Who needs a 92-inch TV? Mitsubishi, the guys who make it

The Japanese electronics company, the last bastion of rear-projection TVs, says really big sets are still the best way for it to turn a profit on its products.

Editors' note: The lens used in recording the video above makes the television appear smaller than it really is in relation to the presenter, Scott Stein. Scroll down to see a photo that more accurately presents the 92-inch size of the TV.

Does a 92-inch TV sound like overkill to you?

To many, it may. But for the company that makes it, Mitsubishi, it's pretty much the only way to distinguish itself among its competitors and try to stay in the TV business.

Next month, Mitsubishi will officially start selling the behemoth of a television it first introduced at CES in January. The 92-inch 840 3D DLP Home Cinema TV will cost $5,999, has a resolution of 1080p, uses DLP rear-projection technology, and can display 3D content. It also comes in 72 inches and 83 inches.

Yes, there will be people that will buy it. The kind of people who, say, have a "media room" in their home. In other words, no, it's not for everyone. So why would Mitsubishi go after such a small portion of TV buyers?

"It's good to sell volume, but it's better to make money," said Frank DeMartin, vice president of consumer product sales for Mitsubishi.

The big-time players in the TV market, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony sell millions of flat-panel TVs every quarter, and Mitsubishi, a small player with about 1 percent of the television market in North America, can't compete on the number of TVs those guys make. So starting last year, Mitsubishi moved to where none of its competition is in order to stay afloat in the very tough world of making TVs. That means going really, really big and selling technologies you don't see much from any other player in the industry.

The Japanese TV maker says it's tried and it can't make decent profit margins--and claims the competition can't either--on your "normal size TVs." That is, TVs that measure 30, 40, 50, and 60 inches. Prices have dropped significantly in those sizes, which means the makers get squeezed on profits. It's why Mitsubishi nixed its 60- and 65-inch model TVs last year. Now it doesn't make anything smaller than 72 inches.

Mitsubishi 840 Series TV
Senior Editor Scott Stein poses in front of the 92-inch Mitsubishi 840 Series TV. Sarah Tew/CNET

A risky move for sure: TVs larger than 65 inches are really just not that popular. They make up about 2 percent of the total number of TVs sold in North America, according to TV market researchers at DisplaySearch. Liquid-crystal display (LCD) TVs, the most popular TV technology, are not even available in sizes larger than 70 inches. You can get a 85-inch plasma from Panasonic, but that's a whole different category of buyer: one that will spend $22,000 on a TV. There's also a Panasonic 103-inch plasma for more than $30,000.

Larger size TV are more expensive and usually mean a smaller number of sets sold, but they do "tend to be a little more profitable" than the approximate 10 percent profit margins that the makers of standard-size LCD TVs get, said Paul Gagnon, DisplaySearch's vice president of TV research for North America.

That low-margin issue is also why Mitsubishi abandoned its LCD TV business last year.

"We were selling lots of flat panels too, but not making any money," DeMartin said.

Which brings us back to the 92-incher. Besides size, there's another reason it's different than the dozens of TVs you'd see lining the aisles of Best Buy: it uses rear-projection technology. Mitsubishi is now the only company that still carries the banner for the TV technology that has been largely forgotten by mainstream TV buyers since the onset of the LCD and plasma era.

Why would anyone still buy a rear-projection TV, you ask? At about 15-inches deep they're not nearly as thin as an LCD or plasma and there's nothing really cutting-edge about the idea of rear-projection, Gagnon said. The remaining appeal of rear-projection for most is price. And if you do happen to be outfitting your media room, rear-projection is actually thinner than front-projection TVs, which are--besides Panasonic's five-figure sets--the only other option for when it comes to buying a TV as big as 92 inches.

"We're in an area that flat panel doesn't play in. An LED [-based LCD TV] from Sharp is [more than] $3,000, it's not 3D we have quite a bit of room to work," DeMartin insists.

So a 92-inch rear-projection TV may not be for everyone. But Mitsubishi is just fine with that.

 

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