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Pioneer's Agenda Embraces Several Technologies

12/18/2000 02:00:00 AM Eastern

NEW YORK -At the press conference here, Pioneer executives outlined trends in a variety of technologies and categories, and they detailed their plans for expanded production in China. Here is a sample of their views:

Home networks: Pioneer's Digital Network Entertainment (DNE) home A/V network with broadband gateway will be available in Japan in 2001 "easily" as previously announced, said Kaneo Ito, Pioneer Electronics president. U.S. availability would occur sometime later.

The network will be based around a hard-drive A/V recorder-server and a DVD-recorder/changer. Both could be used to time shift, with a hard drive serving as a temporary archive while content intended for more permanent archiving, such as home videos, could be recorded onto the discs, said Paul Dempsey, president of Pioneer New Media Technologies.

Blue laser DVD: A product being co-developed with Sony will be demonstrated again at CES but won't be ready for commercial product for four to five years, Ito said.

Plasma sales, prices: The company will double sales of plasma displays to 40,000 worldwide in the current 2001 fiscal year that started in April, Ito said. About 80 percent are sold into the commercial market, Dempsey added.

Pioneer expects to double sales the following year to 80,000 and again in fiscal '03 to 160,000, thanks to the fall-2001 start-up of a second production line. The company's current line has been running at capacity throughout the year, he said.

Industrywide, global plasma sales will hit 360,000 in calendar 2001, 1.09 million in 2003, and 2.5 million in 2005, Ito said. Roughly half those sales in 2001 are for consumer use, but that percentage will grow to more than 75 percent in 2003, Pioneer projections show.

To drive up sales, Pioneer is working assiduously to bring down prices, he said. In the United States, Pioneer's 50-inch high-definition plasma display retails for $15,000, or $300 per inch, the company said. Its goal is to reduce the price of HD plasma in the United States to $200 per inch in calendar 2001, or $10,000 for a 50-inch model.

Pioneer also plans a 37-inch HD plasma display in 2002 or 2003 in the United States, initially at a targeted $200 per inch or $7,400. In 2005, the company expects a $100 per inch price, yielding a $3,700 37-inch model and a $5,000 50-inch model. By that time, the company doesn't expect anyone to be selling VGA plasma in this country.

Standard-definition VGA plasma currently is available from other companies at $170-$180 per inch, and that will fall to $150 per inch next year, yielding $6,000 40-inch models, the company said.

"Plasma is the best available [display] technology," so "we will concentrate on it," Ito said. He noted that only Pioneer can mass-produce high-definition plasma, putting the company "at least a few years ahead of everyone else."

Plasma production is already profitable for Pioneer, and the company will promote it more aggressively in the next fiscal year. A second plasma production line will open in Japan in October 2001

Organic EL Displays: Flexible, film-type EL displays with a thickness of only 0.2mm will go into production in 2002. They're suitable for cars and even on clothing, Ito said.

Standard EL displays began appearing in Motorola phones in September and also appear in Pioneer car audio products.

Profitability: As part of a drive to increase profitability, the company will increase production in existing factories in China and build new factories there so that in three years, production in China will represent 36 percent of Pioneer's dollar volume, up from last year's 3 percent, Ito said. The company has 42 production sites, 20 of them in Japan.