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Pioneer Delays Blu-ray Player Release

Pioneer Electronics revealed during a line review for the press, here, that it has delayed the release of its first Blu-ray Disc player to September, from June, but has reduced the originally announced suggested retail price on the unit from $1,800, to $1,500.

Pioneer marketing and product planning director Paul Meyhoefer disclosed the change in plans during a product line review that emphasized upmarket Elite series models of plasma TVs and audio components. (See p. 4 for Pioneer’s 2006 audio lineup.)

A company spokesman said Pioneer decided to delay the shipping date on the Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player in order to make sure it would perform optimally upon release.

Pioneer’s spokesperson said that the company, like Sony and Sharp, plans to highlight the 1,080p output capability of the Blu-ray player and the 1,080p input capability on its forthcoming Elite 50W-inch 1,080p high-definition plasma monitor (shipping in July at a $10,000 suggested retail) in advertising and promotional efforts in the fall.

New Elite plasma models continue to feature the Urushi gloss-black bezel finish. New 42W-inch, 50W-inch and 60W-inch models all use new seventh-generation glass technology, Meyhoefer said. New Elite plasma models — except for the lone 50W-inch 1,080p monitor — all incorporate network connectivity supporting Windows Media Connect and DLNA compatibility to share photos, music and movie downloads directly from a connected PC.

Going forward, Meyhoefer said Pioneer will likely introduce more 1,080p models in the larger 50W-inch and 60W-inch screen sizes, while continuing to offer a more affordable lower-resolution 768p option for consumers. He said the added cost of adding 1,080p to a larger panel is less of a jump than in smaller screen sizes.

The new Elite 50W-inch 1,080p model, he added, has generated significant interest and has sold out before ever shipping. Best Buy’s Magnolia home theater departments will carry the model, he added.

Meanwhile, Meyhoefer acknowledged that Pioneer continues to expand production capacity at its plasma manufacturing facilities as it struggles to meet the steadily increasing demand of its dealers.

He said demand has doubled year by year as prices have come down, particularly in large screen sizes, and should continue to do so for the next several years.

“We have some of the best technology when it comes to plasma and we didn’t want to sacrifice that quality as we continued to introduce new advances in performance,” he said. “However, we did not focus on production capacity. Now we are looking to expand that.”

He added that Pioneer’s plasma supply levels will likely not catch up with demand throughout the year.

The parent company in Japan announced that it is looking to boost plasma display output by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and may look for a partner to help achieve that goal.

The announcement followed a move last year to scale back plasma production following the acquisition of plasma manufacturing assets from NEC.

“Because of cost and efficiency we shut down some of the older lines we used to produce plasma and are now reworking them for future production of the larger screen sizes and 1,080p,” Meyhoefer said, adding, “We would like to double our capacity [from 1.2 million units per year] in the next couple of years.”

According to a report in daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Pioneer plans to spend more than $178 million to build in Japan a new plasma panel production line that would help increase capacity by up to 40 percent. Construction is expected to begin in March.

Meanwhile, Japanese executives also reportedly said they may look to collaborate with other manufacturers on production and development of DVD recorders going forward.