Falling costs of big-screen TVs to keep falling

The cost of big-screen televisions, which have been dropping by about 25 percent a year, are now expected to fall even more sharply this fall.

In consumer electronics, as in much of life, good things happen to those who wait--good things as in plunging prices.

The cost of big-screen televisions, which have been steadily dropping by about 25 percent a year, are now expected to fall even more sharply this autumn, according to industry analysts. The coming markdowns reflect a singular confluence of business trends that will benefit consumers going into the holiday season.

"Prices are pretty much in a free fall," said David Naranjo, who tracks the television industry for DisplaySearch, a market research firm.

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The best evidence of this is the expectation of analysts that in the next few weeks the Panasonic unit of the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company will announce that it is dropping prices as much as $500 on plasma-screen TVs that retail for around $3,500.

Panasonic officials refused this week to confirm or deny the speculation, but because it sells the most plasma screens in the United States, a potential downward adjustment would be considered a harbinger of a price war for all varieties of big-screen TVs.

The chief executive of the Syntax Groups, James Li, maker of the Olevia brand of flat-panel TVs, said, "If they go to $3,000, I will go to $2,999."

All this spells good news for anyone thinking about upgrading from the old cathode-ray TV to screens that are 40 inches or larger in the three most popular formats. Full-featured plasma TVs with 50-inch screens that sold for $20,000 five years ago could edge close to $4,000 this season. A liquid-crystal-display version and a rear-projection TV with a digital-light processing chip will be considerably less, closing in on $1,800.

That does not mean choosing a TV will be easy. No longer is it just a matter of price and size. There are no fewer than eight competing technologies, as well as different screen sizes and display standards that force you to grapple with a shape-shifting matrix of at least a dozen dimensions.

Let's try to cut through that. It used to be that liquid-crystal-display technology was for small screens, plasma for medium, and digital-light processing for large. Though the TVs with digital-light processing have been the best value, plasma had the technological advantage and could sell for more because screens were big and flat. Now LCDs are as large and DLP TVs are flatter.

As the technologies overlap in the 32-inch to 46-inch screen sizes, the price differences narrow. A price cut in one technology forces cuts on the others, too.

While these changes make any purchasing decision more complex, the resulting markdowns should compensate for the headaches. "The consumer really holds the ace in this game," said Jonas Tanenbaum, director of flat-panel and direct-view marketing for Samsung Electronics North America.

The problem with buying any new technology is that tomorrow it will be cheaper--and better. So why not wait some more? When you buy a depreciating asset, it always makes sense to wait as long as you can. But at this stage in the introduction of big-screen high-definition TV sets, consumers are unlikely to get whipsawed by radical new technology that leaves them regretting their purchase.

This year there are several compelling reasons for trading up to a bigger TV, especially one that offers high-definition. Nascar and the National Football League have begun broadcasting events in high-definition. (When it comes to $2,000 TV-purchasing decisions, surveys show men control the purse strings.)

The TV networks are broadcasting more high-definition content, but it

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