New Microwave Models Heat Up Housewares Show

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Microwave oven makers attending last month's International Housewares Show here at McCormick Place turned up the exhibit floor heat with new, upscale looks and a rash of added features.

A chief proponent of enhanced aesthetics was Sharp Electronics, whose models boasted sophisticated touches such as chrome accents and concealed control panels. The units, which included a self-described "world's largest" over-the-range (OTR) oven and an assortment of countertops, were designed, along with Sharp's Aquos LCDs, to provide an "overall vision for the ultimate high-style home," the company said.

"Consumers want products that complement both their fast-paced lifestyles and their home décor," said Dennis Joyner, Sharp's appliance marketing director. "Our new line is designed to fulfill these needs by offering time-saving cooking options and sleek designs, while providing the most sophisticated and user-friendly technology available on the market."

The 1,200-watt OTR model measures 2.1 cubic feet and employs Sharp's exclusive "Smart Carousel with Direct Energy" concealed microwave distribution system, which maximizes usable oven capacity. Together with a two-position removable rack, the features allow multiple dishes to be cooked or reheated simultaneously. The line, which also boasts variable power inverter technology, will be available in May and will carry suggested retails of $370 and $400 with sensor cooking options.

The countertop collection includes a family-size grouping offered with and without "retro"-style chrome trim, and an autotouch midsize tier that includes a stainless steel option. The latter model, with 1,200 watts of power and 1.2 cubic feet of capacity, features an autotouch control panel concealed beneath a translucent plastic door cover. Among the family units, model R-428J features a new built-in night-light, while the R-408J offers eight reheat and six cook options for popular foods and beverages.

Countertop retails will range from $80 to $130 as the line hits store shelves this month and next.

Separately, Sharp also showed its line of Plasmacluster air purifiers, which clean air and remove odors, airborne irritants, allergens and smoke in rooms ranging from 123 square feet to 330 square feet. Based on the company's ion technology, the units are triple-filtered with HEPA and active carbon filters, and carry suggested retails ranging from $200 to $550.

Meanwhile, the emphasis was on dual-use functionality at the LG Electronics booth, where the company bowed a combination radio/microwave oven and a coffeemaker/microwave unit, which joined last year's microwave/toaster entry. The former features 1.2 cubic feet of cooking space and 1,100 watts of maximum power delivered in 10 levels, plus an FM radio and voice recorder. The unit will ship this June and carry a suggested retail of $129.

"The kitchen tends to be the first room family members come to when they get home from work or school or from running errands," said Simon Kang, president of LG's home appliance division. "With this in mind, we developed an easy and convenient way for them to stay in touch, to leave reminders for one another, or even leave detailed instructions about what's for dinner and how to get it started."

Its line mate, with 1,200 watts of power, a two-line scroll display and a rounded, 1.2-cubic-foot cavity, comes equipped with a 1-liter, replaceable coffee carafe, a coffee timer and a temperature control with high, medium and low settings. The unit will also launch this June and hit a suggested $129 price point.

Elsewhere, Panasonic's home appliance division professes to bring an "air of sophistication" to microwave oven cooking with the launch of its Genius Prestige line, which includes OTR, countertop and convection/microwave models. The units boast "elegant" exteriors, easy-to-clean surfaces and Panasonic's patented inverter technology for exceptional cooking results, the company said.

"The name of the line sums its up well," noted Mary Sadankas, Panasonic's marketing manager for microwave ovens. " 'Genius' alludes to their ability to intelligently and quickly cook delicious microwave meals and 'Prestige' makes reference to their design and the elegance they bring to any kitchen décor."

The units, available next month, range from a $200 (MSRP), 2.2-cubic-foot, 1,250-watt countertop, to the $800, 1.5-cubic-foot, 1,100-watt convection combo in stainless steel. Features shared by all models include the aforementioned inverter technology, which allows cooking of such microwave-averse foods as cakes, sauces and turkey; one-touch sensor cooking for up to 18 different food types; fingerprint-resistant exterior; and a button (rather than touch-style) panel.

In addition to Genius Prestige, Panasonic showed a 23-model core line of OTRs, countertops, convections and quartz element browning units, which ranged in size from 0.7 cubic feet to 2.2 cubic feet and in suggested retails from $85 to $580.

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