Ross Rubin:The Big Game's Big Picture

The PC may be growing as a repository for digital video. But make no mistake, we Americans like to watch burly men fight over grass on television.

Across the land and even the world, spectators gather to the best possible window for watching their gridiron gladiators.

As a result, retailers take shrewd advantage of the NFL's marketing assistance.

TV sales for the week of the Super Bowl were up across the board from the old technologies of tube-based direct view TVs to large and sleek flat-panel televisions, according to the NPD Group's weekly point-of-sale (POS) data.

Furthermore, in a dramatic contrast to Black Friday and the December holiday sales season, retailers didn't have to drop prices significantly on leading television types.

Smaller screens saw more reductions, but these were still minimal on average.

The average price of LCD TVs during the week of the Super Bowl was only $21 less than it was the previous week, and for direct view tube televisions, the difference was only $20. Yet direct view TV sales saw the biggest gains during the week of the Super Bowl, growing over 60 percent in units from the previous week while maintaining healthy revenue growth.

Indeed, plasma and projection TVs, which tend to be the largest screens sold, cost slightly more during the week of the Super Bowl than they did the previous week. Plasma TVs, popular in 42" and 50" sizes, sold for an average of $27 more during the week of the Super Bowl than the previous week, and projection TVs sold for $32 more.

The average price of a projection TV, though, was under $1,500, while it was more than $1,500 during most of January.

In 2008, two teams will again vie for the football championship in Glendale, Ariz. But across the country, four teams of televisions will compete throughout the year for sales leadership. What do the scouting reports look like?

Direct View -- This grizzled veteran grew up in an era where size was about all that mattered, and it will continue to take its lumps from the younger and more athletic LCD TVs that eroded its market this past holiday season.

With 32" LCD TVs available for less than $500 in some places, direct view tube televisions are still favored only among the most die-hard budget fans looking at TVs below 32". Such TVs grew 72 percent during the week of the Super Bowl -- but it won't be long before LCD pricing catches up there.

Yet the big guy can still teach the new kids a thing or two about picture quality. Its black levels remain among the best in class and its spirit may live on if Canon and Toshiba can bring SED televisions to market that match the quality of CRT with the thin-form factor of LCD.

LCD -- The 2006 holiday season was just a scrimmage for what should be an epic battle between LCD and plasma throughout 2007 as LCDs become more broadly available in screen sizes that compete for the main TV area.

Whereas LCD TV units grew 40 percent in general during the week of the Super Bowl, those 32" and larger grew 50 percent, according to NPD's weekly POS data. LCDs aren't only getting bigger, they're getting better. Manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung and Philips are addressing criticism regarding black levels and motion, so LCD will be an even stronger competitor for the big game in 2008.

Plasma --The traditional favored technology for big-screen flat panels continued to see respectable sales increases during the week of the Super Bowl, growing 23 percent in units, according to NPD.

The Super Bowl is exactly the kind of event that plasma TV vendors such as Panasonic and Pioneer point to as playing to the technology's strengths -- among them high contrast ratios, deeply saturated colors and very good display of fast motion without picture breakup. Still, as plasma TV prices drop, these companies are looking to capture a larger share of the largest TVs above 50," a relatively small market.

Projection -- The week of the Super Bowl is among the finest for projection TVs, which rule the roost in terms of size and still maintain a significant price advantage over plasma at large sizes. NPD data showed projection TV sales jumped 25 percent during the week of the Super Bowl compared to the prior week.

Projection TV manufacturers such as JVC and Samsung have debuted thinner cabinets to compete with plasma, and while most plasma TVs aren't mounted on a wall, these projection TVs are still a bit thick for that option. The price difference with plasma at the largest sizes will be enough to keep projection TVs in the game until 2008, but after that the picture is less clear.

Because of their ability to run the ground game against direct view televisions while making large gains behind the passing leadership of larger sizes against plasma, LCD TVs should continue to see big gains throughout 2007.

Other technologies provide different kinds of advantages. After all, every team has its fans.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group.