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Pioneer Extends ‘Kuro’ Marketing Strategy

New York — Pioneer used a press conference here Wednesday to reveal the next evolution of its more upscale marketing direction that is more fully embracing custom installation in its second-generation Kuro video display offerings and Blu-ray Disc players.

The company unveiled four second-generation 1080p Kuro plasma TV models in the Pioneer and Elite lines (two each in the 50- and 60-inch screen sizes), its first Elite “Signature Series” Kuro 1080p plasma monitors and its first Kuro 1080p D-ILA front projector.

To support the displays, the company also unveiled a pair of next-generation Blu-ray Disc players, including the first offering for the Pioneer lineup. Most models will ship this summer.

Pioneer marketing executives said the second-generation Kuro models feature a five-times deeper black-level performance than last year’s line.

The addition of Signature Series HD plasma monitors and the company’s first three-chip 1080p D-ILA projector complements the Kuro marketing strategy first outlined last year. That direction is stressing the delivery of products with the highest possible performance rather than displays that compete aggressively in mass channels on volume and price.

Russ Johnston, Pioneer’s home business solutions groups marketing and product planning executive VP, said the new plasma monitors and front projector were suggested by numerous Elite product dealers, who were looking for a more complete product offering from the company.

In addition to a midrange front projector, with Kuro-quality black-level performance, dealers had suggested Pioneer add LCD TVs in under-50-inch screen sizes that they could use for secondary room applications.

Johnston said Pioneer will introduce its first LCD TVs in Europe later this fall, and may introduce the first LCD TVs for North America next year.

The plasma monitors offer dealers more installation options for integrated home theater systems, Johnston said. The monitors are thinner than the plasma TV models and allow dealers to easily integrate external tuning sources and home networking systems.

Pioneer has opted to market the plasma monitors under the “Signature Series” sub-brand, which Pioneer will study for extension to other product categories, Johnston said.

All new Kuro plasma TVs and monitors incorporate an automatic adjustment feature called Optimum Mode that simultaneously monitors video and room light conditions. The Kuro display then adjusts the picture and sound settings to provide an image tailored for the room.

Plasma TV models in both lines measure 3.7 inches thick, which is said to be a 20 percent reduction from last year. The Signature monitors are said to represent a 50 percent thickness reduction from last year’s Kuro plasma TVs.

Other additions include a redesigned remote control and high-definition graphic user interface for ease of use and integration; a networked home media gallery for playback of digital files such as HD movies, music and photos from a PC or via a USB connection; and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and Windows PlaysForSure networking compatibility.

In plasma TVs with integrated tuners, both the 50-inch ($4,000 suggested retail) and 60-inch ($5,500) Pioneer models will ship in June and offer one-year warranties. The Elite 50-inch ($5,000) and 60-inch ($6,500) models also ship in June and offer two-year warranties.

The Elite Signature Series HD plasma monitors will be available in October for the 50-inch model and August for the 60-inch model at prices to be announced later. Both feature two-year warranties. Signature Series models also ship with certificates verifying by serial number that the product was hand assembled from hand-select component parts.

They also offer an IP connectivity function that will let dealers connect to a display over the Internet to check on product performance issues. Often adjustments will be possible over the internet without requiring a truck roll, Johnston said.

Pioneer’s three-chip Kuro D-ILA 1080p front projector was designed for dedicated home cinema rooms, he added. The LCoS-based technology is said to “produce one of the highest native contrast ratios,” measuring up to Kuro black-level standards. It also adds a rich color gamut, a wide lens shift capacity, dual HDMI 1.3 support, and a wide range of image adjustments and calibration settings.

“There is a growing demand and need for products in the home cinema space with screen sizes over 70 inches,” Johnston said. “This is our first step outside of the plasma category to address not just the home theater market but the home cinema space.”

The Elite Kuro projector will begin shipping in June for a $9,000 suggested retail, and will be available via Pioneer’s Elite dealer channel. Johnston said Pioneer realized that the installation businesses of almost every one of its Elite dealers had expanded significantly, which presented an opportunity to add front projection and monitors.

Pioneer executives said the pricing for picture performance for D-ILA technology had dropped significantly, giving the company a chance to be a stronger contender within its dealer class.

Pioneer’s new Blu-ray Disc players, meanwhile, were redesigned to stress audio performance from music CDs and DVDs, as well as high-def Blu-ray Discs, in addition to high-quality video. The models offer BonusView capability (a.k.a. BD profile 1.1 specs), which allows playback of picture-in-picture running commentaries, but neither is BD Live capable. The first BD Live capable model for the company is expected this fall.

“When we did our focus-group studies, BD Live did not come up as a priority for most people,” said Pioneer marketing manager Chris Walker. “We are not saying that BD Live is not important, but right now there are only four titles, and the customer we are going after with these is really a more performance-oriented customer.”

Both models include a new exclusive BD chipset, which places greater emphasis on both video and audio playback performance, from a new unnamed component source. The models will play all mandatory and optional surround sound formats from the BD specifications. In addition, music CD playback has been enhanced with a new system that eliminates jitter through an HDMI-CEC connection to one of Pioneer’s new generation A/V receivers.

Pioneer said it selected professional-quality Wolfson digital audio converters in the new players to further enhance the audio performance.

Walker said the players also support Deep Color capability in a different way. Deep Color offers up to a 36-bit color pallet from the player to the TV, but the Blu-ray spec provides for only an 8-bit color pallet.

The new players were designed to upscale the color pallet from 8 bits on the disc to 12 bits.

“If you look at the actual available colors, we go from a 24-bit depth to a 36-bit depth,” Walker said. “We interpolate what the color information should be on a pixel-by-pixel basis.”

Turn-on time for the new players has been improved to 14 seconds from power on to ready to play mode. Also added are HDMI 1.3a ports with HDMI-CEC component interoperability capability. Both models support 1080p/24 frames per second video output and feature reduced image judder.

The Pioneer BDP-51FD will be available in July at a $599 suggested retail, and the Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD will be available in August at a $799 suggested retail.

The Elite BDP-05FD adds enhanced cosmetics with an aluminum front panel, a two-year warranty, capacitance touch buttons, gold-plated connection jacks, copper rather than aluminum screws and a double-layer chassis design that further dampens vibration.

Meanwhile, the Pioneer offerings in both Blu-ray players and Kuro displays illustrate the company’s intention to continue to aggressively pursue the mainstream home theater business from a more premium approach, Johnston said.

To underscore that effort, Pioneer has arranged with Best Buy to offer a dedicated merchandising space on the main selling floor (not in Magnolia showrooms) to showcase a complete Pioneer-branded home theater system featuring a Pioneer 1080p plasma TV set, receiver, speaker system and Blu-ray Disc player.

“When you walk into a showroom and find a wall full of TVs, there is no good way to get your message across in those environments,” Walker said. “So, we’ve arranged to have a dedicated space in Best Buy to present all of our products together.”