Flat-panel TV sales set to take off
By Lisa Wang / STAFF REPORTER
With thicknesses measuring only a fifth of bulky cathode-ray-tube televisions, ultra-fashionable flat-screen TVs came into the limelight in their debut last year. A sleek, slim-screen TV will certainly add style to any living room. But the high price tag has paralyzed many potential buyers.
\nThat may change soon. After the free-fall in flat-panel TV prices in the past year, the gap between flat-display sets and conventional cathode-ray tube models is shrinking to close to a sweet point.
\nConsumers can now pay as little as NT$49,000 for a 30-inch liquid-crystal-display (LCD) model from the local brand Teco Electric & Machinery Co (東元) -- about 30 percent less than the price a year ago. The price is now near a more acceptable two and a half times that of a 29-inch boxy cathode-ray tube set with a similar screen size as Teco's model.
\n"We found recently that some of our customers have finally taken action and bought a thin and relatively lightweight TV set after numerous price comparisons," said Chen Shih-fong (陳石峰), a senior salesperson at flagship store of Tsann Kuen Enterprises Co (3C, 燦坤) in Taipei's Neihu district.
\nIt's often difficult for people to pick a set for their living rooms from the large number of TV models on the market with nearly identical specifications. The price range is vast and new brands have mushroomed, in addition to the already numerous existing TV vendors. So how should a customer choose?
\n"Buy the one with the best picture that fits your budget," Chen advised. Prices for a typical 30-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) set can range from NT$50,000 for cheaper models to NT$130,000 for an Aquos set from Japan's Sharp Corp, he added.
\nThere are three major flat-screen TVs using different technologies to generate pictures: LCD-TVs, plasma-display-panel (PDP) TVs with screen size starting at 42-inches diagonally and rear-projection TVs with a minimum size of 50 inches.
\n"When shopping, bring along one of your favorite DVDs for testing," said Steven Chin (秦瑞芳), chief-editor of DVD Info, a Chinese-language monthly providing reviews on latest movies and high-tech electronics. "Try to look at the sets under conditions as similar as possible to those of your living room."
\nPreferences for a screen's brightness, contrast, and sharpness are highly subjective and personal, explained the 35-year-old Chin, who has worked in the video and audio industry for 15 years.
\nPeople who spend most of their time watching movies may prefer lower contrast ratios, which translates to a softer picture with less punch and detail, Chin said. Those watching standard TV programs on flat-screen sets may require a sharp and bright picture, he added.
\n"Trust your eye, not the specifications, since not all seemingly important figures really matter," Chin stressed.
\nAn easy way for people to assess the picture quality is to focus their eye on the edge of an object on the screen and see if it has a sawtooth effect, or any signal interferences such as "drizzles," he said.
\nThe Japanese firm Panasonic's 30-inch LCD-TV set is one of the budget models and has typical specifications but delivers a much clearer picture than most, Chin advised. The price for this model has dropped to near those offered by Taiwanese firms.
\nThe model is now selling for NT$68,900 at the nation's two largest electronics chains, Tsann Kuen and Daiichi Corp Taiwan (泰一電器) -- a sharp drop from NT$89,900 just months ago.
\nFor people with more room in their budget, Chin recommends a premium 30-inch model from JVC, which can delicately process various video signals from different devices including DVD players.
\nConsumers should follow their own evaluations and personal preferences in TV-watching to pick a set, Chen said. But there are figures indicating contrast ratio and resolution that can give consumers a rough guide to be supplemented by eyes-on evaluations.
\n"The higher, the better," he said. LCD-TV models tend to have contrast ratios ranging from around 400:1 to 800:1, so avoid some sets delivering lower than that specification, Chen said. PDP-TVs usually provide higher contrast, ranging from 600:1 to 1,500:1.
\nResolution is specified as the number of pixel columns by the number of pixel rows. Generally speaking, a high-definition resolution display should usually have a total pixel count approaching 1 million. So 1280 by 720, 1366 by 768, and 1024 by 1024 are all examples of high-definition display resolutions, according to Chen.
\nBenQ Corp's (明基電通) DV-30H unit is one of the best buys, said Chen, with a 600:1 ratio -- rarely seen in local brands -- and a pixel count of 1280 by 768. The set now sells for NT$64,900.
\nPolyVision's N-5301, which has identical specifications, can produce a better picture than BenQ's and is priced more competitively at NT$57,900, said Tsai Yueh-tang (蔡岳唐), a senior salesperson at Daiichi's flagship store in downtown Taipei.
\nPolyVision is a TV brand operated by Chi Mei Corp (奇美實業), which owns the LCD flat panel maker Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp (奇美電子).
\nIn addition to contrast and resolution, customers who plan to hook up their flat-panel display with a computer should make sure the TV set is equipped with a VGA (video graphics array) input, Chin advised.
\nThe VGA input can be used for computer connections, to allow the flat-panel set to double as a huge display for PC users while they surf the Net, or do graphics editing, he added.
\nSince not all flat-screen sets support high-definition signals, consumers should check whether a TV has DVI (digital visual interface), or HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) input to be able to connect to HDTV tuners or DVD players, Chin advised.
\nFor customers shopping for bigger screens that will let them turn their living rooms into a home theater, PDP-TVs are a better option than LCD sets in both price and size, TV experts said.
\nLG Electronics Co's latest 42-inch model should be high on the purchase shortlist as its price has fallen to a level close to that of local brands, while it offers outstanding picture quality and extensive after-sales service, both Tsai and Chin said.
\nAn LG MP-42PX10 model is selling for NT$109,000, compared to NT$149,000 when it was launched last month. Models with identical specs from local TV firms including Sampo Corp (聲寶) are only NT$20,000 cheaper than the South Korean brand.
\nDaiichi sold 20 of LG's 42-inch model from its flagship store in the month since its debut, Tsai said, and there's now a two or three week waiting list for the model.
\nShoppers looking for premium PDP models should try Japanese brands such as Pioneer and Sony, which both offer sets priced at NT$240,000 and above.
\n"Since a TV is no longer simply a box you use to watch programs or movies, it plays a greater role in your living room," Chin said.
\n"A TV is now considered part of the furniture or decoration, when it is turned off. Don't save the money [by buying a cheaper cathode-ray tube model], especially if you are remodeling your house now."
Flat-screen TVs like the one above have become increasingly popular in households in Taiwan because of their compact size which allows for better interior decoraction, and their prices, which have recently fallen to an affordable level.
PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES
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