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A New Look At LCD Monitors

Versatility of liquid-crystal displays has them outselling cathode-ray tube models
Dell sells more flat-panel LCDs than any other company, although it, like most PC makers, outsources the manufacturing. As CRT monitors become harder to justify from a cost-of-ownership perspective--companies generally have to pay someone to take the old ones off their hands--flat-panel LCDs have stepped right in, says Scott Hardy, senior manager for Dell's Displays division.

Much of Dell's success in the LCD market can be attributed to its top position in the PC market. But not all of it. "The larger businesses tend to procure their monitors separate from the PCs," Hardy says. "Companies want to have separate proposals for their monitors and their PCs because the monitors tend to outlast the PCs."

Dell has developed a couple of innovative features to distinguish its LCDs. In addition to its basic LCDs, which cost about $400 for a 17-inch screen, the company also offers UltraSharp versions in a variety of sizes. They offer superior resolution compared with Dell's less-expensive LCDs and contain four USB 2.0 ports--two on the side and two behind--that can be used to hook speakers and other peripherals right into the display. A 17-inch Dell UltraSharp LCD costs about $530.

Clear PictureDell's U.S. sales during the second quarter were more than 1.1 million LCD monitors, three times that of its closest competitor, NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America Inc., according to iSuppli/Stanford Resources. Rounding out the top five were ViewSonic, HP, and Samsung Electronics, none with more than 8% of the 3.9 million LCD market.

Dell also was the second-quarter leader worldwide, selling 1.5 million of the 10.2 million LCDs shipped during that period. Figures from iSuppli/Stanford Resources indicate the worldwide market has been much more competitive for Dell. Samsung holds the second spot on the list, selling 1.1 million LCD monitors, and was followed closely by HP, IBM, and NEC-Mitsubishi.

The largest buyers of LCDs are computer vendors such as Dell, Gateway, and HP, which snatch them up so the LCDs can be bundled with PCs, printers, speakers, and other peripherals and sold to consumers at an attractive price. Their business customers are less interested in bundles than in leveraging economies of scale. "Big businesses typically have an approved vendor list for monitors and for PCs, and just because a company is on one list doesn't mean it's on both," Alexander says.

Although businesses like to save money, reliability is the most important factor. "Businesses are still willing to invest in a more expensive display for certain departments," Alexander says. Despite the increasing popularity of laptop PCs, monitors are still a substantial business, and vendors don't like to miss out on big orders.

Illustration by Tadeusz Majewski