By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Planar Systems, a manufacturer of industrial and medical flat video display solutions and PC monitors, is announcing today plans to expand into the consumer LCD TV market.
The company, which has developed "powerful expertise" in the development flat display solutions over its 20 year history, will enter the TV market for the first time by initially focusing its distribution through higher-end electronics boutiques and custom installers, said Mike Franzi, Planar world wide sales and marketing VP.
"We feel we can bring a strong business partnership to that part of the market," Franzi said. "Over time, as we bring new products to market, we will begin to move towards a mainstream segment of the market."
Initial products will be a pair of 480p (Enhanced Definition TV) LCD TVs, but the company expects to quickly add HDTV-level LCD TV SKUs. Planar currently distributes plasma displays through a variety of industrial channels, and Franzi said that as the brand develops the consumer TV group will likely bring plasma displays and other flat screen technologies along "as they fit the market."
Franzi said Planar plans to impress its retail partners with customized support programs, instead of a "one-size fits-all" approach.
"One of the items Planar will bring to retailers is a strong commitment to work closely with them in targeting our marketing programs and training on the products we have to fit their niche or specialty," Franzi said. "Our goal is to bring [dealers] a successful business model, and then allow us to share in that success."
For example, if a retailer prefers to do radio ads as opposed to print, Planar will work with them to create an appropriate marketing message.
Similarly, Planar will help develop programs and deliver on-site company experts to those retailers who want to offer technology seminars to educate consumers on LCD TVs.
He said the TV division will also adopt two popular customer support approaches the PC monitor division "pioneered" when it launched. These include an unusual three-year warranty program, a "customer-first" focus including support lines and a 48-hour replacement policy (without shipping fees) for any qualifying problems.
Planar said its PC monitor group has consistently ranked highly in customer satisfaction surveys since the programs began.
Distribution will be handled on a direct basis, Franzi said, which will enable Planar to respond quickly to needs as they arise.
Product pricing "will be competitive to the current market leaders and in many cases with better performance," he said.
Like Sharp, Planar has elected to optimize its LCD TVs for "pure TV" viewing, omitting dual compatibility with PCs, which forces performance compromises.
Citing an example of Planar's expertise in flat-display development, Franzi said the LCD TVs would include a special anti-glare coating that will maximize picture quality under a variety of ambient light conditions.
Planar uses an off-shore factory for the LCD TVs. For component parts, the company said it will leverage strong supply chain relationships it has established over its 20-year history.
"As a result, Planar can source the highest quality components to create optimal, total solutions," the company said.
Initial LCD TV models will include the 20-inch 4:3 (XP20SSA-01), which incorporates one NTSC tuner, features 640 by 480 resolution and carries an $1,899 suggested retail price. It will be joined by a 22W-inch 16:9 version (XP22WSA-01) with 854 by 480 resolution at a $2,559 suggested retail price.
Both models include component video inputs. Distribution has begun on a test basis with several unnamed retailers, but a full-scale rollout was to begin by the end of the calendar year.
For most of its history the company has specialized in displays for industrial and medical instruments, before electing to enter the desktop PC monitor business two years ago.
To date a major part of Planar's desktop monitor distribution has been through e-commerce sites, including Dell's online shop where Planar monitors are sold under the Planar label.
In related news, Planar's PC monitor division announced the first model in the new PX family, a 17-inch display with ultra-thin bezels and a two-inch panel depth. The monitors are said to have "the industry's fastest response time (16 ms)" for gaming and video applications. Resolution on the PX171M is listed at SXGA (1,280 x 1,024), and incorporates analog and digital (DVI) inputs.
The monitor, which will carry a $589 estimated street price, is available in white, black or silver and has integrated speakers.
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