Televisions come in four dimensions: height, width, depth -- and price. Of these four, it's generally thought that two of the dimensions are good and the other two, not so much. On the good side, you've got height and width. When it comes to screen size, most consumers will tell you that bigger is better, and a 40" screen beats the heck out of a 14-incher any day of the week and twice on Super Bowl Sunday.

On the other hand, larger diagonal sizes elicit the two negative dimensions. If your set is a cathode ray tube (CRT) model, then the bigger the screen, the deeper the machine. Not only does the price go up, but so does the space required to house the monster. The alternative that's coming to the fore today, the "flat panel" television, in LCD and plasma flavors, solves the depth problem, but at the cost of vastly inflating a television's price.

Solution (as reported on CNET): a new, shallower-depth CRT television. It costs a bit more than your average CRT set but not as much as a flat panel. And it has a smaller caboose than the average CRT, about 16" on a 30" diagonal set. The new sets should be available at your local Circuit City (NYSE:CC) or Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) next year, courtesy of two of the titans of the flat-panel world, Dutch Philips (NYSE:PHG) and Korean LG Electronics (followed closely by Samsung). LG and Philips, which I've written about before in the context of their LCD television production venture, LG.Philips (NYSE:LPL), also have a CRT alliance going, in the form of LG.Philips Displays International.

News of the new slimmer CRTs should please budget-minded Fools who have been taken aback at the number of digits adorning flat panel price tags. But investors in LG and Philips, which make both CRTs and flat panels, may well be scratching their heads in bemusement. For in marketing slim CRTs as an alternative to flat panels, LG and Philips risk diverting potential flat-panel customers to this new option. When you consider that these companies are investing tens of billions of dollars to ramp up their flat-panel capacities in an effort to gain economies of scale, lower flat-panel prices and grab market share, the introduction of CRTs seems self-defeating.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.