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Flat panels to near $1,000 in '98

A manufacturer suggests prices for active-matrix LCD monitors will be cut in half in 1998, but demand will still lag.

    A Taiwanese manufacturer suggested prices for active-matrix liquid crystal display monitors will be cut in half in 1998, but the drop would not be enough to spur widespread demand for so-called flat panel monitors.

    CTX Opto Electronics predicted the consumer price of a 14-inch flat panel liquid crystal display (LCD) monitorwill plummet as low as $1,100 by the end of next year, according to a report in online edition of Nikkei Business Publications. A 14-inch flat panel display currently starts at about $2,000.

    Analysts hasten to add, however, that a price tag that's three to four times greater than the cost of a conventional desktop monitor is not likely to boost demand for flat panels.

    Flat panel monitors weigh less, take up much less space, and consume about one-third the power of cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, the desktop standard. LCD screens are used for notebook PCs in screen sizes ranging from 8 to 13.3 inches, but are not often found on desktops because of their price. A 14-inch CRT monitor typically costs three to four times less than its flat panel equivalent.

    Nevertheless, a strong niche market demand exists and improved manufacturing processes and increased production in Japan and South Korea are pushing prices lower. The cost of 14-inch flat panels will fall to between $1,500 and $2,000 in the first half of the year, according to some industry observers.

    Dave Mentley, vice president of Stanford Resources, thinks a price tag of $1,100 for a 14-inch 1024-by-768-pixel resolution flat panel monitor is possible if a bit optimistic.

    Martin Reynolds, vice president of technology assessment at Dataquest, estimates such a monitor will cost around $1,200. "We're about to enter a free-fall in prices," he said.

    But Ed Buckingham, an International Data Corporation analyst specializing in PC displays, forecasts a much smaller decline, to between $1,600 to $1,700.

    Whatever the cost, all three observers believe flat panels will not be priced to compete with CRTs by the end of 1998. "The magic premium is not 3X [3 times the price] or 2X but somewhere down around 25 percent more," Mentley said.

    The widespread adoption of flat panel monitors is also hindered by the incompatibility of current PC video cards with most flat panel desktop displays on the market. Ironically, a PC generates digital video data that's perfectly suited for the flat panel but must be converted for the CRT monitor, yet the solution isn't as simple as it would seem because virtually every existing PC video card would have to be replaced. In other words, flat panel monitors aren't plug-and-play with current PCs.

    Some vendors, such as NEC, do provide CRT-compatible, analog interfaces for their desktop LCD monitors. Another solution is to reconvert the converted signal, but the second process degrades the image quality while adding to the cost of the monitor.

    Still another approach is to bundle flat panel monitors with new systems, so that users needn't worry about compatibility. "If you have bundled systems, it makes more sense because you can tailor [the interface], Buckingham pointed out.

    "But the market for systems like that is limited," he added.