Every time you buy an HDTV an angel gets its wings (or the economy is saved, one of those)

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How were the crowds at your local Best Buy, Circuit City and PC Richards yesterday? Good? Great? Grim? (My local Best Buy was pretty crowded yesterday, to say nothing of the mall itself; parking space was at a premium.) To be sure, if there’s one item these retailers hope to sell this holiday season it’s HDTVs. Lots of them, preferably. Like it or not, but HDTVs have become the great bellwether for this terrible economy: if retailers can sell a few of them all may not be lost. But if Best Buy & Co. has boxes upon boxes of them stored “in the back” it could be a sign that consumers are hoarding cash and aren’t going to spend their way out of this recession. Then we’re reduced to fighting each other with pointy sticks.

The importance of HDTV sales this season cannot be overstated. (Somewhere, the likes of Time Warner and Comcast are smiling at the thought of all those new TVs being pumped into the system.) That’s why you see the likes of Wal-Mart—that is, stores that don’t specialize in electronics—advertising them like crazy, even if all they’re advertising is 720p/1080i models.

What retailers don’t want is a stand-off: consumers waiting (and waiting) for prices to drop, and retailers being forced to lower prices to the point where they’re not making any money on the sale.

And if consumers are so price weary, they may be better of just waiting. I bought a 26-inch LCD 720p/1080i TV 2.5 years ago (in time for World Cup 2006) for ~$1,100. The new revision of that same TV now retails for $699, but it’s going for $521.99 on newegg.com. That’s nearly a $600 price drop in just over two years. Or, to look at it another way, today I can buy a 46-inch TV for $1,100, bigger still if I go with a smaller brand. Prices drop, which I partly why I don’t understand this whole Black Friday phenomenon, certainly to the extent at which people go to save $100 on some widget.

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