Business

TV OR NOT TV?

JOHN INTINI December 22 2003
Business

TV OR NOT TV?

JOHN INTINI December 22 2003

TV OR NOT TV?

Lured by new technologies, Canadians are on a home-entertainment binge

Business

JOHN INTINI

YOUR TV has died, smoke wafting out of the vents at the back. Or it suddenly looks too small in the spacious new family room you added to the house. Or maybe you’ve decided the old model’s not a good enough homeentertainment hub. Whatever, you have to buy a new one, but if you haven’t been in an electronics store lately, that purchase isn’t going to be as easy as it used to be. In fact, you are going to be confused. There is avast array of choices, each with an acronym— LCD, CRT, DLP and so on—that differentiates one incomprehensible technology from another. Those differences have a big impact on the performance of a given TV, but chances are, most people don’t understand half of what the 17-year-old sales kid tells them.

That doesn’t stop them from opening their wallets, though. There were 2.1 million TVs sold in Canada last year, and sales of TVs and related audio/video equipment jumped to $4.5 billion in 2002 from $3.2 billion in 1998. Thanks to rapid technological advances, new models keep being added to already full product lines offering everything from inexpensive but still decent tube units to stylish plasma screens selling for up to $25,000. So unless you’re willing to place enormous faith in the advice of a salesperson, you have to do some research to ensure you get what you want.

Mike Barry knows how tough it can be to navigate through the retail jungle. When the tube on his 15-year-old set went on the fritz last summer, the Aurora, Ont., native started searching for a replacement with a budget of $2,000. “It was really frustrating at times,” says Barry, a 47-year-old sales manager with McCain Foods. “No two TVs have all the same features. Each has something a little different, and that little something always costs a bit more money.”

Barry became so disillusioned that after

two months and too many salesmen, he gave up—much to the chagrin of his three kids. It was only after winning a tournament at his golf club and enjoying a few celebratory pints with his teammates that he finally made a decision. “I pulled out my cellphone on the way home,” he says, “and told the salesgirl I’d be in the next morning with my credit card.” The liquid courage resulted in a 43inch, rear-projection, HDTV-ready Samsung that’s now sitting pretty in his family’s rec room. “If it wasn’t for the beer,” Barry laughs, “I’d probably still be looking.”

Why all the confusion? Only a couple of years ago, choosing a new TV would have focused on two things—screen size and price. Now you must choose between two screen shapes—the tradition, squarish (4:3) model, or the new (16:9) units that allow viewers to see the widescreen version of DVDs or highdefinition programming. And to get HDTV, you have to pay extra for a TV capable of receiving the signal. Most networks are already delivering some HDTV programming, which offers an extraordinarily good, widescreen picture. Owners of older TVs needn’t worry yet—most programs are still produced with analog technology.

Then there are the types of screens. Major retailers generally stock a range that includes traditional picture tubes, flat screens, frontand rear-projection screens, DLPs and flat panels (LCDs and plasmas). “Our customers spend a lot of time doing research on the Internet,” says Stephen deWeerd, whose family-owned Brentview Electronics in Toronto caters to a high-end clientele. “But even then, I spend a lot of time explaining new technology to customers.” Each design has its pros and cons, and while still not in everyone’s budget, the cost of LCDs and plasmas is steadily declining, tempting more buyers. Industry estimates suggest Canadian sales of high-end flat panels in 2003 will be more than double the previous year’s total, and that 2004 purchases will double again.

And that is dramatically changing the market. Big-screen units had been the rage, but now flat-panels are the coolest thing to have hanging from your wall. Michael Nedelec, vice-president of strategic marketing and advertising with Burnaby, B.C.-based Best Buy Canada, says that shift is due to the cost coming down, increased selection and a massive industry advertising campaign. But others say the sleek screens’ popularity is

partly driven by another major trend—home decor. “Women are attracted to the LCD and plasma TVs because of how they look and because they don’t dominate a room,” says Toshi Matsuo, general manager of consumer display products with Sony of Cana-

da Ltd. “We’re also finding that some people buy LCDs and plasmas to show them off. They treat them like a piece of art.”

Ken Elsey, general manager of Consumer Electronics Marketers of Canada, argues that the high-end TV craze is driven by people installing home theatres (minus the gum under the seats, of course). “What you had before was a 21-inch box with flashing pictures,” says Elsey, whose organization monitors national electronics sales. “In the past you’d watch a movie. Now, with the new technology, you experience a movie.” Once, that is, you’ve chosen which of the many new TVs to “experience” it on.