IBM drops price, boosts quality of flat-panels

Flat-panel monitor prices are falling as quality improves, and the latest to join that trend is IBM Corp., which is introducing this week four flat-panel displays across the price spectrum. One offers the highest resolution commercially available, and another is IBM's lowest-priced 15-inch LCD, a US$600 model.

If razor-sharp images and a big and flat display are what you're after, IBM offers the T210 with a 20.8-inch display and 2048 by 1536 resolution. But its good looks will have you digging deep--it carries a price tag of $5929. The monitor comes with S-Video and RCA inputs so that you can plug a video feed directly into the display (no TV-tuner card required).

On the affordable front, IBM is introducing the T540, a low-cost, 15-inch, flat-panel LCD monitor that supports resolutions up to 1024 by 768. The $600 price point is about a 25 percent drop from what a comparable IBM 15-inch display cost in December. The touch-screen version of the T540 is also being released this week; it sells for $1399 and is geared toward the banking and retail market, according to IBM representatives.

Prices are dropping for 17-inch IBM flat-panel displays also. The T750 costs $1269 and offers both analog and digital support. LCD monitors are by their very design digital devices, but most graphics boards available today are intended for use with analog monitors. Digital-to-digital (or "pure digital") transmission avoids the signal degradation or "noise" typical of analog-only LCDs and therefore is theoretically better, according to IBM.

Both of the 15-inch models and the 17-inch display will be available starting April 20 at IBM's online store. The 20.8-inch T210 is scheduled to ship at the end of May.

Prices Keep Dropping

Flat-panel monitor prices are dropping, but if you're patient they may be better yet--for awhile. The cost of flat-panel displays will continue to fall and will then stabilize, says Ross Young, president of market researcher DisplaySearch.

The street price of flat-panel displays has been falling 10 to 15 percent each quarter for close to a year, according to DisplaySearch. "We see that trend continuing with prices bottoming out in July," Young says.

Price drops are a result of an excess inventory of LCDs, according to Young. By late 2001, he expects, surplus inventories will diminish, prices will stabilize, and they will likely inch higher. Weaker-than-expected demand for notebook PCs caused the higher inventory, he says.

LCDs are made primarily for notebook computers, so a dip in notebook sales meant LCD manufacturers were hit with excess manufacturing capacity. To keep factories running at volume, manufacturers promised lower LCD prices. But a weak demand for PCs and notebooks has driven inventories up and prices down.

The average price for a 15-inch flat-panel display will be $449 in October, Young says. A 17-inch monitor will cost around $999. By comparison, today's average street price of a 17-inch CRT model--which has a viewing area equivalent to that of a 15-inch LCD--hovers around $300.

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