Samsung Electronics has an odd sales pitch for one of its new televisions. A slide show for dealers features a drawing of a TV on a tombstone...
TIJUANA, Mexico — Samsung Electronics has an odd sales pitch for one of its new televisions. A slide show for dealers features a drawing of a TV on a tombstone that reads, “The news of my demise is greatly exaggerated!”
The Korean manufacturer is referring to cathode-ray tube, or CRT, televisions — the heavy boxes that have dominated the business since television was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.
As rival technologies become cheaper, the era of the conventional tube TV is ending.
Yet Samsung and a Korean rival, LG Electronics, are refusing to abandon the old-style tube TVs entirely. They continue trying to improve CRTs even as they and other television makers are building more and more factories that churn out super-thin LCD and plasma televisions.
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Samsung’s “slim” CRT, which began rolling off a Tijuana assembly line in April, is an effort to stall the technology’s anticipated demise.
CRTs — which some videophiles insist produce the best pictures — use a gun that fires electrons in a heavy, glass tube to light phosphors, far different from flat-panel TVs. LCDs affix liquid crystals to thin plates of glass, while plasma uses special gases to light the screen.
Manufacturers have tried for years to flatten CRTs but failed to design an electron beam that’s wide enough to light the screen’s edges, said Paul Semenza, an analyst at market researcher iSuppli. Samsung appears to have cracked that riddle, though whether it can produce them on a large scale remains to be seen, he said.
Measuring 16 inches deep and weighing 120 pounds, Samsung’s new 30-inch slimmer CRT is still far too clunky to hang on a wall. But its $1,000 price tag beats many others with high-definition digital displays.
Samsung’s 32-inch liquid crystal display, or LCD, television may be only 4 inches thick and 36 pounds, but it lists for more than twice as much, at $2,500.
The company also plans a 27-inch model for $900 this fall and a 26-incher next spring at an undetermined price, though Samsung says it will sell trim CRTs at about half of similarly sized LCD screens, even as their prices plummet.
Meanwhile, LG Electronics began selling a 30-inch slimmer CRT in Korea this year and plans to introduce it in the United States next year at an undetermined price. Like Samsung’s, it is about one-third slimmer than conventional TVs.
The “tens of millions” of dollars Samsung says it spent to develop the slimmer CRT is a small gamble compared with investments in flat panels. It opened a $2 billion LCD plant near Chonan, South Korea, this year in a joint venture with Sony, and is building an LCD plant for $2.1 billion next door.
Still, Samsung and LG are defying conventional wisdom that the days of conventional TV are almost over.
Japan’s Matsushita Electric Industrial, maker of Panasonic products, built three plasma plants in Asia and will soon open a fourth, a $835 million factory in Amagasaki, Japan.
In December, Matsushita and Toshiba closed their joint CRT plant in Horseheads, N.Y., eliminating 800 jobs. Matsushita said demand for the old-style TVs was flagging against competition from flat panels.
The change is particularly evident in the industrial sprawl of Tijuana, a city of 1.2 million people and a longtime hot spot for television makers.
At a Samsung factory across the street from Hyundai and Coca-Cola factories, the larger of two buildings was converted two years ago for newer technologies, including plasma and LCD. Today, 2,000 of the plant’s 3,500 employees work on those new TVs.
CRTs still accounted for 75 percent of televisions sold in the United States and Canada last year, according to iSuppli, and many big-name TV manufacturers still sell them.
But few are investing to innovate using the decades-old technology.
CRTs are expected to claim only 16 percent in 2009, when plasma eclipses the conventional tube, iSuppli forecasts. LCD is projected to overtake CRT in 2007.
“The shift is monumental,” said Bob Batt, executive vice president of Nebraska Furniture Mart, which sold nothing but CRTs about five years ago. CRTs account for about half the TVs at his stores today, and Batt said they may disappear entirely next year.
Circuit City sells about 50 models of LCD TVs, up from four only two years ago, said Tom Crowell, merchandise manager for television. Its plasma offerings jumped to 20 from two.
To make room, boxy CRTs are being dumped.
“You read all these stories about how the world is going flat panel,” said Jim Sanduski, Samsung’s vice president of visual-display marketing in North America. “CRT has some tricks to forestall part of the transition.”