What's wrong with this picture -- when a 10-inch tablet computer is selling for more than a 46-inch high-definition TV?
The trend points, in part, to changing values about how we spend our leisure time and money.
It also suggests that mainstream TV makers haven't been all that successful in this recessionary economy in "upselling" consumers on fancier, more profitable models boasting better picture quality, sleeker cosmetics, Internet access and 3-D.
Just to keep their huge-capacity factories open and running, set makers have to keep slashing prices.
Add in that the dollar is trading at an all-time low vs. the yen, and you can see why TV companies based in Japan are really singing the blues.
Last week, Panasonic forecast an annual net loss of $5.5 billion for 2011, its biggest bath of red ink in a decade. To reverse the situation, the company will close a huge plasma TV factory in southern Japan. Panasonic also has canceled plans to open a TV factory in Shanghai and is cutting 17,000 employees from its worldwide workforce of more than 350,000.
Sony also is singing the blues. Although its premium Trinitron TVs made the company's reputation, the TV division hasn't turned a profit in eight years. So Sony is about to split its TV operation into three branches -- LCD TVs, outsourcing and next-generation TVs -- to make each more accountable. Sony also might sell its 60 percent share in an LCD-panel facility co-owned with Samsung (ironically, now the first choice in TVs for many consumers).
The big makers are starting to look with more interest at the low-overhead model that Vizio follows -- buying parts from different sources, playing one supplier off the other, not investing much in R&D. Does it matter that Vizio sets are only 85 or 90 percent as good as the Sony and Panasonic products? Not when times are tough, when buyers are obsessed by the price tag.
There's now a "very real possibility" that just a handful of such low-profit manufacturers will survive, said Paul Gagnon, director of North American TV research for Display Search. Not a good thing for viewers who are willing to pay for superior performance.