DTV Goes Downscale

In a move that bodes well for the rollout of digital television, if not specifically for manufacturers' bottom lines, discount chain Wal-Mart has announced that it is jumping into the DTV market.

The Bentonville, Arkansas–based retailer announced October 7 that it would soon feature DTV products in the electronics departments in 1500 "supercenters" nationwide. The announcement followed by only a few weeks a decision by Sears Roebuck & Company to make a big push into the plasma screen and home theater market. Wal-Mart operates approximately 2700 stores nationwide.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, initially will offer eight models of DTVs, including two high-definition plasma display panels (PDP) from Sanyo, four rear-projection monitors from Philips and Thomson, and two direct-view DTVs. One of the Thomson products will be a 52" RCA rear-projection set with a $1688 price tag; three Philips products will also be RP sets: a 43" model selling for $1584, a 46" model for $1654, and a 50" model at $1772. A 32" direct-view DTV from Philips and a 36" version from RCA, both selling at $1292, complete the lineup.

High-end retailers may see a dent in their profits once the Wal-Mart DTV program is fully engaged. Although the move may "dumb down" DTV snob appeal, it will certainly expose the technology to vastly greater numbers of consumers than ever before. Wal-Mart has no DTV installation or delivery service planned at present, according to analysts.