- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

SAN DIEGO

The world is getting flatter, everywhere you look.

From big-screen TVs to tiny digital music and video players, flat-panel screens are taking over the world. As they do, they’re pushing venerable cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions and computer monitors the way of the transistor radio.

“It’s a flat world,” said Ross Young, founder and president of Austin, Texas, research company DisplaySearch, which tracks the booming flat-panel business.

By the end of this year, nearly 90 percent of all computer monitors and more than 40 percent of all televisions sold in North America are expected to have flat-panel screens, according to figures released last week by DisplaySearch.

At least in North America, those hulking CRT monitors that were a staple of the computing industry since its infancy will probably disappear by the end of the decade, Mr. Young predicted.

Tube TVs, which have their roots in the 1920s, will likely be all but gone by 2015.

“CRTs are big and bulky. Flat panels are sleek and sexy,” Mr. Young said at an industry conference that his company sponsored here last week. He said there may be a market for cheap, small CRT televisions and monitors in developing countries in the next decade, but not much of one.

Along with wide consumer appeal, what’s driving the surge in slim screens is declining prices as more flat-panel factories gear up overseas. Many manufacturers, meanwhile, have slashed profit margins in reaction to cutthroat competition.

In 2005, the average price for a 42-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) television was about $3,100, about a third what it was a year earlier, according to DisplaySearch.

By the end of this year, prices on some 42-inch TVs, a popular size for a family’s main set, are expected to fall more than 20 percent or so to about $2,400. By the end of the decade, some 42-inchers are expected to sell for less than $1,000.

Also fostering the flattening of the TV business are Federal Communications Commission rules requiring all new TVs sold by next March to contain a digital tuner. Adding such capabilities to traditional CRT televisions can make them nearly as expensive as flat panels.

Meanwhile, some basic desktop computers now sell for less than $400, complete with a 15-inch flat-panel monitor. Just a few years ago, the monitor itself could cost that much.

Those beefy CRTs, which can still cost $50 to $100 less than flat-panel versions, are not going away without a struggle.

At Dell Inc., the biggest seller of computer monitors in the world, about 10 percent of all monitors sold are still CRTs.

But that’s down from about 25 percent just a year ago, and is expected to keep dropping, said Gerry Smith, vice president of Dell’s display and imaging business.

“We’re trying to kill them off” to make production easier and more profitable, Mr. Smith said. “But there are some customers who for whatever reason still want them.”

Most buyers who choose CRT monitors are commercial customers trying to save money on big orders, according to Mr. Smith.

Flat screens are cheaper than ever because supplies are plentiful, thanks to several big new factories that have opened recently in Asia. And even more factories are on the way.

At DisplaySearch’s conference in San Diego last week, Panasonic, LG Philips, Samsung and Sharp all boasted of plans for giant new flat-panel factories in Asia. In China alone, at least three new factories are planned next year. No flat panels are made in the United States, according to DisplaySearch.

“Everybody is building new factories,” said Vincent Sollitto, chief executive officer of LCD television maker Syntax-Brillian. “Everybody.”

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