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Sharp, Pioneer Unveil Elite LCD TV Line

New York – Sharp and Pioneer gave A/V specialty and
custom-installation dealers reason to celebrate Thursday when both companies
paired up to formally unveil the first Elite brand high-performance LCD TV line
that is to be sold exclusively through Elite authorized dealerships.

The TV line, which is the first under the Elite badge since
Pioneer dropped out of the plasma category two years, was developed by a team
of engineers from both companies to deliver picture quality said to “set a new
benchmark” for  deep black-level
performance and picture clarity since the demise of the Elite Kuro plasma line
in 2009.

Those Kuro products have stood as an industry benchmark for
flat-panel TV black-level performance in the minds of many dealers and
consumers for the past five years and continue to hold the loyalty of
enthusiasts to this day.

“In developing this product we sought to learn as much as we
could about the Elite brand, its rich heritage and the expectations of
Elite-brand consumers,” said John Herrington, Sharp Electronics Marketing
Company of America president. “We collaborated very closely with Pioneer to
understand the essence of the Elite brand, the emotional connection that Elite
consumers have with the brand and the expectations that they have around
product performance, styling and the purchase experience.”

Perhaps more unique than performance benefits of the TVs is the
brand’s dual-company sales and distribution structure.

Tom Evans has been named Sharp’s associate VP and general manager
of product and marketing for Elite televisions, and will serve as the sole
bridge executive between the two companies.

The Elite TVs are being sold exclusively in North America at this
time, with no current plan to replicate the business strategy in Japan or other
international markets.

Sharp will supply Elite TVs while Pioneer will supply Elite A/V
components and Blu-ray Disc players.

The brand will share one rep force and a newly restructured
distributor network, selected to serve regional markets across the country.

Qualifying dealers will have the option to be sold on a
direct-ship basis or via two-step distribution, depending on their needs and

The TVs will be assembled in Mexico and shipped to three of
Sharp’s distribution centers across the U.S.

Initially, the line will be sold through Elite’s 750 dealers, but
the companies said they expect to soon expand that base.

Many dealers have told TWICE in recent months that the
custom-installation electronics and high-end A/V specialty retail channels have
been woefully under served by high-end flat-panel TV resources since Pioneer
Elite dropped the Kuro plasma line in 2009 and Planar dropped the Vidikron
brand after acquiring Runco. 

In the
meantime, many of those dealers have used to LG for flat-panel product to pick
up the slack.

Elite will also work with select buying groups, including the
Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group), which Russ Johnston, Pioneer
home electronics marketing executive VP, said helped the companies put together
the joint distribution plan for the past two years.

Sharp purchased a 14 percent stake in Pioneer four years ago and
has been planning ever since to pair up with the fellow Japan-based company to
bring Sharp’s LCD technology to Pioneer’s 25-year-old high-performance Elite

Johnston said Elite product teams have met with some dealers in
recent weeks, “spending numerous hours in dark rooms comparing the picture
performance of the new sets to the competition, and there is nobody that can
touch it.”

Johnston said that while plasma held some key advantages over LCD
in the past, the new technology now rivals the black-level performance of the
former Elite Kuro products, adding that he now thinks they are worthy of
carrying the Kuro badge, although there is no current plan to resurrect that
sub-brand at this time.

“You need to see it for yourself,” Johnston said of the
performance level.

Initial products will include a 60-inch model (PRO-60X5FD), which
will start shipping next week at a $5,999 suggested retail, and a 70-inch model
(PRO-70X5FD), shipping later this month at an $8,499 suggested retail.

The line will give dealers as well as Sharp and Pioneer a new
margin opportunity for flat-panel products. Comparably sized 70- and 60-inch
Sharp Aquos TVs are now selling for $4,799 and $3,299, respectively.

Both new Elite sets are FullHD 1080p sets billed as “smart TVs.”
They feature built-in Wi-Fi support for entertainment content streaming, and
will also support 3D video. Each model includes two pairs of active-shutter 3D
glasses in the purchase price.

Exclusively for the Elite line, Sharp is introducing a new
self-developed one-chip processor called an Intelligent Variable Contrast (IVC)
chip that will drive a package of other picture performance systems including
Sharp’s RGB+Y four-color pixel technology, Fluid Motion system with better than
a 240Hz refresh rate, Sharp Gen 10 LCD panel, and local dimming technology that
controls light levels to hundreds of individual sectors of LEDs in the
full-array LED backlighting layout.

The latter technology is said to yield optimum brightness
uniformity across the panel.

Both sets are THX certified for 2D and 3D home-theater
performance and conform to ISF calibration standards.

The sets’ smart features include support for Skype HD video
calling (a third-party camera package is available separately) and streaming
video services from Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, YouTube and others.

In addition the sets include the Elite Advantage Live system,
which offers remote service support via Internet connectivity, where a personal
advisor can remotely connect to the TV and provide a variety of services such
as setup, picture adjustment, or basic calibration.

Executives said Elite will launch “a very aggressive” promotion
and advertising campaign stating this month in major trade publications and
online. Evans said Sharp and Pioneer marketing teams have worked closely “to
create a seamless look and feel to the Elite product” in marketing programs.

The new sets will be featured in an “Elite Showcase” in the
Pioneer booth at the upcoming 2011 CEDIA Expo.