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Flat-panel sellers perk up monitors

Planar and Sharp unveil 17-inch flat-panel models with new features and high screen resolution, looking to make their products stand out in an ever-more-competitive display market.

Two flat-panel monitor companies launched new displays Monday, looking for ways to branch out their business.

Planar Systems introduced its PX line of liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, the first of which is a 17-inch model with a resistance-free swivel arm that pivots and adjusts for height. Meanwhile, competitor Sharp Systems of America unveiled a 17-inch flat-panel monitor with a high screen resolution.

The announcements come as the market for LCD monitors continues to grow. Flat-panel display makers are adding features to distinguish their screens from myriad rival products, while making sure not to tip the balance too far away from the No. 1 priority for consumers: price.

"As the market matures and optical performance for LCDs improves, monitors are becoming more similar, so consumers and manufacturers are looking at other ways to differentiate their products," said Rob Baumgartner, product manager for Planar. "They're looking at design, connectors and--in our case--ergonomics."

Within the flat-panel monitor market, sales of 15-inch displays have been driving growth and profits. But, as the list of resellers and the demand for displays grow, and as the number of flat-panel models on the market increases, the market share for 15-inch displays is beginning to plateau.

In response, resellers have been ramping up production of 17- and 19-inch displays to try to maintain the fast-paced growth of the flat-panel market. They are also adding features to their product mix, while cutting prices, in a further bid to entice consumers to buy.

"Vendors are more likely to add features to 17-inch and 19-inch offerings because the market for 15-inch (displays) is too competitive right now," said Samantha Nebrich, an analyst with research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources.

The average selling price of 15-inch flat-panel monitors is expected

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to drop 17.3 percent from last year to this year, from $413 to $341, according to iSuppli/Stanford Resources. However, the firm predicts the same marker for 17-inch flat panel monitors will drop 27 percent and for 19-inch monitors, fall 43 percent.

The first model in Planar's new PX family, the PX171M, is a 17-inch monitor. It features a base with resistance-free swivel, pivot and height adjustments, similar to the displays used in Apple Computer's iMac desktops. Priced at $589, it has a screen resolution of 1,280 pixels by 1,024 pixels and comes with integrated speakers.

Oregon-based Planar has been a major monitor reseller in vertical markets, such as the medical and industrial niches, for about 20 years. It has recently begun targeting the consumer market with its PX family. The company is looking to expand the line in early 2003.

The 17-inch monitor from Sharp, a division of Sharp Electronics, is called the LL-T17A3. It has a screen resolution of 1,280 pixels by 1,024 pixels and is available for $549.

Even higher screen resolutions and higher refresh rates for improved video playback are expected to appear in monitors, said iSuppli/Stanford Resources' Nebrich.

Among PC makers, Gateway is expected to continue to experiment with its Profile 4 desktop, which is an all-in-one PC with a flat-panel monitor. The company will come out with a desktop computer with a pivoting screen in the third quarter and possibly a wide-screen monitor, according to Randy Farwell, a director at Gateway.

For their part, LCD makers--which manufacture the monitors that companies such as Planar and Sharp sell--are looking for new growth outside the flat-panel monitor market. LG Philips LCD, a joint venture between LG Electronics and Philips Electronics, views television screens and screens on seat backs in cars as major new opportunities for LCD displays. Meanwhile, consumer electronics company Philips displayed an LCD television with an integrated digital video recorder last week at the Comdex Fall 2002 trade show.