LCD TVs: Lower prices, new features help fuel sales despite a slow economy

While the on-going recession has taken its toll on sales of any number of consumer products, LCD TVs have so far bucked the trend by continuing to sell well. In fact, according to Austin-based market research firm DisplaySearch, for the first three months of the year LCD TV shipments in North America were 26 percent higher percent higher than they were a year ago. (Note: DisplaySearch upped its shipment numbers from 23 million to 26 million units since the release, above, was released.)

Why are LCD TVs continuing to sell so well? Certainly the transition to all-digital TV broadcasts has helped, as many consumers have opted to replace older analog sets with newer models with built-in digital tuners. Others may have decided to forgo an expensive vacation in favor of a new big-screen TV and more time with the family at home. But lower prices, better performance, and compelling new features are all certainly playing a role in LCD TV sales continuing to rise despite the economic downturn.

As we report in the August issue of Consumer Reports, LCD TVs aren’t just cheaper—they’re also getting incrementally better, so much so that 21 of the 25 sets in our Select Ratings in the issue are recommended. They’re also adding new features, such as access to Internet content, that go beyond the traditional TV viewing experience. Sets are also sporting slimmer and more stylish designs.

One reason that LCD TVs have been doing better in our Ratings (available to subscribers) is that manufacturers have been addressing traditional weaknesses. One example is the tendency for images to blur during fast-motion scenes. Many new LCD TVs can refresh the screen image 120 times a second (120Hz) rather than the usual 60 times (60Hz), which helps reduce motion blur. (However, this feature can make motion in film-based content look uncharacteristically smooth; some sets let you turn it off.)

A few manufacturers now sell 240Hz sets, which quadruple the TV’s frame rate. Others attempt to achieve a 240Hz-like effect by combining 120Hz technology with a flashing, or “scanning,” backlight. We’ll be testing some of those sets to see whether they improve on 120Hz technology.

Faster refresh rates are only one way that LCD TVs are helping to improve performance—and we’ll be addressing other technologies, well as new features and designs, in upcoming blogs. For the complete report on the latest LCD TVs, including Select Ratings, see the August issue of Consumer Reports magazine, now available on newsstands.–Will Dilella