3D or not 3D, that is the question: 2010 TV, hi-fi and AV sales figures revealed

Was 3D the hit the manufacturers wanted? How are music streaming products selling compared to classic hi-fi separates? Are we still going headphone crazy?

Stand by for a snapshot of what has - and hasn't - caught the attention and loosened the purse strings of the tech-buying UK public in the past 12 months.

Stats whizzes at GfK have been crunching the numbers they get from retailers great and small (both online and High Street), and it provides a fascinating insight into our buying habits.

Snow caps a tough year

The appalling weather in December saw consumer electronics sales dip by 16% year-on-year - contributing to a year when overall consumer electronics sales fell by 7.6%.

With 2010 being a World Cup year, it was expected that 10 million TVs would be sold in the UK - topping even 2009's record flatscreen sales. But despite a higher-than average buying TV buying frenzy just before the football kicked off, England's early exit and a long hot summer conspired to see television sales miss that sales goal.

In fact UK TV sales fell by 4 percent last year - though that still means 9.479m sets were sold (down from 9.847m in 2009), with a market value of £3.6 billion (down from £3.8bn).

The UK was the only country in Europe where TV sales fell - but then we have the highest penetration of flatscreen sales; many UK households are now upgrading their older flatscreens (and adding sets to other rooms), rather than making the plunge for the first time.

What size set? Plasma or LCD?

This upgrade move is backed up by the more detailed stats on the UK's favourite screen sizes. The fastest-growing size sectors are the 20-25in bracket (up 25% to 1.8m sets sold) and 37in+ sets (up 18% to 2.88m sets). The biggest sales (just) still come in the 26-32in sector, where 2.9m sets were sold (down 10% on 2010), while sales of the smallest, sub-19in sets have fallen to 1.8m (down 31%).

That rise in larger-set sales has also been boosted by technology factors - LED backlit LCDs (up to 60% of LCD TVs sold in December), Smart TVs (internet connectivity is now available on more than a third of sets sold, on average), Freeview HD (a must-have for most buyers of 37in+ sets) and 3D (of which more shortly).

The shift upwards in size and feature-set also helped plasma to a sales renaissance - although LCD continues to grab the dominant share of the TV market.

Comparing December 2010 to December 2009, 19% more plasma TVs were sold, whlie LCD TV sales shrunk by 13%. This wasn't just down to cost-cutting, either: LCD TV prices fell by almost 15% on average, while plasma TV prices rose by 9.4% as tech-packed premium models tempted buyers.

3D or not 3D?

So, onto 3D TVs. Of those 9.5m TV sales in the UK last year, a mere 125,000 were 3D or 3D-ready sets.

This peaks in December with 39,000 sales at an average price of £1376 - boosted by cut-price 3D plasma deals. Average selling prices of sets when 3D TVs launched last Spring were over £2000. We'd expect prices to fall still further as more 3D sets - including smaller screen sizes - emerge in 2011.

With 3D sets accounting for just 1.3% of all TVs sold, it's certainly a slow take-up for the technology - but the acceleration of sales towards the end of the year (while general TV sales were falling) gives manufacturers hope, as do sales of compatible products.

3D Blu-ray boost

For example, 116,000 3D Blu-ray players were sold in the UK last year - a sizeable chunk of the 840,000 HD disc players sold. By December, more than a quarter of all BD player sales were of 3D-capable players (such as the Award-winning Sony BDP-S570 above), with an average selling price of £165.

Blu-ray in general had a decent year - seasonal sales were up 21% on the previous year, while the market value fell by only 2.2%, despite the prevalance of sub-£100 deals.


Home cinema amplifiers and receivers is another area where 3D capability was key to boosting market figures - giving users yet another technical reason (along with enhanced network/streaming support) to upgrade their surround sound.

No less than 104,600 new receivers were sold in the UK in 2010 (3% up from 2009), at an average price of £426. The market is now worth £44.5m - slightly down from last year's £45m, due to the increased popularly of sub-£500 receivers.

