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Pioneer Restructures, Unveils A/V Products

New York— Pioneer disclosed U.S. restructuring plans, outlined a large-scale consumer-education campaign, and unveiled new products that include an improved 50-inch HD plasma monitor and an expanded selection of DVD-equipped home theater solutions.

During a press briefing here, the company also said it intends in July to outline plans for a dramatic increase in its North American branding efforts.

In its planned restructuring, effective July 1, Pioneer will consolidate four of its U.S. companies into a single company called Pioneer Electronics USA. It will bring home and aftermarket car electronics under the same roof as the business-to-business marketing of such products as cable set-top boxes, DVD-R/RW computer drives, and industrial plasma sales. The intent is to generate efficiencies, provide more focus on key business areas such as car A/V and DVD-recorders, and “converge” product planning, the company said.

Pioneer Entertainment America, which sells and produces video software, remains a separate company, as does U.S. manufacturing and the OEM car electronics business, said Matt Dever, marketing and product planning VP in the new home entertainment division.

Pioneer Electronics North America president/CEO Kaz Yamamoto assumes duties as president/CEO of Pioneer Electronics USA. The presidents of five divisions report to him. They are Susumu Kotani, mobile entertainment division president (previously president of Pioneer America, the former home and car electronics company); Tom Haga, home entertainment president (formerly components division GM in Japan); Paul Dempsey, business solutions (formerly Pioneer New Media Technology president); Greg Pierson, strategic services; and Ron Stone, customer support. Education: In disclosing its consumer-education campaign, Pioneer said it would mount 100 to 150 consumer seminars from November through May in conjunction with specialty retailers. The seminars will focus on new technologies, primarily DVD-recorders and plasma but also DVD-Audio. Pioneer personnel will be on hand to answer questions and let consumers see and touch the products. Plasma: In demonstrating a third-generation 50W-inch 768p-native HD plasma display, the company boasted of improved color accuracy, a 50 percent increase in brightness, a 40 percent increase in contrast in low-light conditions and 60 percent greater contrast in brightly lit rooms. In these performance areas, Dever said the display is the equal of 32- or 36-inch direct-view CRT performance.

Although the new model hasn’t been priced, Dever stepped back from a company plan announced last year to get 50-inch HD plasma down to $200 per diagonal inch in the United States in 2001, or $10,000 for a 50-inch model. Instead, Pioneer is targeting $250-$300 per inch in the new model to stress profitability, Dever said. Competition in HD plasma hasn’t emerged as expected, he added.

The company’s current 50-inch HD plasma has been reduced in price to an everyday $14,000 from $17,000, Dever noted. DVD-RW: In updating its DVD-RW plans, the company targeted an October ship date, having earlier this year pushed back shipment from Q1 to sometime in late 2001. The expected everyday price is still about $2,500.

The time-shifting device was postponed, the company explained, because the DVD Forum didn’t settle on a copy-protection watermarking technology in time for first quarter deliveries.

Pioneer also said it wanted extra time to add new features, including VCR Plus, audio CD playback, progressive output, new GUI, and the ability to record CD-quality uncompressed PCM onto DVD discs.

Mike Wakeman, EVP of the home entertainment division, provided more specific pricing plans for recordable DVD, saying “it looks like” initial DVD-R discs will be $12 and DVD-RW discs will be $24.