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Want an LCD TV? Watch for a price drop, experts say

Such flat-screen sets may cost hundreds less by the end of the year, a research group says.

March 14, 2007|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

If you've been waiting for fast-falling prices of LCD flat-screen TVs to flatten out, you can stop. Now's the time to buy.

Or maybe not.

Prices have been basically stalled since the retail wars of the 2006 holidays, when LCD TVs, once luxury items, went almost mainstream. But prices will probably plunge again by the end of the year.

A 42-inch set selling right now for an average of $1,877 could be going for $1,175 -- a drop of more than 35% -- just in time for the winter holidays, the ISuppli industry analyst group said Tuesday. Already, at some discount and membership stores, you can find an off-brand 42-inch LCD set for under $1,000.

"I have a 20-inch LCD set across from me that was $1,500 just four years ago. Now, I could get it for $149," said analyst Richard Doherty at Envisioneering Group. "The prices have fallen faster than any consumer electronics item in years, with the exception of DVD players."

If the price falls as much as expected this year, the average 42-inch LCD set will cost only about $80 more than a plasma flat-screen of the same size. For years, plasma was the undisputed flat-screen king, largely because the technology was far cheaper. But now LCDs could rule -- especially among the environmentally and weight-conscious.

"LCD TVs use a lot less electricity," Doherty said. "People who consider themselves green tend to buy LCD. And the weight of two 37-inch LCD TVs are about equal to that of one plasma set the same size."

Right now, LCD sets have 22% of the market. ISuppli predicts that will rise to 51% in 2009.

This year, the number of LCD screens -- each of which contains a liquid crystal gel divided into hundreds of thousands of individual pixels -- shipping from factories will reach 75.2 million, up from 52.7 million in 2006, ISuppli said. And the price of the screens to TV manufacturers is forecast to fall 17% in just the first half of the year.

That price decline probably will be passed on to shoppers. At stores, competition is fierce.

"At the beginning of 2006, we were seeing 42-inch LCDs at about $3,500 or $4,000," said Ross Rubin, an analyst at NPD Group. "But they were from just a handful of manufacturers. By the end of the year, many more manufacturers were offering LCDs and there was very aggressive retail discounting during the holidays."

What's good for shoppers, though, doesn't necessarily make manufacturers and retailers happy. In December, "some of the 32-inch brands were as low as $500," said Riddhi Patel, an analyst with ISuppli. "That's an awesome price for the consumer, but it was hard on everyone in the TV supply chain because it was such a low profit margin."

Since then, LCD prices have stayed nearly the same or gone up slightly in some cases.

But if the experts are right, it's only a rest period between rounds.

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