If you’ve had a big-screen flat-panel HDTV in your sights for a while, it looks like this fall will be a great time to pull the trigger.
Prices this holiday season are expected to hit an all-time low, about 40 percent cheaper in general than a year ago and as much as 65 percent lower on certain kinds of TVs. There’s growing speculation that the season will start off strong on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, with eye-opening deals, particularly on plasma TVs.
We may see some 42-inch 720p plasmas priced as low as $599 on Black Friday, predicted manufacturers and retailers attending a conference held last week by DisplaySearch, an Austin, Texas-based research firm. According to DisplaySearch forecasts, prices could rebound a bit after the kickoff weekend, averaging closer to $1,000 throughout the holidays. 720p plasmas with 50-inch screens are likely to go for about $1,400 this year, down from $2,300 a year ago. Plasma will finally become competitive in 1080p, with the average price of a full HD 50-inch set dropping sharply, to just under $2,400 by the end of the year, the firm projects.
Discounts will be less dramatic on LCD sets, but prices will be lower. A 40-inch LCD set with 720p resolution will go for about $1,000. Look for bigger price cuts in 1080p, where average selling prices will drop to about $1,500 for a 40-inch set and $2,000 for a 46-incher. Full HD 52-inch LCD TVs will sell for about $2,700. DisplaySearch predicts that 1080p sets will take over the 40-inch and larger category this holiday season, accounting for about 60 percent of all HDTV sales.
Analysts say it’s unlikely TV prices will drop much lower in 2008, so there’s little point in waiting for better bargains next year. True, predictions for less-severe price drops in 2007 haven’t panned out, but this time they could be on the money. According to DisplaySearch presient Ross Young, much of the price cutting we’ve seen this year resulted from a perfect storm of events late in 2006, “where we had too much panel supply, too many brands and too many retailers.”
What does this portend for your holiday shopping? Retailers are likely to steer you to big screens and 1080p sets, which offer them bigger profit margins than smaller screens. Many big-box retailers aren’t actively promoting 40- and 42-inch 720p LCD HDTVs, so it may be harder to find them. Young noted that recent advertising circulars by national chains focused almost exclusively on higher-priced 1080p sets 40 inches and larger. And supplies of 32-inch LCD TVs could be tight as manufacturers shift their focus to more lucrative segments, including digital photo frames and notebook PCs.
That means your best bet of finding a 720p LCD set this holiday season may well be in warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s or at mass merchants such as Wal-Mart or Target. These chains, which have a lower margin structure than traditional retail stores, are becoming a more important outlet for TV sales—and they’re a big reason that Vizio became the number-one flat-panel TV brand in the second quarter of this year, according to data from NPD Group, DisplaySearch’s parent company.
Also, gird yourself for a stronger-than-usual push to load up on extras, such as an extended warranty, cables, wall mounts, and even high-def DVD players and digital receivers. With TV prices and margins falling, stores will need to sell you more of these extras to bolster profits.—James K. Willcox