As television manufacturers introduce digital high-definition TV sets this year, their cabinet molders expect minimum production changes, at least initially.
HDTV will be a hot, stylish item, but only 26 broadcast stations in major domestic markets will convert transmission signals in the first cycle.
In the start-up phase, each set will cost at least $5,000-$6,000, plus about $1,000 for set-top converter boxes to decode the signals for use with current analog units.
A Federal Communications Commission mandate is pushing for the industry to implement digital technology by 2006, potentially obsolescing more than 200 million analog sets. As now conceived, the rules place broadcasters under a costly conversion burden and also challenge marketers of TV sets to find creative ways to sell the public on high-priced digital replacements.
Retailers are discounting conventional sets, and molders are pressured to process resins smarter, finish cabinets faster and deliver goods more cheaply.
Some processors say digital TV sets initially may not create more than a ripple in the molding industry.
``I don't think there will be an impact for several years,'' Michael Gibbs, president and chief executive officer of Compass Plastics & Technologies Inc., said in a telephone interview from Gardena, Calif. ``I think it will have an impact in 2005 and 2006 and 2007.''
Digital versatile discs ``will come across better,'' and some direct-view transmissions via satellite may improve, Gibbs said. TV manufacturers probably will continue to make analog sets for another decade and gradually incorporate digital features, he said.
``We view the transition from analog to digital as an exciting time for the industry, much like the black-and-white TV conversion to color,'' said Jack Shedd, executive vice president of Mulay Plastics Inc. of Addison, Ill.
HDTV screens will be wider, and boxes will be thinner.
``All the electronics can fit into a 10-inch-deep box,'' said Tony Fanelli, general manager at the Rancho Dominguez, Calif., plant of Industrial Molding Corp. Plastics. ``It appears there will be less plastic to mold with HDTV.''
But size may help molders, said Parth Gandhi, a partner with Ducker Research Co. in San Francisco. The trend toward larger-screen TVs and rear-projection sets benefits suppliers, including plastic cabinet makers, he said.
``Once 19-inch sets were the core, then 23 and 27, and now the front line [is moving to] 32 inches,'' Gandhi said.