Flat TVs take off

LCD, plasma, and other flat-panel technologies account for only a small share of the TVs sold today, but they're rapidly gaining ground, especially in larger sizes.

That's the word from industry experts at the 20th annual Flat Information Displays conference sponsored by the display industry research firm ISuppli/Stanford Resources.

In previous years, business-only uses dominated the discussions of flat-panel technologies, in monitors, notebooks, handhelds, and digital signs. But now, televisions have all but taken over the conference. In fact, Scott Edwards, Gateway's executive vice president for consumer electronics, called his Tuesday conference keynote address "I want my thin TV." He showed a video of a man pulverizing a CRT with a sledgehammer.

Edwards went so far as to suggest that ISuppli/Stanford Resources change the conference's name to UbiqTV. The conference could focus on technologies that would make flat or even embedded TV displays possible in new locations, he said. He suggested that they might be used in bathroom mirrors, picture windows, and chests of drawers, illustrating the concept in another video of an electronics store ad.

Tube Talk

Nevertheless, CRT TVs will continue to dominate the TV market until nearly the end of the decade, according to Riddhi Patel, senior analyst at ISuppli/Stanford Resources. CRTs will account for 160 million of the 200 million TV sets projected to be sold worldwide in 2007, she said.

That's because flat displays will remain far more expensive than CRT counterparts of the same size. The good news for consumers is that the price differentials are shrinking dramatically.

In 2007, the average selling price of a CRT TV will hover around $200, much as it does today, she predicted. A rear-projection TV based on microdisplay technology (such as DLP or LCD) will average about $800, slightly less than a rear-projection CRT. Plasma and LCD TVs will cost considerably more--averaging in the $1500 range, according to Patel's forecast.

"By the end of 2005 or 2006, these technologies will be available at very similar prices," she said of plasma and LCD.

Jong-Tae Lim, a Samsung senior engineer, had a slightly different view. By 2007, prices for displays larger than 40 inches will average $800 for CRT projection TVs, he predicted. Prices for microdisplay projection TVs of the same size will average $1500. For plasma TVs larger than 40 inches, the average price will be $2000; and for LCDs, it will rise to $2500, he said.

By then, LCD TVs will dominate the market for high-definition TVs with screens larger than 40 inches, Lim said. He expects the popularity of LCD to surpass that of plasma, which he said will dominate from about 2005 through 2006.

Gaining Ground?

What was the most surprising trend to emerge over the last year? The faster-than-expected growth in the number of vendors offering LCD TVs, and the aggressive pricing that resulted, Patel added.

"They all want to get in on this retail phenomenon," said David Mentley, senior vice president at ISuppli/Stanford Resources. He said he was impressed by the burgeoning populartity of flat TVs at retail.

One reason more vendors are offering LCD TVs is that these products command premium pricing, Patel said. This makes them more attractive than LCD monitors, for which a fiercely competitive market has shrunk profit margins to the bone.

In fact, as more vendors jump into the LCD TV market, supplies of LCD panels for monitors and notebooks may be constricted, which could prompt price hikes for those products.

On the other hand, the entry of so many competitors into the LCD TV market could produce a glut of these relatively expensive products, which would pressure manufacturers to reduce prices further. Much depends on how quickly planned new production facilities for LCD panels come on line to help meet the new demand.

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