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Digital Television Wins Holiday Sweepstakes

2 min read

The End-of-Year Holiday Season was expected to produce big gains for digital television and related equipment--and it did. The only qualification had to do with the split character of the U.S. consumer market, reported across all sectors. Expensive, "high-end" products, including plasma and liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), did very well, while extremely cheap offerings, like the US $30 DVD players that Wal-Mart advertised, did pretty well. Just about everything in between did very poorly. These were some of the television shopping highlights:

Photo: Gene Blevins/Corbis

Digital Televison Sales Soared in the final months of 2003, according to initial data from the U.S. Consumer Electronics Association. Over 500 000 units were sold in November, up 54 percent over the same month in 2002.

Rear-Projection Sets , most using digital light processing technology developed by Texas Instruments, have sold especially well. One of the main manufacturers, South Korea's Samsung, was unable to meet all holiday orders despite doubling production at factories in South Korea and Mexico. A 43-inch Samsung rear-projection set went for $3500, about half the price of similar-size LCD and plasma flat-panel receivers.

Record-Big Flat Panels were rolled out by Samsung at the booming Consumer Electronics Show, which opened in Las Vegas on 8 January. Its 80-inch plasma model goes for a cool $70 000.

Entry of Computer Makers such as Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard into the flat-panel digital television (DTV) business will put more downward pressure on prices, as flat computer monitors already are much cheaper than similar-size TV monitors. Other factors making flat panels cheaper include economies of scale, improved manufacturing techniques, and lower materials costs.

Manufacturers Benefitting From the Boom include the Netherlands' Philips Electronics, which has a joint LCD manufacturing venture with South Korea's LG Electronics. Together, LG, Philips, and Samsung account for close to 45 percent of the world's LCD flat-panel sales. France's Thomson, which once openly proclaimed its intention of dominating the world HDTV market--based on the now-defunct European HD-MAC standard--largely missed the boat when all the action shifted in the 1990s to digital television and flat panels. But now Thomson is girding its loins for another push, having merged its television manufacturing business with China's TCL Electronics.

Words of Warning to the consumer: not all digital receivers are capable of receiving or displaying high-definition television, and even those labeled "HD-ready" sometimes require installation of an HD tuner. Per square inch, plasma displays are cheaper than LCDs and often provide more vivid color and better viewing angles. But plasma displays deteriorate more over the years and can suffer "burn-in" of images that linger too long.

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