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DLP At Core Of Toshiba’s CEDIA Focus

Toshiba will use its recently introduced DLP rear-projection line to expand its business in the custom installer channel, said Scott Ramirez, Toshiba’s America television marketing VP.

The company launched its DLP-based rear-projection monitors for the first time this spring and recently began shipping versions with fully integrated ATSC tuners, CableCARD slots and IEEE-1394 interfaces.

It is underscoring the introductions with its first high-definition capable digital video recorder (DVR), which is designed to work only with Toshiba’s new fully integrated sets.

Ramirez said Toshiba is using CEDIA to introduce custom installers and system integrators to the company’s new microdisplay rear-projection TV direction. Additionally, the company formed a partnership with distributor TAG to broaden its reach into the custom installation channel.

At this year’s CEDIA show, Toshiba is replacing the 1,080p message it used to promote its discontinued LCoS-based microdisplay rear-projection products with superior 720p DLP picture quality.

Toshiba’s rear-projection sets and monitors are all powered by Texas Instruments’ HD2+ chip and Toshiba’s light-engine and video-processing technologies.

Ramirez explained that while Toshiba still stands behind its 1,080p LCoS initiative, a lack of chip supply forced the direction.

“If we could get the chips, I could see both technologies fitting into our lineup, but for now we are concentrating on DLP,” he said

When the new microdisplay lineup was announced at the company’s spring dealer show, Ramirez said Toshiba was confident its new approach would earn a “top three position” in the rear-projection microdisplay category this year.

However, that goal has been softened somewhat in recent weeks by supply constraints resulting from limitations on D.C.-based projection bulbs, Ramirez stated.

Nevertheless, a combination of strong cosmetic styling, and strong picture performance, has sparked early demand from dealers, he said.

“Our market share in the category could be very high,” Ramirez said. “It will be determined by how much we can make. The demand is there. I expect no inventory at the end of every month.”

Ramirez said DLP sales this year could represent almost 50 percent of Toshiba’s rear-projection business. Despite the industry’s rapid shift away from CRT-based displays, Toshiba will also continue to produce both CRT rear-projection and direct-view HDTVs.

However, the latter segment will move more toward widescreen HD-capable products.

Although manufacturers have begun to make aggressive price moves in the plasma category, Ramirez said he didn’t expect it to impact microdisplay pricing much this year.

A key selling feature of microdisplay over other technologies is renewability, Ramirez said.

“I think a lot of people like the idea that they can replace that lamp and go back to the original brightness of the set. That doesn’t happen with a plasma or any other device that we sell,” he said.

As for fully integrated HDTV sets, Ramirez said sales may be slow until cable operators take it seriously.

“It’s not going to be an easy thing for the retailer,” he acknowledged. “This year, while monitors are still available, they will be the easier sell because you don’t have to worry about getting into this disagreement with the cable MSOs as to which is the better option.”

“Next year it is a moot point because 100 percent of big screen displays will be integrated.”

Bracing for early resistance to integrated HDTV sets and cognizant of the huge installed base of satellite TV customers and customers who want bi-directional cable set-top boxes, Toshiba continues to offer a broad line of rear-projection HDTV monitors in both CRT and microdisplay this year.

To encourage adoption of Toshiba integrated TVs, Toshiba is using its Symbio high-definition capable DVR, which only works with a new fully integrated Toshiba HDTV set.

Toshiba will also focus on educating retailers to help move the integrated HDTV trend along, Ramirez said.

“We are going to try training with our retail partners,” he said. “We are going to have some POP material, and we are going to pre-load our Symbio with educational material that will help explain the benefits.”

Last year, Toshiba made a bold move to strengthen the image of its high-end Cinema Series television line by dropping 100 dealers from the line.

Ramirez said the line was becoming diluted. Toshiba kept about 70 “high quality” Cinema Series dealers, who must stick to both sales and merchandising commitments.

In return, Toshiba ensures Cinema Series dealer territories do not overlap.

He said the results have been promising, and Toshiba is close now to replacing the dollar volume lost in last year’s culling.

Cinema Series models continue to offer select dealers step ups “in everything from cosmetic design, to audio performance and connectivity solutions,” Ramirez said.

“One of the problems with Cinema Series last year was that some of the high-end dealers had already started shifting away from CRT-based televisions and had gone to flat-panel LCD or plasma or they had gone to DLP-type products,” he said. “Last year the Cinema Series line didn’t have any of those.”

This year the Cinema Series line offers a mix of CRT, DLP, direct view, plasma and LCD products. “The series still includes some CRT-based products because that is the bread and butter for most people who sell television, but now we have all of those higher-end products that Cinema Series dealers really want,” Ramirez said.