December 2, 2004 3:56 AM PST
Flat-panel TVs can't topple tubes--just yet
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and that's why Samsung and LG.Philips Displays are looking to improve on staid CRT technology with slim-model CRTs. The new tubes will initially allow for sets 30 percent slimmer than current CRT sets, and they'll continue to get thinner as companies improve the technology.
The first run of these slimmer CRT sets will be coming to the United States in mid- to late-2005--with some as early as the first quarter in Asia--in 30-inch sizes. They'll initially cost more than regular CRTs but will gradually sell for similar prices.
Still, big-name television makers including Matsushita, Sharp Electronics and Toshiba are considering or have already started pulling back production of CRT sets in search of more profitable pursuits. Sony stopped producing CRTs in Japan but continues to make sets for the U.S. market.
"CRTs are still a very vital part of our TV business and we're doing very well with them," said Michael Fidler, senior vice president of the home products division at Sony Electronics.
As the list of companies making tube sets dwindles, the roster of those in the flat-screen business is growing. The average price of plasma-screen televisions this year was $3,342 while LCD TVs sold for an average of $1,591, according to iSuppli. Profit margins for flat-screen sets are in the mid-to-high-teens percentage range, depending on screen size. This has convinced nontraditional players such as Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Polaroid to enter the television biz.
These new players hope to reignite the $13.6 billion television industry, something that should be helped along by the programming transition from analog to digital.
Flat-panel sets and digital programming go hand in hand. The screens on flat-panel sets can better accommodate the high-resolution picture offered by HDTV, so combining the level of detail that comes with a digital signal with the large, thin screens of flat panels means an enhanced viewing experience.
"The two together make for a powerful one-two punch," said O'Donnell of IDC.
Whether pictures are received via cable, satellite or over the air, digital programming has the potential to produce much clearer pictures than older analog. High-definition television is the digital TV that offers the highest resolution available, above standard-definition and enhanced-definition TV.
DTV and HDTV have been stalled in the wings for years. They're now gaining momentum, thanks to a confluence of forces, including a long-standing federal mandate to shift over-the-air television broadcasts from analog to digital signals; improvements and lower prices in display and digital storage technologies; heated competition between satellite and cable television providers; and Hollywood's growing acceptance of the inevitability of the digital evolution.
However, it will likely be a number of years before digital programming outweighs analog, making buying decisions somewhat confusing for consumers.
"There will be an awkward transition period for the next few years," O'Donnell said.
So although consumers will gradually turn on to flat-panels sets, it looks like the old-school tube will hold the attention of viewers for years to come.
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