BY DAVID ELRICH LAS VEGAS -TV makers across the board have caught the fever and are introducing at CES flat-screen TVs with silver cabinets made popular by the top-selling Sony Wega lineup.
Panasonic, Philips, JVC, Toshiba and others are all rushing to release flat-screens in a variety of sizes at prices much higher than comparable "un-flat" models.
What's most surprising is the fact that most are analog NTSC editions, not digital HD-Ready models. So much for the vaunted cry of "digital, digital, digital" touted by the CE industry.
Why are analog flat-screen TVs selling so well?
"It's a pretty simple answer," according to Tim Alessi, Sony's TV marketing director. "It's the picture quality. They look unlike anything else in stores right now."
"There are still a lot of unresolved issues with the HD category," added Dan McCarron, JVC national product specialist, color TV division. "There's a certain clientele resistant to making the commitment to high-def, so they're sticking with analog. There's still huge demand for analog."
"Retailers told us 'we'll buy as many as you can build,'" said Jonas Tannenbaum, Panasonic's TV Division national sales manager. Referring to his company's line of Tau Pure Flat analog and digital TVs, he said, sales have been "very strong."
For Tannenbaum, the reason analog flat-screen TVs are doing so well is simple: "People will pay more if they get more."
Toshiba assistant VP Scott Ramirez concurs and said, "In many instances, TV manufacturers added great technologies to their sets, but they're hard to explain on the sales floor. With screen TVs it's simple for consumers to understand the benefit."
Ramirez said many people were initially surprised at the products' success when they first hit the market. "Now we have a better understanding of the business. Consumers are always looking for something better, and this is no different."
Philips has jumped into flat-screen analog in a big way, said television marketing VP Greg Chasson. At CES, Philips is showing an expanded line of Real Flat TVs, covering most screen sizes. "It's our intent to show a broad display of product," Chasson told TWICE.
Sold under the Philips brand ("Philips/Magnavox will continue to be phased out in 2001," Chasson said) most of the Real Flats will be analog, but the company may show 4:3 HD-ready sets to complement its widescreen direct-view digital sets.
At the CEDIA Expo in September, Philips unveiled Real Flat sets in 20- ($399), 27- ($799) and 32-inch ($1,299) sizes. Although announced at CEDIA, the combination 27-inch Real Flat/DVD player will arrive early in 2001.
In Sony's Wega lineup at CES, don't expect major changes. "We're not really expanding further in 2001," said Alessi, "since we expanded in 2000 into everything in the 13- to 36-inch screen size. We had success across the board, but the biggest growth was in 32 and 36."
He added that, "according to the last NPD report for the month of September, the KV-36FS12 was the top-selling 36-inch TV, and four of the top five were Wegas."
Sony will be updating the cabinet design, making audio improvements such as increasing power output, and updating some of the amplifiers and speaker grilles for better sound.
Alessi reported that supply is catching up to demand, but dealers shouldn't expect dramatic price drops, even with increased supply. "We'd rather increase the value than drop prices," he said.
Panasonic, said Tannenbaum, is highlighting its digital TV offerings at CES but will make reference to its analog flat-screen models. Still, the spotlight is on its Tau Pure Flat digital direct-view 4:3 and 16:9 models.
"The transformation from analog to digital is definitely occurring quicker in projection," Tannenbaum said. "There's been a dramatic shift from analog to digital monitors.
"It's not a difficult step from a fully loaded analog 51-inch to digital-ready. In many instances it's only a $500 jump, which is about a 20-25 percent premium. Since most people only change their projection every seven years, this is not a big leap. Compare that to direct view, and it's pretty startling."
A basic 32-inch costs $499-$699, he noted, while digital- ready is $1,799-a fourfold increase, making it a much tougher sale.
Toshiba is showing at CES two new analog flat-screen sets in the 20- and 24-inch sizes, which will arrive in the first quarter. Other screen sizes will arrive later in the year.
Toshiba introduced a line of FST Pure sets in 2000 that are still in the line. The top analog model is the CS36AFX60 ($1,999) with Invar, VSM, Advanced 3D YC comb filter, an illuminated universal remote, multiwindow two-tuner PIP, and the Cyclone sound system. (Proving Tannenbaum's point, by comparison, the 36HFX70 FST Pure CRT HDTV-compatible model is $2,799.)
The company also has a trio of FST Pure 32s, including the 36AF60 ($1,799)-which offers VSM, Invar, digital comb filter, surround sound with SBS, and multiwindow two-tuner PIP-and the CS32AFX60 ($1,499) and 32AF60 ($1,299).
JVC is showing at CES a 32-inch flat-screen analog set it plans to ship in the May/June time. It will introduce models in the 36- and 24-inch screen sizes in 2001, but no dates were set for their introduction.
"We introduced AV27F802 [$899] at CEDIA in September, and it hit the market in October. The response has been fantastic," said McCarron. "This TV is definitely targeted to a more upscale client looking for better picture quality, [but] they're not ready to enter the HD market at this point."
McCarron points to DVD as the main driver behind the set's success and said, "With over 10 million players sold in half the time of the compact disc and the VCR, there are people out there who want the better picture quality."
Joining the trend, Thomson Multimedia-maker of RCA and ProScan TVs-announced plans to begin production of the Manta Series, a new line of flat TV tubes using Tension Mask technology. The first RCA set with the tube will be the MM36TF10, a high-resolution monitor. The company has no plans to go to flat-screen analog.
Chasson agrees with other execs regarding the DTV shift over the next five years. "We will see a shift in direct-view CRT to digital," he said, "but not as much as we'll see in projection. But I certainly wouldn't write off analog."
Sony's Tim Alessi added, "Don't give up on analog yet. The transition to direct-view digital will take place over the next five years."
Adding a bit of a reality check, Tannenbaum said, "It's important to note that sales of flat-screen analog TVs are small. In an overall market of 22 million, they're a relatively small number. It's a premium-type product, and it remains to be seen how long the honeymoon will last."
Video Industry Sales Scorecard - Factory and distributor sales to dealers, as reported by the Consumer Electronics Association:
|<p> <span class="small" id="id2702760-35-small">PRODUCT</span> </p>||<p> <span class="small" id="id2702767-38-small">WEEK TO DEC. 8</span> </p>||<p> <span class="small" id="id2702775-41-small">1999 WEEK</span> </p>||<p> <span class="small" id="id2702782-44-small">% chg.</span> </p>||<p> <span class="small" id="id2702790-47-small">49 WEEKS 2000</span> </p>||<p> <span class="small" id="id2702797-50-small">49 WEEKS 1999</span> </p>||<p> <span class="small" id="id2702805-53-small">% chg.</span> </p>|
*Includes TV/VCR Combos