HDTVs are a Commodity

By  |  Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 9:59 am

Back in the 1990s, I really, really wanted a Sony Trinitron TV. Couldn’t afford one. So I bought a cheap Sharp TV, and felt deprived.

These days, as the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explains, all HDTVs are remarkably inexpensive, and getting more so every week. And it’s increasingly hard for any particular brand to stick out from the pack:

This makes televisions different from, say, a tablet. You can compare the iPad and the BlackBerry Playbook across many factors: screen quality, screen size, speed, connection, touch responsiveness, and app store. The iPad is really, really different from the BlackBerry PlayBook. A Sony 40-inch flatscreen TV is really, really similar to a Panasonic. This makes it difficult to build what analysts call “brand premium.” You might pay extra for an Apple product because you have a clear sense of what Apple offers above and beyond other similarly-priced products. Televisions don’t have the same differentiation. As a result, TV prices tend to converge more than other electronics. Given the behavior of consumers, and the efficiency gains of manufacturers, the direction of that convergence is down.

This is an enormous headache for TV makers–and a nightmare, really, for a company like Sony, which is used to being able to command a stiff price premium. Overall, though, it’s great news for TV buyers.

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Charles Forsythe Says:

    One of the political tropes that crops up these days is that "if poor people are THAT poor, how do they have flat-screen TVs"? That would have been a legitimate question 10 years ago, but today?

    In 1971, a family of modest means might own a small (12") black-and-white television which would cost about $90. That's $500 in 2011 dollars. For $500, you can easily get a respectable 32"+ digital television. It's pretty amazing.

  2. Aaron Martin-Colby Says:

    @ Charles: Much more than that. I bought an LG LED, 1080p, 120hz 42″ television on Amazon for $499. ONE YEAR ago, all of those features were seen as resolutely premium. Now, it’s nearly impossible to find a TV that doesn’t have them.

  3. Brandon Backlin Says:

    Next year all the 2D Smart TVs will be standard and competitively priced.

  4. jltnol Says:

    The problem TV manufactures have is the same one Apple had before Jobs came back. Too many overlapping models…. They could all learn a lesson from Apple and slim down their offerings, making the differences more apparent than the mindlessly confusing line up currently in place.

    This would go a very long way toward the public's understanding of what the differences are between the more expensive sets, and the less expensive ones.

    A quick check on Best Buy's web site shows Sony with TWELVE different series of TV's, and over 35 models. Add in almost the same amount from Samsung and others, and it's a jungle out there.

    Sony really doesn't need 12 different series of TV's… and having that many isn't doing them, or their consumers any good.