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First Akai DTV Monitor Ships This Month

The first rear-projection HDTV monitor carrying the Akai brand will appear in select U.S. retail stores starting this month.

The rear-projection monitor (model PTH5498) is said to be the first in a series of DTV products planned for the U.S. market by Akai. It offers a 54-inch 4:3 screen and will display DTV signals in either the 1080i or 480p DTV native scan formats. It is shipping to Akai’s expanding retail distribution network this month at a $1,999 suggested retail price.

To support the DTV monitor, Akai will ship in September a progressive-scan DVD player (model DVD-PS800) with additional support of multiple flash memory card formats (CompactFlash, Memory Stick and SmartMedia). Around the same time, Akai hopes to deliver its first set-top ATSC over-the-air DTV signal decoder box with direct-to-home satellite support. The company is closely monitoring the proposed satellite merger and is negotiating with DirecTV.

Akai returns to the U.S. market after a complex history with multiple distribution partners. Eli Chorbajian, Akai USA sales and marketing VP, said the current owner of the Akai brand — Grande Group of Hong Kong — established APH USA Inc. (Akai Product Holdings) last fall “as an exclusive U.S. sales and distribution company for all Akai consumer electronics merchandise.”

Initial product offerings included a 27-inch “PureFlat” direct-view TV set and a 54-inch rear projection analog television set, followed soon after expanded flat and curved-glass direct view TV lines, home and portable audio equipment, VCRs, DVD players and TV/DVD and TV/VCR combo units.

Initial sales of analog TV offerings — the PT5492 analog rear projection TV and a 27-inch “PureFlat” analog direct view television — have been promising, according to Chorbajian.

“While most of our sales are to retailers that do not report to Intelect (now TechWorld), we believe based on sales that the PT5492 is likely the No. 1 best selling analog PTV in the market,” Chorbajian said. “We have since introduced several additional SKUs, from home audio to portable audio and DVD through tightly selected distribution.”

Among its current retail partners are some major national accounts, including Sam’s Club, but Chorbajian said the company’s distribution “will be limited in scope. We will be sold within most or all channels of distribution, but we will not attempt to overload any one channel and erode the opportunity for our retailing partners to realize a fair profit,” he said.

“In the beginning we will limit our distribution to those who are able to take advantage of direct container load shipments. It is our hope that we can consolidate unnecessary cost and turn those into margin dollars for our customers,” he added.

Chorbajian said one of the company’s strongest assets is its respected brand name.

“As of this year to date, we have tested the acceptance of the Akai brand on our mainstream product in the wholesale club channel. We needed to understand the demand that Akai would receive in an unaided environment, and the results have been very strong.”

Moving forward, he said APH USA is working on a new premium tier-merchandising program that is scheduled to debut later this year “at one of the national selling floors.” Plans are to expand it into the “AKAI VIVO” series next year, offering “a strong value against our traditional first-tier Japanese counterparts.”

Going forward, Chorbajian said APH USA “will not rule out any distribution, but we also will not over dilute the product in any one channel.”

Products are manufactured for APH at a variety of factories in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Mexico and the United States, Chorbajian said, adding “most of the larger televisions are Korean designed and assembled in North America.”

Masukichi Akai founded the Akai brand in 1929, initially as a manufacturer of radio components. Akai first left the U.S. market in the 1980s and has had various majority equity partners since, including Semi-Tech Global, which also owned at the time the Sansui and Singer brands. Semi-Tech sold off Akai and Sansui to Grande Group about four years ago. Grande also later acquired the Nakamichi brand.

Over the years the Akai brand has also been involved in various joint ventures with Japanese prime manufacturers and OEM relationships with dominant brand share manufacturers.

Meanwhile, the PTH5498 DTV will also include a 30-watt stereo amplifier and dual front-firing speakers, as well as a 3-line digital comb filter, an antiglare screen, and dual NTSC-tuner picture-in-picture.

The DVD-PS800 is said to be “the first DVD product to launch supporting all three main types of digital memory systems, including Smart Media, Compact Flash, and Memory Stick” for playback of digital photos and music.

It also offers a new styling design allowing for either vertical or traditional horizontal placement, plus a slot load DVD mechanism to give the unit a slimmer profile than traditional box-styled DVD players.