The Chinese calendar claims that 2004 is the Year of the Monkey. But if
the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was any indication, 2004 may
instead be called the Year of the Flat-Panel TV.
The number of new
manufacturers exhibiting TVs at CES in January was positively staggering.
Computer companies like HP, Dell, Gateway and Epson (not to mention computer
monitor firms like BenQ, ViewSonic, V Inc. and Optoma) are looking for ways
to expand their brands beyond the flat growth of the computer market. Intel,
though not planning to sell TVs directly, sees prosperity in making LCoS
(liquid-crystal on silicon) chips for other display manufacturers, even though
other LCoS chip makers have had little success up until now. Brands that are
established in the Far East, such as LG (Zenith’s parent company), TCL, Regent
and Humax, are similarly eager to become major players in the U.S. consumer
video market. Then there are those that have no apparent connection with the
video market at all—Westinghouse, Polaroid, Jensen and Memorex, to name just a
few. Such companies see the climate as indicative of a good time to jump in
the water. The list of names goes on and on.
The problem is, the TV
market is saturated and mature. Last we checked, the established industry
brands, including Panasonic, Sony, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Zenith, Pioneer, JVC,
Toshiba, RCA and Samsung, are still around and not going anywhere. According to
market research by the Consumer Electronics Association, the total number of
displays sold has stayed about the same or declined slightly over the past five
years. Thankfully, total revenue is up somewhat, due in large part to
sales of high-end (and expensive) flat panels. The market expects to sell a
greater number of smaller flat-panel (liquid-crystal and plasma) displays this
year, as consumers replace their big, bulky cathode-ray tube (CRT) TVs with
thinner varieties. But there’s no indication that consumers will buy more TVs
than they have bought before. The new manufacturer’s only hope for success (or
survival) is if the established brands don’t retain their market share as the
switch from traditional CRT to flat panel occurs.