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Time to buy that LCD monitor?

By Martyn Williams

(IDG) -- For many computer users, 2001 will be remembered as the year LCD (liquid crystal display) flat-panel monitors finally became affordable.

A steep drop in their cost in the last 12 months has put them in range of most users' budgets. But a leading industry-watcher has warned that now may be the time to snap up a bargain -- prices may not hold at current levels. INFOCENTER
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A sharp increase in demand for LCD monitors in the last six months has caught many manufacturers by surprise and has factories working much closer to full capacity, according to DisplaySearch Inc., an industry analysis firm based in Austin, Texas. The increase in demand may lead to shortages, which in turn could push up prices.

Monitors that cost $1,000 a year ago are now selling for less than $400 -- not only a market-jolting drop but a steeper fall than many had dared to predict. It also explains why some manufacturers' production capacity is so far behind demand. A year earlier, most industry watchers were predicting a fall to the sub-$500 range.

There's some evidence that price rises are in the pipeline. At Comdex Fall 2001 in Las Vegas, some LCD monitor-makers were talking of slight price rises in the last month. Robin Tsou, a sales manager at Tatung of America, said he had seen rises of between $10 and $20 per panel in the 15-inch market in the preceding months, although the changes are yet to be seen in end-user prices.

Shoppers still can pick up 15-inch monitors from NEC Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America, Viewsonic Corp. and Korea Data Systems (KDS) for under $350. Planar Systems is selling a unit for $299. Such prices seem even more attractive when users consider that a 15-inch LCD screen produces an image roughly equivalent to a 17-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor.

Even at these prices, the cheapest option remains a conventional monitor. Consumers can find low-end 17-inch monitors from Samsung, Viewsonic, KDS, Hitachi and Koninklijke Philips for between $150 and $170.

Larger screen sizes are dropping in price, too. The cheapest 17-inch flat panels cost around $700 -- a steep drop from a year ago but still a long way from the price of 15-inch panels, leaving many to predict that there's still some room for price cuts at this level.

As a result of the unforeseen jump in demand, DisplaySearch has revised its market forecast for LCD monitors. Based on a fall to sub-$500 prices, the company had expected third-quarter shipments of monitors to reach 4 million units, but with prices dropping $100 lower than expected, the company now estimates that third-quarter shipments hit 4.2 million units. Looking ahead, DisplaySearch said it's also revising its forecast for fourth-quarter shipments from 4.9 million units to 6.0 million units.

The company now expects shipments of LCD monitors to reach 15.5 million for the full year and for shipments in 2002 to continue benefiting from low prices -- adding up to between 25 million and 28 million units.


• Review: Top 10 19-inch monitors
November 20, 2001
• Top 10 monitors
May 25, 2001
• Review: Best 19-Inch Monitors
April 2, 2001



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