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Dell Unveils $3,499 HD Plasma Set

New York — Dell formally revealed its plan to bring aggressive pricing to the flat-panel TV category by unveiling a pair of 42W-inch plasma displays that it will begin selling in November.

The plasma panels will be offered in high-definition and enhanced-definition native resolution at announced prices of $3,499 and $2,299, respectively, including installation. The HD model will incorporate an ATSC tuner to receive over-the-air DTV broadcast signals out of the box.

The company also announced the addition of an HD-level 19W-inch LCD TV, joining the recently added 26W-inch LCD TV ($1,947 with a two-year warranty) to build its LCD line up to four models. The 19W-inch W1900 model is shipping now at an $899 selling price.

In a pre-launch briefing with TWICE, Jennifer Kern, Dell’s peripheral product manager, said the direct-to-consumer retailer will use its successful “advantage pricing” strategy to carve out a foothold in entertainment-based A/V products.

“What Dell brings to the table is value,” said Kern. “We will offer advantage pricing for full feature sets and market them through our direct-model that helps us establish close relationships with our supply base.”

She said Dell is striving to open its business to a wider audience than typical PC users.

“The target audience for our television products is the average living room consumer,” said Kern. “All of our products are compatible with our PCs, but ultimately we expect these to be purchased as TVs.”

To support its expanding consumer electronics entry, Kern said Dell is establishing a new delivery and installation service to assist with the proper placement and setup of weighty plasma panels.

Kern said the expanded support effort is designed to get around some of the obstacles that hindered rival Gateway’s efforts to sell flat-panel televisions, while “enhancing the overall customer experience.”

Because some direct retailers faced returns when some shoppers purchased EDTV level displays and expected high-definition performance, Kern said Dell is offering an onsite advanced exchange policy allowing buyers who purchased flat-panel TV to trade up to a better performing piece.

For aftermarket technical support, Dell has transferred its 24/7, single-point-of-contact help line.

To assist in selling the products, Dell will showcase the flat-panel models in its kiosks around the country for “those customers who want to kick the tires,” Kern said.

Dell believes that many customers who are intimidated by their ignorance of newer television technologies would rather shop online in anonymity, and has enhanced its e-tail site with extensive educational support sections, Kern said.

“We are trying to demystify the digital TV purchasing experience by making the process much more simple and easy to digest,” said Kern. “On our site, customers can learn things like what it takes to get various viewing experience levels, what does enhanced-definition and high-definition mean, and what are aspect ratios and so forth.”

Dell’s phone sales team is also being trained to answer customers’ questions about digital displays.

Dell hopes to expand its brand awareness to include entertainment A/V products by placing ads both in technology magazines and in home lifestyle publications. It is also beginning to place Dell flat-screen products in popular movies and television programs.

“Most of our advertising will remain with our core [PC] products, but more and more you will see Dell in movie and television program product placements,” said Kern. “We will be placing plasma and LCD TVs, in addition to our core products, in magazines like Details and Esquire to better integrate the Dell message into their lives and generate awareness.”

The new display products were highlighted by the 42W-inch W4200HD HDTV plasma monitor featuring 1024 by 768 pixel resolution, 450 nits of brightness and a 2,700:1 contrast ratio.

The W4200ED enhanced definition plasma monitor offers 852 by 480 pixel resolution, 420 nits of brightness, and a 2,300:1 contrast ratio.

Both models add dual-NTSC tuners with picture-in-picture and 20-watt audio with SRS TruSurround sound and DVI-HDCP digital inputs.

The new LCD TVs were said to offer 1,280 by 768 resolution and are targeted at shoppers who want to take the flat-screen television experience to other rooms in the home, Kern said.

The company also partnered with PixelWorks to incorporate a sophisticated video processing system that is said to offer consistently high-quality image and color performance across all models, while differentiating Dell’s models from competitors that rely on broadly distributed image scaling technologies like Faroudja’s de-interlacing system. Dell used Faroudja de-interlacing in its first LCD TV products through the Genesis chipset.

“Our ultimate goal is to consistently deliver product that meet the market’s big-screen requirements,” said Kern.

Kern said that because a buyer doesn’t have an opportunity to compare the performance of a Dell flat-panel against other brands, the company will rely heavily on product reviews in consumer publications to build its reputation.

“Our goal is to ensure that every product that we launch is a quality product that can stand up well in reviews,” she said. “We aim to change the typical television buying behavior.”

She said Dell will also lean heavily on its strong brand trust polls, adding that a recent Harris Poll listed Dell as the third most trusted brand in the United States.