Last year, the holiday shopping period between Thanksgiving
and Christmas offered deep discounts on televisions. This year, as manufacturers
struggle to compete with each other for market share, shoppers will find even deeper
discounts on better sets in a retail landscape that has altered subtly from the
by Jenny Donelan
AT Value Electronics, an audio-video retailer in Scarsdale, New York, customers are
replacing their existing TVs at a fairly brisk rate, according to president Robert
Zohn. The driving factor behind many of these sales is not LED backlighting, or
3-D, or Internet connectivity, or any of the features TV manufacturers hoped would
compel consumers to get rid of their old sets and buy new ones. It's design. "Customers
are now demanding a thin bezel and an ultra-thin TV," says Zohn. They are completely
willing and, in fact, eager, to jettison their older, thicker TVs for the sake of
more streamlined ones.
Value Electronics admittedly has a somewhat rarified customer base, which includes
passionate videophiles and very wealthy residents from the surrounding area. The
latter are the ones generally wanting the streamlined sets. But Value Electronics
also has customers with average incomes and average knowledge of TVs.
Last year, Zohn provided Information Display with a list of the questions
customers commonly ask when shopping for a TV. These questions covered topics such
as the difference between LCD and plasma, the best display technology for a given
viewing environment, TV mounting options, features-to-price ratio, 3-D, and smart
TV. A year later, these topics continue to come up frequently, says Zohn, but there
have been changes in emphasis. The following buying trends are being seen at Value
1. Greater awareness of but continuing confusion about
LED backlighting. Some customers understand that an "LED TV" is an LCD
TV with LED backlighting. Some know there is a relationship between LED and LCD
but not what it is. A few others steadfastly refuse to believe that an "LED TV"
is in fact an LCD at all, says Zohn.
2. Ambivalent attitude toward 3-D. As a feature
to induce customers to buy televisions, "3-D is not as popular as I think we would
all like it to be," says Zohn. However, he notes, people seem to understand that
when they buy a 3-D-capable TV, they are generally getting a higher-end, more fully
featured TV – a better 2-D TV, in fact.
3. Interest in smart
TV. More customers are interested in smart TV than in 3-D. In the past,
such connectivity meant Netflix and not much more, but the number of applications
has skyrocketed. Says Zohn, "People are using it for exercising, Skyping, YouTube
research and how-tos, and much more." While people may not get rid of their old
TV just to have a smart TV, when they do buy a new set, they tend to want that feature,
he says. Besides, with the addition of a Blu-ray player or Wii, existing TVs can
become smart. "Even a CRT can be a smart TV," says Zohn.
4. TVs Going Where They Have Never Gone Before.
This has been the year of the "designer friendly" TV, says Zohn. Due to the availability
of the aforementioned slim panel and slim bezel, TVs are now being included in high-concept
living rooms and other areas where interior designers would never have permitted
them in the past. In some cases, they are even being used as a design element,
with imagery chosen as a room accent.
For every customer who goes to an A/V specialty store
such as Value Electronics, many more this holiday season will head to discount stores
such as Target or Wal-Mart, to electronics chains such as Best Buy, or to Amazon
and other online entities. What can they expect to find there?
"I would expect prices to drop significantly in the holiday period, but in a
slightly different way than last year," says Ed Border, analyst for market research
firm IHS. This year has seen a decline in sales for the formerly popular 32-in.
TVs, he notes, but their prices are probably already close to bottoming out. "Instead,
we'll see deals for middle-to-larger screen sizes, as companies look to encourage
consumers by offering additional functionality such as smart TV for cheaper prices
than have previously been available."
Border also expects the biggest discounts this year to come from the low-end
brands. The real value, he says, will be seen above 32 in.
and below 55 in., with 40, 42, and 46 in. offering the best deals, and also 50–55
in. to some extent. "This is because 32-in. TVs and below are in continuous price
decline anyway, while TVs 60 in. and above will be more difficult to push to consumers
in the current economic situation," he says. "Expect full HD/LED prices to continue
to fall in smaller-screen-size models, and expect consumers who are opting for 50-in.
plus models to use this as an opportunity to get discounted smart TVs."
What about Plasma?
Plasma's demise has been predicted for some time now,
and even Zohn, who is a huge fan, believes this TV technology will eventually be
phased out – "but not yet," he cautions. In the meantime, plasma TVs continue
to offer outstanding quality for the money. (See "Why Should I Choose a Plasma TV?" in the 2011 November/December issue of Information Display.) Value
Electronics, which has conducted an annual large-screen TV "shootout," for the last
7 years, saw an LCD rather than a plasma TV win for the first time last year. However,
this year, plasma regained control, with the Panasonic VT50 winning by a large margin
Fig. 1: The Panasonic VT50 stands up to high-ambient light better than previous plasma TVs. Image courtesy of Panasonic.
Listing at $3600, it's not in the range of bargain pricing, but
Zohn describes it as a near-perfect TV. "The color accuracy is better than ever
and it stands up to high ambient light in a way plasma hasn't before," he says.
For more about the results of the 2012 shootout, see www.valueelectronics.com.
No matter where you shop in November and December, you
will not find the latest models. Most new TV technology is rolled out at CES in
January and then commercially introduced in the spring. So by fall, what you get
is mature technology at a good price. As far as bargain buys go, at press time,
the Amazon Top 10 best-selling TVs (a list that is updated hourly) included two
32-in. LED-backlit LCD HDTVs for under $300, a 60-in. LED backlit LCD smart TV for
$1000, assorted 40-in. LCD models in the low-to-mid three figures, and one 55-in.
1080p plasma TV for $634.
If you want to buy the best TV available, which will be better
than what you could have bought last year, and even one your interior designer would
approve of, you can do so for well under $5000. If you want a large TV with bells
and whistles, such as Internet and 3-D, you can get one for under $1000. And if
you just want a great-looking TV for a great price, look for bargains in those sweet
spots, especially 40, 42, and 46 in. There is no doubt that this is a great time
to buy a TV for the holidays. •