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LCDs to overtake tube TVs in 2009

Flat-panel TVs are all the rage, and a new study says they're poised to become the most popular type of set.

LCD TVs will be the most popular kind of TVs in the world by 2009, according to a new analyst report, meaning they will reach that status much faster than anticipated, thanks to rising sales and better manufacturing.

Consumers are picking up LCD TVs, which are based on the same technology found in notebook screens, at a faster rate than expected, according to iSuppli. This year, shipments of these TVs will rise by 74 percent to 46.7 million units, iSuppli said. A few months ago, iSuppli expected only 41.9 million units to ship this year.

If the trend continues, LCDs will account for 48 percent of TVs shipped in 2009, while CRTs will account for only 42 percent. By 2010, LCDs will account for 56 percent of TVs shipped. Meanwhile, sales of projection TVs and plasmas will remain a somewhat small part of the overall market. Projection TVs will account for 3 percent of the market by 2009, the same as they do now, while plasma will climb from 3 percent to 7 percent.

Ironically, traditional, bulky CRT TVs still continue to provide better picture quality, according to many. They also cost less. Back in 2004, iSuppli predicted that CRTs would account for 70 percent of TVs shipped in 2008.

In the first quarter, LCD shipments accounted for 17 percent of TVs shipped.

LCD TVs will be one of the hot topics at the Society for Information Display conference taking place in San Francisco this week. Researchers from Philips, Liquavista, Samsung and others will gather to discuss the latest trends coming out of their labs. The marketing folks will be there too. One hot trend: A wide variety of companies will discuss 3D TVs and screens.

The rise in LCD shipments directly relates to declining prices, and that decline can be largely traced to improvements in manufacturing. Samsung, LG. Philips and others have aggressively poured billions into building cutting-edge factories. In these factories, large sheets of glass are spun at high speeds while liquid crystal is poured on them, sort of like spin art in a tightly controlled environment.

Prices are coming down because the sheets of glass (from which LCD panels are eventually cut) are getting larger and larger: Some now measure nearly 6 feet per side. The larger the mother glass, the more TV panels can be made simultaneously.

Manufacturers also engage in price wars when sales don't meet inflated expectations. Whatever the cause, the prices tend to go inexorably down. From January to May, the average price of 32-inch and 40- and 42-inch LCD TVs fell by 17 percent and 14 percent respectively.

LG.Philips remains the world's biggest LCD TV manufacturer, followed by Samsung, Taiwan's Chi Mei and AU Optoelectronics, spun out of the Acer family. South Korea produced 44.8 percent of the world's LCD TVs in the fourth quarter, followed by Taiwan at 40.1 percent.