Plasma's Bright Future

Flat-panel TVs are the new must-have gadgets, and they're channeling big dollars to retailers

It's not often that a single device can inspire tech-obsessed couch potatoes, home-decorating mavens and investment-fund managers all to swoon with admiration. Especially when that device is a television, the boob tube. Except that it's no longer a tube.

Since Gateway unleashed its $3,000 plasma television last year, flat-panel TVs have moved from high-end curiosity to hot item, taking the hype-drenched world of consumer electronics by surprise. The flat-screen sets are brightening the picture in surprising places in this hard-to-tune economy. Design buffs love their sleek, minimalist profile; videophiles love the stunning picture quality; and investors are finally finding a...

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