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Despite new flat TVs, cathode ray tube isn't dead yet

TIJUANA, Mexico -- Samsung Electronics Co. has an odd sales pitch for one of its new televisions. A slide show for dealers features a drawing of a TV on a tombstone that reads, ''The news of my demise is greatly exaggerated!"

The South Korean manufacturer is referring to cathode-ray tube, or CRT, televisions -- the heavy boxes that have dominated the business since 1939. As rival technologies get cheaper, the era of the conventional tube TV is ending.

Yet Samsung and a South Korean rival, LG Electronics Co., are refusing to abandon the old-style tube TVs entirely. They continue trying to improve CRTs, even as they and other television makers are churning out super-thin LCD and plasma televisions. Samsung's ''slim" CRT, which began rolling off a Tijuana assembly line in April, is an effort to stall the technology's demise.

CRTs, which some videophiles insist produce the best pictures, use a gun that fires electrons in a heavy, glass tube to light phosphors. LCDs affix liquid crystals to thin plates of glass, while plasma uses gases to light the screen.

Manufacturers have tried for years to flatten CRTs but failed to design an electron beam that's wide enough to light the screen's edges, said Paul Semenza, an analyst at market researcher iSuppli Corp. Samsung appears to have cracked that riddle; whether it can produce them on a large scale remains to be seen, he said.

Measuring 16 inches deep and weighing 120 pounds, Samsung's new 30-inch screen slimmer CRT is still far too clunky to hang on a wall. But its $1,000 price tag beats many high-definition digital displays.

Samsung's 32-inch screen liquid crystal display, or LCD, may be only 4 inches thick and 36 pounds, but it lists for more than twice as much, at $2,500.

The company also plans a 27-inch model for $900 this fall and a 26-incher next spring at an undetermined price, though Samsung says it will sell trim CRTs at about half of similarly sized LCDs, even as their prices plummet.

Meanwhile, LG Electronics began selling a 30-inch slimmer CRT in Korea this year and will introduce it in the United States next year at an undetermined price. Like Samsung's, it is about one-third slimmer than conventional TVs.

Samsung's investment in designing a slimmer CRT is tiny compared with investments in flat panels, though. The company opened a $2 billion LCD plant near Chonan, South Korea, this year in a joint venture with Japan's Sony Corp. and is building an LCD plant for $2.1 billion next door.

LCD is projected to overtake CRT in 2007, and CRT is expected to claim only 16 percent the US-Canada market in 2009, iSuppli said.

Circuit City Stores Inc. sells about 40 to 50 models of LCD TVs, up from four only two years ago, said Tom Crowell, manager for television. Its plasma offering jumped to about 20 from two. To make room, boxy CRTs are being dumped.

Samsung isn't fazed.

The slim CRT will do well as long as it can compete with LCDs on price, said Peter Weedfald, a Samsung marketing executive.

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