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Zenith Focuses On Direct-View, Flat-Panel TVs

5/13/2002 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Zenith showed dealers here a 2002 product line that has shifted its emphasis in the integrated HDTV segment from rear-projection to direct-view models, with an added focus on more ergonomics and an expanded selection of flat-panel TVs.

Building on the revamped distribution strategy that dropped buying groups in favor of direct sales and third-party distribution to approximately 3,500 independent dealers through Crosley last year, Zenith invited close to 140 dealers to its line show, approximately a third of whom were prospective accounts, said Zenith sales VP Rick Powers.

The company is looking to build on a base of dealers who can sell Zenith's high-value, high performance digital products without turning new technologies into unprofitable businesses.

The company decided to part with a number of major accounts last year as it attempted to reinvent itself.

Powers acknowledged the year has been challenging to manage, citing "spot shortages in certain areas" as an unavoidable consequence of starting over.

"Tearing the business down the way we did and starting from scratch made it difficult for us to get a finger on the pulse of what was needed," Powers said. "Now that we have a good base going ? we think a combination of improving the skills of the retailer in telling us what they need when they need it and our own experience over the last year of change will make us better in supplying the market."

Powers said Zenith is looking to add five new trainers to its current seven-person team, and four new regional managers to its current six-member team. The plan is to subdivide responsibilities in its regional network plan because, he said, "we are at that stage in growth in bringing aboard new partners that we need to keep that level of service and contact – eyeball to eyeball."

The company is also continuing its investment in rebuilding its brand image. Zenith sales and marketing senior VP Ken Lee said the company would again run a $30 million ad campaign hitting national broadcast and cable TV as well as local TV programming. Starting in September, the company will advertise during NFL games on CBS and Fox. It will also continue to run HDTV banner ads before select HDTV programming on CBS.

To improve its reliability reputation, the company is starting a "peace of mind" swap program through which consumers are guaranteed a two-day turnaround on DVD players, VCRs and MP3 players they send in for repair. It has also added a toll-free customer support line.

As for new products, the company unveiled three fully integrated flat-tube direct view HDTV sets in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. The flagship model is a widescreen 34W-inch set (C34W23) that will carry a $2,499 suggested retail when it ships in July. It will join a pair of 4:3 sets in the 32-inch ($1,499) and 36-inch ($1,999) screen sizes slated to ship this month.

At the same time, Zenith has winnowed down its assortment of integrated rear-projection sets from three models last year to a single 61W-inch model priced at $4,999. The company will discontinue its 64W-inch and 56W-inch screen sizes from the integrated offerings.

Richard Long, Zenith product management director, explained that Zenith shifted emphasis to direct view because the company was "further along in product development of direct view" and considered the product closer to mainstream audiences. The new integrated sets include fourth-generation 8-VSB decoder circuitry which is said to improve reception in areas where "close in ghosting" is a problem.

A similar shift was found in the HDTV monitor lines, where the company introduced seven direct-view HDTV models including an entry 4:3 27-inch unit at $899, while cutting back the rear-projection offerings from 12 models last year to seven this year. The assortment includes LCD-based projection models in the 60W-inch ($6,999) and 52W-inch ($5,999) screen sizes that deliver 1,280 x 720 native pixel resolution, and 200:1 contrast ratios.

The direct-view monitor assortment will include the 32-inch and 36-inch screen sizes with the top of the line "multimedia monitor" set to carry a $1,999 suggested retail.

In flat-panel products, Zenith expanded its line of plasma displays from two to four models, adding 50W-inch ($11,999) and 42W-inch ($5,999) units. The 50W-inch PDP, which is slated for the third quarter, features 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution 620 candelas of brightness and a 600:1 contrast ratio. The 42W-inch panel, which is currently available, has a resolution of 850 x 480, emits 620 candelas of brightness and boasts a 650:1 contrast ratio.

The line will also offer a second 60W-inch panel ($19,999) with increased brightness (500 candelas) and a 550:1 contrast ratio. The current 40-inch model (DPDP40V, $5,999) will be carried over.

Most new panels incorporate line doubling and scaling technologies from Genesis Microchip's Faroudja and Sage units.

An expanded assortment of high-brightness panels was introduced in the direct-view LCD TV category. Being added to the line in August is the new flagship 30W-inch ($5,999) 16:9 model with 1,280 x 768 resolution, a 350:1 contrast ratio and 170-degree viewing angle. Other models include a 20.1-inch EDTV monitor ($1,999), a 10-inch ($749) EDTV monitor, as well as a pair of 15-inch models, both at $1,299.

Zenith is adding RS-232 ports and DVI connections to the 30W-inch LCD TV, and the new 60W- and 50W-inch plasma panels.

More modern industrial styling was evident in the cabinet designs of flat-panel and direct-view televisions. The company is going with a darker silver metallic look for most direct-view and LCD models and was also gauging dealer reaction to designs proposed for future rear-projection sets.

Zenith will build upon the highly successful release of its DTV-1080 DirecTV/ATSC DTV set-top decoder with a second-generation model featuring a slimmer cabinet design and fourth-generation ATSC decoder chip. Model HD-SAT520 will ship in the third quarter at a $799 suggested retail and includes both HD component and DVI video output connections.

The company will also offer a stand-alone ATSC set-top (model HD-V420) that will ship in the third quarter at a $499 suggested retail.

In analog TV, Zenith will maintain a direct-view line with four models in the 25- through 36-inch screen sizes. The company dropped the 13- and 19-inch screen sizes, as well as 50- and 60-inch analog rear projection.

But Zenith continues to carry a four-model assortment of its one-time signature analog direct-view console televisions, with screen sizes ranging from 25-inches to 27-inches, and is even introducing a 27-inch HDTV 4:3 console monitor.

In DVD, Zenith plans to deliver its first DVD-Audio capable model this fall. Other units include a DVD/hi-fi VCR combo unit ($249), a portable DVD player ($899), and a pair of five-disc DVD changers at $159 and $299 for progressive scan capability.

The price on the company's entry single-disc DVD player is now $119, with the entry progressive-scan model carrying a $149 suggested retail.

In audio, Zenith will offer an integrated DVD home theater receiver ($399), two portable MP3 players (both at $219) and an audio CD recorder ($399).

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