- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

The Big Game has become a big excuse for football fans to supersize their televisions.

Gone are the days of huddling around a 20-inch television fitted with rabbit ears for a clear picture. Instead, TVs as big as 70 inches and as costly as $12,000 will be front and center in living rooms across the country on Super Bowl Sunday.

“This is a second Christmas for the home theater department,” said Mollie Wulff, a spokeswoman for Best Buy. “The Super Bowl gives customers another buying occasion and reason to trade up and invest in a bigger TV.”

TV sales soar during the weeks and days leading up to the Super Bowl as more consumers upgrade their home theater systems.

Nearly 44 million people will attend a Super Bowl party this year, according to the National Retail Federation, which conducted its first Super Bowl study. About 1.5 million TVs will be bought for the CBS-televised showdown between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, the group says.

Retailers say the cost of digital TVs, including the popular high-definition televisions (HDTV) has dropped considerably, making it a more reasonable purchase for consumers.

Best Buy, for instance, is selling online a Panasonic 53-inch wide-screen, high-definition-ready, rear-projection TV for $1,700 or a Philips 30-inch wide-screen high-definition-ready flat-tube TV for $900.

Nearly 40 percent of consumers said a good TV and sound system was the most important part of a Super Bowl party, according to a new Best Buy survey.

“More people entertain for the Super Bowl than just about any other occasion of the year, and at no event is home theater technology more the center of attention,” said Lee Simonson, business team leader for picture, source and sound at Best Buy.

Circuit City and Best Buy, the two major consumer-electronic retailers, are competing heavily for the TV business, offering such deals as zero-percent financing and guaranteed pregame delivery.

Best Buy shoppers have until 3 p.m. today and Circuit City buyers have until 4 p.m. to buy a TV to be delivered before the 6:25 p.m. game time tomorrow.

“This time of year we expect TV sales to be brisk,” said George Creighton, a manager at the Circuit City in Rockville.

Super Bowl XXXVIII will be broadcast in high-definition mode. Viewers with HDTVs will see the game five times sharper than on a traditional TV. They can get the signal through digital cable hookup, an antenna or a satellite system.

Television technology has come a long way, making it possible for shoppers to bring home a big-screen TV without the bulkiness of years past. For instance, a Samsung 50-inch wide-screen HDTV, which costs about $4,000 at Circuit City, is less than 18 inches thick and weighs 77 pounds.

Mr. Creighton estimates shoppers are spending about $2,500 to $3,000 on new televisions around 50 inches.

Among the most popular are plasma TVs, which use a gaslike substance squeezed between two panels of glass and excited by electricity, and liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs, which use liquid crystal solution to help create a thin TV with a bright, clear picture, according to Circuit City.

“Short of being at the game, I can’t imagine a better experience,” Mr. Creighton said. “You’ll see all the action. You have your snacks, and there’s no line for the restrooms.”

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