, however. The picture quality on the Panasonic 20" LCD EDTV was much clearer than the pricier Sharp 20" HDTV. The reason? They weren’t playing HD programming. "Someone messed up the resolution," a salesperson said. Also, the DVD signal was split at least 30 times, severely weakening it. Faced with a cheaper alternative, anyone would be hard-pressed to buy a blurry HDTV — even with the offer of a Cox package of 2 free months of HD service, installation and support gear. The store had a nice display and campaign to promote HDTV, but the awful picture quality rendered the incentives moot.

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