Sun Biz: TV sets hold their own while sales of other electronics lag

Greg Nehmer, left, and Trever Hoffman restock a display of digital converter boxes in the television section of Best Buy. The boxes cost $59.99, but those who need the box can get a government coupon that will reduce the price to $20.

The forthcoming switch to mandatory digital television transmission might just be saving the electronics industry from its serious sales slump.

The federally mandated switch is set to take place Feb. 17, when all broadcast stations will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. Consumers and retailers have been getting ready for it, especially through this holiday shopping season.

“With the recession, there’s a slowdown in electronics in general,” said Andrew Terry, operations manager for Circuit City in Grand Junction. “But it still seems like we’re selling as many television sets as we ever have. It’s been a really big holiday season for TVs, whether people are panicking because they don’t think they’ll be able to watch TV or what. From last year to this year, it’s a little bit busier this season.”

The prices on new television sets of the digital variety have also been dropping, which could further explain the trend. Terry said a 42-inch plasma digital television that two years ago sold for $2,000 is now under $1,000.

“It’s generally the older demographic that’s bringing the coupons in — the ones that never made the switch to cable or (satellite) dish,” he said, referring to the federal rebate coupons being offered for the converter boxes that will allow people to watch over-the-air television with their older analog sets. “Judging by the amount of people coming in here with coupons, I’d say there’s still a very large population that does watch TV using an antenna.”

Not everyone need worry about the switch. People who have cable service or satellite service from Dish Network or DirecTV won’t need to run out to purchase a new TV or converter box regardless of the type of television they have, as their respective companies are taking care of the switch. People who have bought a new television sometime in the past 14 months also should have a converter already built-in to the television, officials say. People who use television sets only to watch VCR or DVD movies will still have the same ability with their respective equipment.

It’s those who count on an antenna — either rooftop or the “rabbit-ears” variety — to receive the general channels who will not receive the picture come mid-February. In their case, the government has issued a maximum of two coupons per household to buy a converter box that will work with any type of television. With the coupon, which is $40 off of the converter boxes, the cost should be around $20.

Some consumers are using the switch as an excuse to invest in new digital televisions, which range in price anywhere from $200 to $2,500, depending on size. Officials say it’s the way to get the most benefit from the switch.

“With the digital televisions, you get a crystal-clear image and surround-sound audio as well,” Terry said. With Bresnan or other types of cable, at least 35 of the channels come in high-definition, he said.

“The digital tuner boxes required for the conversion are the main purchase and everyone’s getting the government coupons for those,” said Travis Wardle, product process manager for Best Buy. “If they buy new TVs, everything’s been upgraded. Most of the tube TVs are obsolete and not available anymore except at pawn shops. All new TVs will be conversion-ready.”

Circuit City is carrying one of the older style televisions for sale, but everything else in stock is digital.


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