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LCD TV Startup To Use GE Brand

Chino, Calif. — The GE brand will resurface on lines of “premium-positioned” LCD TV sets in the second quarter of 2009 through a newly established joint venture partnership company between General Electric and Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Tatung.

The new company, which has U.S. offices based here, is called General Displays & Technologies (GDT) and is being directed by U.S. CE industry veterans Marc McConnaughey, CEO, and Peter Weedfald, president of GDT’s North American operations and global chief marketing officer.

McConnaughey has more than 29 years experience in the global display electronics industry, most recently serving as a founder and CEO of nLighten Technologies, a digital optics startup based in Shanghai, China. Earlier he was instrumental in building ViewSonic’s position in the display industry.

Weedfald is best known in the industry for his role as Samsung’s sales and marketing senior VP during the period that saw the company rise to the top of the U.S. television ranks. More recently, he had spent two years at Circuit City as senior VP and general merchandise manager for entertainment/content before being promoted to chief marketing officer in 2006.

Dormant since Thomson gave up its license for televisions in late 2004, the GE brand has been eyed by a number of Asian companies looking to a well-established brand they could piggyback on to build U.S. flat-panel TV distribution businesses.

Under the agreement, GDT will be 51 percent owned by Tatung and 49 percent owned by General Electric.

GDT will design, market and service its GE-branded HDTVs, which are planned to be enhanced with Internet access capability for receiving IPTV distributed content, including new services planned from NBC Universal and others. The first series of premium product offerings will be available to consumers in spring 2009.

McConnaughey said Tatung will design and manufacture the products under GDT’s direction. The company will use “GE metrics in the design, manufacturing and quality of the products.”

He said the line will focus on LCD TVs and will launch in the second quarter of 2009 using three product series — the GX, DX and TX series. The assortment is designed around a good, better, best approach. Each series will include seven to eight SKUs in screen sizes ranging from 19 inches to 65 inches.

The company will stick solely to LCD technologies due to the power consumption benefits as well as the technology’s greater ability to deliver innovative new designs, such as thinner form factors, McConnaughey said.

A slim design will be used across the whole product range, McConnaughey said, and all models will be designed with a focus on low-power consumption. They will utilize an open cell structure that will enable changing the backlight, he said. One model in the initial line will offer LED backlighting, but more are expected in subsequent offerings, McConnaughey said.

In addition select models will incorporate a wireless audio capability, using a proprietary 2.4GHz system that is said to be easy to use and set up.

“I think it is very important that retail partners will expect us to play at multiple levels of demographics, price points, and articulated features and benefits of the products,” Weedfald said.

All of the models will also be designed to connect with forthcoming set-top boxes, which among other things will enable an Internet connection to access IPTV content. Later in 2009, the company expects to offer three different set-top box options to connect to the sets, each delivering different levels of capability.

One model is planned to include a Blu-ray Disc player with BD-Live capability, according to McConnaughey.

“We are developing advanced, Internet capabilities for content delivery to televisions, without the need for a PC. This includes IPTV through cable, satellite and advanced fiber-optic television connectivity,” said McConnaughey. “The long-term strategy is to allow consumers to customize their viewing experience by downloading widgets and a variety of services directly to their HDTVs.”

GDT will partner with GE’s 80-percent-owned subsidiary NBC Universal (NBCU) to develop an open platform capable of delivering Internet and other digital content directly through the television, GDT said.

“This is an exciting opportunity for NBCU to partner with GE and help design a cutting edge product that responds now to consumer desire for a seamless union of high quality digital content and internet engagement, with an ease that still appeals to TV viewers,” stated Darren Feher, NBC Universal chief technology officer.

“We know it is a very competitive environment,” McConnaughey said. “We believe you have a global brand, great-looking products, a connected strategy to reach out to the content companies and you’ve got to have staying power,” McConnaughey said.

The company plans to work closely with NBC Universal to jointly promote the products and content services.

“We think our partnership with NBC U gives us a great competitive advantage,” Weedfald said.