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Tube TVs Hang On, While HDTVs Wait in the Wings

According to figures from the data research firm DisplayResearch, HDTV sales have been fairly weak for the better part of 2011 (and weren’t much better in 2010). Those number could indicate saturation for the flat screen market, or simply a trough. Based on my totally anecdotal poll, I’m now convinced this is a trough and that flat screen sales could accelerate again in the next few years—especially if all those old CRTs you’re still using finally die.
According to my poll: Do You Still Own (and Use) a Tube TV?, a surprising 64% of you still have and use old-school tube TVs in the home. And this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Respondents from Canada, Australia and Europe responded similarly. Spain and Japanese respondents bucked the trend—they virtually all said they do not own or use tube TVs (Japan is always on the bleeding edge, so this should not surprise anyone).

On Twitter and Google+, many people also opined on their continued love-affair with the classic glass and phosphor Tube TV.  Victor Panlilio echoed a common sentiment when he posted this: “[I have] two in the basement as well: Sony 27- and 34-inch CRT TVs that I’d love to get rid of, except moving them up the stairs is a nightmare because of their bulk and weight.”

For the most part, those who still use tube TVs have had them for years,if not decades. As Jillian Griffin put it, “Yes still have one that’s probably going to outlive me!” Some describe the tube TV pictures as “better’ than their HDTV counterparts. The resolution of HDTV screens is higher, so this doesn’t make a lot of sense: there are simply more lines of resolution—by a wide margin—on your HDTV.

Another common theme: these old-school Tube TVs are incredibly heavy. Tech writer Steven Vaughan-Nichols said, “I still have, and love, my Sony KD-34XBR960 34-inch HDTV. The last of their high-end CRT HDTV models. That said, it weighs a ton—or at least it sure feels like it does whenever I’ve needed to move it.”

If you’re thinking that most of those who still own and use tube TVs must be of be old enough to remember the Nixon administration, you’d be wrong. More than 50% of my respondents were between 24 and 44 years old. 30% were between 18 and 34.

The fact that many Tube TVs just keep working (my 1988 Samsung still works), doesn’t bode well for the HDTV industry, but I also noted many commenters who plan on switching out to flat screens as soon as their tube TVs die, or sooner, if possible. And let’s face it, HDTVs are no longer a luxury item. Prices range from a little more than $200 to the thousands, but the sweet spot for a good, large screen HDTV is invariably well under $1,000. Plus, according to DisplayResearch, 3D HDTV sales are picking up because prices continue to tumble. In other words, you’re getting 3D as simply another feature on many new sets.

Clearly, with so many tube TVs still in use around the world (and certain to die some time within the next five years), it’s fair bet that HDTV sales could start ratcheting up again by 2013.

Lance Ulanoff

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