TOKYO EDGE - Sony unveils first LCD TVs

Sony is throwing its hat into the LCD (liquid crystal display) flat-panel television set market with the launch in June of its first two TV sets.

The company is launching a 15-inch standard aspect ratio set, with 1,024 by 768 pixel (XGA) resolution, and a 17-inch widescreen set, with 1,280 by 768 pixel (WXGA) resolution. The smaller set supports conventional television while the larger model comes equipped for digital television with the ability to support 525 and 1,125 line interlaced and 525 and 750 line progressive scan signals.

The sets also include S-Video and AV-Multi inputs, the latter to connect to Sony's PlayStation 2 game console, but you won't be able to use them as computer monitors without translating the RGB output of your PC into another format and that will reduce the image quality.

Sony's new sets enter a flat-screen TV market that is dominated by Sharp Corp. at the low end and occupied by most major Japanese consumer electronics makers, including Sony, at the high-end with Plasma Display Panel (PDP) based products.

Sharp has been pushing LCD TVs since late 2000, when the company announced a range of models and an ambition to completely replace its CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) sets with LCD TVs by 2005. Just over a year and a half into the LCD drive, half of the company's television range is already occupied by flat-panel sets although sales still lag those of CRTs, mainly because of their higher price. Sharp's Aquos range of sets runs from a 13-inch model that costs ¥88,000 (US$675) to a 30-inch model that carries a ¥750,000 price tag.

The new Sony televisions look set to inject some competition into the market both in terms of selection and price.

The company's 15-inch model carries a retail price of ¥120,000, which is ¥20,000 cheaper than a recently launched Sharp set with a similar size panel, while the 17-inch widescreen model, for which there is no close comparative set from Sharp, has a ¥165,000 price tag. The TVs will go on sale from June 1.

With these first models, Sony has set a combined monthly production target of 9,000 units.

Despite their higher price tags than conventional TVs, consumers seem to be catching on. Seeing someone carrying home an LCD TV or buying one in a shop is slowly becoming a more common sight and domestic shipments of LCD TVs totaled 659,000 units last year, a jump of 59 percent on the previous year, according to the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA). In contrast, domestic shipments of CRT TVs fell 2.4 percent to 9.6 million.

Sony said plans for overseas sales of the sets are under consideration but nothing has been decided as of yet.

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Martyn Williams

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