New TVs getting thinner than ever
Some sets now just 1 inch thick
NEW YORK - Lee Richman installs high-end home theater systems that can cost as much as $170,000. Lately, he has noticed that some of his clients - or their interior designers - are perking up when they hear about ultra-slim TV sets, which are off the wall only about an inch.
The difference between these thin models and regular flat-panel TVs, which generally are about 3 or 4 inches deep, is pretty small. It is nothing like the aesthetic shock that consumers had when flat panels were introduced to replace fat old cathode ray tube TVs.
But in a certain slice of the market - anyone who has subscribed to more than one home decor magazine, perhaps - super slim TVs make people “very enthused,’’ Richman said.
This is textbook business strategy for TV makers. Now that flat-panel TVs have come down from thousands of dollars to as little as $200, manufacturers are pushing high-end alternatives that are slimmer, use less energy, and come with other high-end add-ons - and can carry price tags in the thousands again.
Bulky boob tubes have long been banished from the hippest living rooms, and the vast majority of TVs sold in the United States today are flat panels. But competition and the recession have sent prices falling, cutting into profits.
Tweaking a basic product’s look is a classic way to reignite demand. Think of jeans: Designers stress a boot cut one year and narrow pant legs the next.
When it comes to TVs, screens can get only so big. So manufacturers are hoping to recoup some of their lost margins by emphasizing a set’s minuscule depth to consumers who still have money.
Thinness is an easy marketing factor to reach for, because it is tangible and easily measured. Manufacturers are also improving picture quality, but the measurements, like contrast ratio and color gamut, are more difficult for a shopper to understand.
Samsung Electronics is pushing ultra-thin design as one of the enhanced features of its latest HDTV line, which starts at $1,600 for a screen 32 inches on the diagonal and costs as much as $4,000 for a 55-inch screen and other features. The company is putting a lot of effort into getting these sets in front of consumers, including setting up mall kiosks for demonstrations, said Jonas Tanenbaum, vice president of flat-panel marketing for Samsung Electronics America.
Among the selling points: The sets are about 1.2 inches thick. They also are backlit by energy-efficient light-emitting diodes instead of the standard fluorescent tubes. The higher-end models can connect to the Internet and PCs.
Because 1-inch-thick TVs are relatively new and cost so much, it is too early to tell when super-slimness will trickle down to the mass market.
Paul Gagnon, an analyst with market researcher DisplaySearch, estimates that ultra-thin sets make up about 2 percent of the overall TV market, in North America, about 5 percent.
He expects ultra-thin models to be at a premium for another year or two, while manufacturers wring as much as possible from customers who are wealthy, or early adopters of gadgets or especially design-conscious.