Headphones, docks and clocks

Another sector bucking the CE sales decline were accessories for the booming Smartphone/Tablet market. While sales of dedicated portable media players (PMPs) fell by 23% (and market value dropped by 16%), sales of devices like the iPhone and iPad have soared - and are poised to sell even more in 2011 as Android-based tablets take off.

Add in the fact that more than 5 million PMPs were sold last year and it's easy to see why everything from headphones to docking stations and even the (dock-equipped) clock radio market is looking healthily - we can't bear to be parted from our devices, even at bedtime...

Headphones continue to break sales records: 8 million pairs were bought in the UK last year; more than a million additional pairs compared to 2009. And we spent more than 10% extra on them,too, with (literally) the biggest growth area being traditional over-ear 'hi-fi' headphones - up 32% in volume and 41% in value.

Just shy of a million pairs of headphones were sold in December 2010 alone - defying the general seasonal sales dip. 665,000 were in-ear designs; 156,000 smaller over-ear models (eg folding/portable) and142,000 pairs of the larger, over-ear headphones.

The market for docking products of all shapes, sizes and prices continues to grow (up 4.3% YoY) and outsell the entire hi-fi separates market (including speakers) by some margin.

The higher-end speaker docks - such as B&W's Zeppelin (above) - are up in value, too. More than 140,000 docks were sold costing £150+, making this a £37m sector last year.

More traditional systems, meanwhile, had a tough year, with hi-fi systems sales down 10% and home cinema systems down 2.6%.

Music streaming boosts hi-fi

However, new technologies helped the hi-fi market outperform the average CE decline - though the sector fell 2% further in 2010, shrinking from £188m to £185m.

The market for music-streaming products - from the Logitech Squeezeboxes and Sonos products to systems such as the Naim Uniti - rose from £19m to £23m, boosted by significant growth in both the sub-£500 sector (where sales rose 37%) and £1000+ market (up 46%).

Internet radio sales also rose, by 19%, with 127,000 units sold in 2010 - most of them portable.

Moving across to video streaming, sales rose (from a very small base!) no less than 12,000%. Products like the Asus O! Play and Apple TV reached sales of 118,000 units, making this new market worth £9.4m.

CD player sales slump

It's a less happy tale for traditional separates sales. CD players were unsurprisingly hardest hit, with almost 30% less units sold in 2010 than in 2009. A mere 36,600 CD players were sold last year, at an average price of £339 - making the market worth £12.4m. Sales of high-end players were particularly badly hit; £1000+ players now account for 15% of sales - that figure was 31% in 2009.

And while AV amps flourished, stereo amplifiers also fell - sales dropped 13% to 62,000 units, at an average price of £335. The stereo amp market is now worth £20.7m.

Speaker stats

Speakers and speaker packages, meanwhile, continue to dominate the separates sector. Sales rose by 3% in volume and 5% in value - that translates into 407 million units sold and a £97.1m market.

The average selling price of a pair of speakers is £240 - almost spot-on the price of our 2010 speaker Product of the Year, the Monitor Audio Bronze BX2 (above).

Turntable sales - let's get digital

Turntable sales, meanwhile, continue to be increasingly centered on budget, USB decks that allow people to archive their LPs. Almost 10% more decks were sold in the UK last year - 74,400 units - but the value of the market fell by 20% year on year (to £7.3m) as the average price fell by more than 27%.

Sales of sub-£75 decks rose by 54%, while 27% less £75-£150 decks were sold and 35% less £150+ models. The average selling price of a turntable has now dipped below £100 - to £98.50, and more than half (57%) of the turntable market is now at the sub-£150 level.

Where did we buy?

Finally, a quick look at where we bought all these goodies. Supermarkets - selling both in-store and online- had a bumper year, doing particularly well in the World Cup build-up, with consumers seemingly chucking a TV or two into their trollies alongside their matchday beer supplies.

Online sales of consumer electronics did increase in 2010 - up from 16.4% to 18%, peaking at almost 20% of all sales in December - but online ordering (well, specifically delivery of those orders) was badly hit by the poor weather conditions, and it's unclear whether consumers will put as much faith in online ordering come this Christmas.

So, that's the stats summary. Does it reflect your buying, or are you bucking the trends?