Go Big Baby! Everything You Need To Know About Flatscreens

You've sent the invitations, cleaned the house and put the chili in the slow cooker. Maybe there's even a pony keg full of microbrew cooling on the back porch. But how are you watching the game?

If you're like millions of Super Bowl party hosts, there might be a fancy new television in your near future.

New data from the National Retail Federation suggests that more than 2.5 million Americans are planning to purchase a new television before the big game Sunday. That's a 47 percent increase in buying intention from last year's big game.

And unlike past years, where traditional definition rear-projection TVs were all the rage, people are looking for high-definition flat panel screens to tack up on the wall.

"As the price of flat-screen televisions continues to decrease, they are becoming more affordable for average consumers, which is contributing to an increase in TV sales," said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy at BIGresearch, in a National Retail Federation statement.

Prices for high-def televisions dropped dramatically during the holiday buying season. In fact, analysts say they dropped to a level where people who hadn't considered buying a new television were brought into the market.

"That $600 barrier [on 32" LCD screens] was an important one to cross" said Russ Crupnick, vice president at the NPD Group. "The next one, where we'll see a lot of customers rushing to upgrade will probably be when you see those sets selling for $500 or less, which I'm sure we'll see by the end of the year."

The low prices -- 42-inch plasma screens are selling for less than $1,000 according to market tracking firm iSuppli -- are setting up this season for an unprecedented Super Bowl sales bonanza.

In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association says that being able to watch a big sporting event like the Super Bowl in super-clear high definition is one of the key drivers for HDTV sales. A survey released in January showed that nearly 50 percent of sports fans bought a new set to watch a specific event, the Super Bowl being the most commonly cited.

There certainly are good deals out there if you're thinking about an upgrade, but probably not as many as consumers remember from the November and December holiday season.

Big box retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City are taking down some of the sale signs from their TV shelves because the super-low prices from the holiday price wars cut into their profits.

"Am I gonna tell you that some of the Black Friday deals are out there? Not necessarily," said Chuck O'Donnell, district manager for Best Buy. "However, the price has come down so significantly that, depending on what level of technology you're looking for, you can get a good deal."

But it's not just price that is driving people to upgrade their television sets. Consumers are catching on to the government mandated change in broadcast television; in just a few years broadcasters have to switch from the old analog transmissions they have been pumping out since the 1950s to new digital signals.

That means old TVs will have to be retro-fitted with boxes that translate the new signals into the old system. New TVs won't need the set-top boxes to work.

But that won't be an issue until Super Bowl XLIII rolls around (that's 43 for the folks out there unfamiliar with roman numerals) in 2009.

That's good news for the vast majority of the 100 million Super Bowl viewers who will be watching the game this weekend: More than 80-percent of American households don't yet have a high definition screens.

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