Those high-tech, thin-screen plasma TVs were the hit of the Christmas buying season - despite costing at least $3,000.

The sets, which offer large high-resolution, wide-screen pictures and can be hung on a wall, are relatively cheaper this year -- compared to the first generations which sold for up to $20,000 just two years ago.

"They're selling exceptionally well this year," said Abe Brown, a spokesman for J&R Music World. "They're actually one of the bright spots this season. I think it's because the prices came down and they became affordable for most people."

The price has come down for a variety of reasons say industry experts. Chief among them is how manufacturers such as Pioneer and Sony have figured out better ways of mass producing the TVs.

In the past, it was devishly difficult to create large screens on a production line without minute blemishes. For every set that was made, five others had to be thrown out at the factory -- pushing the cost of manufacturing into the stratosphere.

But in the last year, technological improvements have helped manufacturers produces more useable plasma-screen TVs successfully.

The new found popularity of thin-screen TVs has not gone unnoticed by the industry.

This year alone there are about two dozen companies selling different versions. As recently as two years ago, only a handful of high-end manufacturers were offering plasma sets.

Prices for the sets range, and some still sell for more than $10,000. But its was the lower end models selling for around $3,000 that are driving the market this season -- a boom selling period that is expected to last through January until the Super Bowl.

Experts say that the suddenly competitive thin-screen TV market may help push the price down even more by next year.

"There is strong consumer demand, but not enough to stop the free fall," Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group, a technology research firm in Seaford, NY told the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, the manufacturers who make the parts for flat screen TVs are selling the core component of a plasma set -- the glass panel -- at or near a loss in their race for a share of the growing market. And they're not just competing with each other.

Other, cheaper thin-screen TV technologies such as liquid crystal displays are poised to take a chunk of the market away from plasma screens, industry experts said.