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ViewSonic aims to brighten its prospects

The company announces two liquid-crystal display monitors featuring a new technology that allows consumers to increase screen brightness by up to three times normal levels.

ViewSonic is brightening its prospects in the liquid-crystal display market.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company announced on Wednesday two LCD monitors that feature a new brightness technology, called UltraBrite, that allows consumers to increase screen brightness by up to three times normal levels. Both models are 15-inch displays, but the $550 VX500+ offers slightly higher brightness levels than the $500 VE510+. The VX500+ will be available in July, while the VE510+ will be available in June.

The ViewSonic displays hit or exceed the $500 "psychological barrier" analysts believe is the top price the majority of monitor buyers are willing to pay for a 15-inch LCD monitor. The problem for LCD makers is that $500 barely covers manufacturing costs, and LCD panel prices, which are about 60 percent of the cost of an LCD monitor, have been on the rise.

"Since September of last year, panel prices have been steadily increasing, and right now they are about $60 more than what they used to cost," said Rhoda Alexander, an analyst with market research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources. Alexander said the increase comes from a reversal in the market, where demand is now exceeding supply. Early last year, supply exceeded demand by so much that LCD manufacturers were consistently cutting monitor prices. The situation became so extreme that 15-inch LCD monitors fell to a low of around $300.

But with the change in the market, prices are expected to gradually increase. Several companies have raised the price of products in response to the panel increases, including Apple Computer and Sony. Alexander expects LCD manufacturers to add new features to monitors to justify price increases.

ViewSonic product manager Seth Ngin said that ViewSonic still offers LCD monitors for significantly less than $500, but to deal with the increase in panel prices the company added the UltraBrite feature in its new 15-inch LCD models and expects to add the feature to larger-sized monitors as well.

"We know consumers tend to go with CRT monitors over LCD because LCDs tend to be more expensive, and we don't want to hurt the market so we'll absorb as much of the (panel) price increase as we can," Ngin said.

Ngin expects pricing to stabilize by the end of the year.

ViewSonic also announced two CRT monitors using the UltraBrite technology, the $345 P95f+ and the $235 P75f+. The P95f+ is a 19-inch monitor and the P75f+ is a 17-inch monitor.