Flat-Panel Prices Dive

Almost anyone who's used desktop flat-panel monitors prefers them to traditional CRTs. The only real drawback to these displays has been their high price tags: about $1,000 for 15-in. units and $2,500 for 17-in. and 18-in. displays. Even so, some 6.6 million LCD monitors were sold last year, and DisplaySearch, an Austin, Texas-based market research and consulting firm, projects sales of 12 million units this year, rising to 24 million in 2004.

ViewSonic Corp. in Walnut, Calif., last week chopped the street price of its VE150 LCD monitor to $499, making it the lowest-priced flat-panel display on the market. Although a few 15-in. flat panels have sold recently for about $500, the ViewSonic announcement marks the first time a major display manufacturer/vendor has officially crossed that line.

The monitor industry was expecting to reach this price point for flat-panel displays by the end of this year, but ViewSonic's aggressive pricing move will have considerable impact and is likely to drive competitors to match that price sooner, not later.

Indeed, just two days after ViewSonic's price cut, NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America Inc. followed suit, cutting the street price of its MultiSync LCD1530V 15-in. flat panel by $200, to $549. The Itasca, Ill.-based vendor also lowered the price of its LCD1830 and LCD1800 18-in. flat-panel monitors by 40%, from $1,899 to $1,149.

At $499, a 15-in. LCD display now becomes an affordable alternative to high-quality 17-in. CRT screens costing $300 to $400. In addition, flat-panel displays offer operating savings over traditional monitors: Their energy consumption is typically 25% that of a comparably sized CRT monitor, and they require much less space on a user's desktop.

The cuts are especially welcome because prices rose as much as 70% in 1999 due to a shortage of LCDs that resulted from a lack of capital spending by flat-panel makers in 1998.

Also last week, IBM showed off its extensive new line of flat-panel monitors, including its value leader, the T540, a 15-in. unit priced at $599; a touch-screen model; and a new 17-in. model, the $1,269 T750, which has both digital and analog inputs.

Topping the IBM lineup is a remarkable 20.8-in display, the T210, which features unprecedented resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels (called the Quad Extended Graphics Array standard). It will display as much detail as four 15-in. flat panels, two full high-resolution pages side by side or many nonoverlapping windows. The display uses smaller pixels to deliver an incredibly sharp and detailed image. To see this monitor is to lust after it. The only factor that will prevent it from selling widely is its hefty price tag of $5,929.

The 17-in. models should prove to be popular because it offers users the same 1,280-by-960 pixel resolution and almost the same viewing area as 18-in. flat panels, but at less than half the cost. Their lower prices are a result of economies of manufacturing, with higher yields and lower waste.

Russell Kay is Computerworld's reviews editor. Contact him at russell_kay@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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