Firms Gird to Meet Demand for Big-Screen TVs

SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUSINESS EDITOR

With televisions getting increasingly larger and less expensive, major manufacturers are gearing up to meet what they expect will be intense demand for sets with large screens.

Toshiba, Matsushita, Thomson Consumer Electronics and, most recently, Sony each have announced plans to build new plants or plant additions in the United States to supply demand for large TVs, which are defined by industry observers as those with 30-inch screens or larger. French-owned Thomson makes RCA and General Electric brand TVs.

At the heart of the large-TV phenomenon is consumers' desire for better picture quality, particularly for watching videocassettes. And technology called Improved Definition Television, now available, delivers roughly four times better resolution than older style sets, said David Lachenbruch, editorial director of Washington-based Television Digest, an industry newsletter.

Price is still a barrier, with top-of-the-line Sony 32-inch sets retailing for $2,600. But those prices are partly a function of low availability. Lachenbruch and other industry observers expect those prices to drop substantially once supply increases after the new facilities begin operating.

According to Television Digest, sales of televisions with large screens will total only about 300,000 units this year, less than 2% of the 22 million TV sets that will be sold. But by 1995, large TVs will represent 15% to 20% of all TVs sold and half of dollar volume, Lachenbruch said.

This year, 19-inch and 20-inch models are expected to account for 48% of the TVs sold in the United States, Lachenbruch said.

Last Friday, Sony announced plans for a $100-million addition to its San Diego TV manufacturing complex to transfer production of 32-inch Trinitron models from Japan. The highly automated addition will employ 220 workers and begin operations next summer, Sony spokesman Stephen Burke said.

Although Sony introduced its 32-inch model just one year ago, it now claims a 20% to 25% share of the large-TV market, Burke said, or 60,000 to 75,000 sets per year. On Friday, Sony Corp. of America Chairman Masaaki Morita said the San Diego plant will be producing 32-inch sets at a rate of 250,000 to 300,000 units per year by the end of 1990.

Toshiba previously announced plans to expand its Horseheads, N.Y., plant to produce 30-inch and 32-inch sets, Lachenbruch said. A joint venture of Matsushita Electric and Philips N.V. of the Netherlands is building a plant in Troy, Ohio, to make 31-inch TVs. Matsushita makes Panasonic and Quasar brand televisions.

Thomson is expanding its plant in Marion, Ohio, to make 32-inch and 35-inch TVs.

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