LCD Market Consolidates

We’ve now seen 30-inch LCD HDTV models advertised for under $1,000. One big reason for the lower prices for LCD HDTVs is competition. The market is slowly changing, however, and we’ve recently seen a number of interesting announcements. None are really earth-shaking on their own, but they add up.

For example, Sony will be buying some LCD panels from the Taiwan manufacturers. Even more notable is that Sharp — the inventor of the LCD technology and the leading proponent of LCD TV — will also be buying some panels from Taiwan.

Another data point is that Taiwan’s #1 LCD manufacturer — AUO — is merging with #5, Quanta Display. The end result will be a #1 company with a bigger lead over #2, #3, and #4.

And now we get word that Samsung — one of the two leading manufacturers of LCD panels in the world — is joining forces with Sony to build a new LCD manufacturing plant in Korea. This “8th Generation” facility will handle sheets of glass big enough to make 15 panels for 32-inch LCD TVs at once. The estimated cost for the new facility is $2 billion, and production should start before the end of 2007. Sony and Samsung already share an existing LCD manufacturing facility.

So as the manufacturing capacities increase — as they must in order to increase efficiencies and lower costs — the capital costs for new production lines will also increase. And this means that a company will have to have a big pile of chips on hand in order to remain at the table in this game. So expect to see the small companies combine through merger or acquisition, and even the big players team up to spread the risk and investment.

From where I stand, this increased production capacity is going to keep supplies high, which will help maintain competition, which will help continue the downward pressure on LCD TV prices. (And the plasma and rear-projection folks aren’t sitting idly by, either, as they follow suit with price reductions.) At least for the short term, these trends should mean a win for the consumer.