Big game means big screens

Millions of consumers are buying sale-priced, large-screen TVs in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

Published February 2, 2007

CHICAGO - Mark Smithe admits to a moment of doubt before shelling out $10,000 for a 65-inch, high-definition, flat-panel plasma TV and related gear recently.

The hesitation was brief. He's a Chicago Bears fan and what better way to experience the Super Bowl than to see and hear every Brian Urlacher glare and crunching hit through a system with 2-million pixels and theater-quality speakers?

"It's a little bit of keeping up with the Joneses," said Smithe, one of an estimated 2.5-million Americans purchasing a new television for Super Bowl Sunday, based on results of a recent survey. "Our friends' jaws are going to drop when they see this."

Just buying chips, dip and a 12-pack doesn't cut it for Super Bowl parties any more. If you expect friends and neighbors to choose your place for the big game, you may have to pony up for a flat-screen TV, digital tuner and surround-sound speakers so they can spectate with quality.

Sunday's showdown between the Bears and Indianapolis Colts is amplifying a high-definition TV buying frenzy that already was under way, thanks to a 20 to 30 percent drop in prices from a year ago and heavy promotions by retailers and manufacturers.

Abt Electronics, a gigantic family-run store in north suburban Glenview, Ill., that claims to sell more televisions than any other single store in the country, sold about 170 large-screen TVs a day in January. That made it its busiest month ever for TV sales.

Money isn't necessarily an object. On a recent day, with aisles filled with high-def goodies, shoppers were examining 50-inch televisions by Bang & Olufsen for $20,000 and even an 80-inch set dubbed "The Ultimate Plasma TV" for $150,000.

"People don't care about price," said president Mike Abt. "They're asking the salesmen what's the highest-quality set."

Even the nonwealthy can afford a quality system, although it will get a little pricier once Super Bowl sales end.