Pioneer gave a formal sendoff to its newly re-engineered plasma display line and launched a global marketing/product initiative called "Project KURO" at a press conference, here.
Pioneer unveiled eight models, all offering ultra-high black-level performance. The line consists of four models each under the Pioneer and Elite brands. Each brand will carry two XGA models in the 42-inch and 50-inch screen sizes and two full 1080p models in the 50- and 60-inch screen sizes, Pioneer said.
All new models will feature a panel with a new cell structure, a new filter and a new video processor. Pioneer totally re-engineered its plasma technology at the direction of its global CEO, to yield what the company is calling the highest performance levels in the industry.
Pioneer executives acknowledged the new designs were, in part, inspired by past prototype demonstrations of Toshiba's and Canon's promised SED flat-panel technology, which after a technology licensing snafu, now faces an uncertain future.
Although Pioneer refuses to divulge performance specs, its executives say that the newly re-engineered system "produces the deepest blacks of any other flat panel displays."
Pioneer's global marketing and product development initiative called "Project KURO" (black in Japanese), will highlight Pioneer's deep-black plasma expertise while the company seeks to expand its higher-end market message across all of its product categories.
Just as Pioneer's plasma technology was reworked starting from scratch, so will its global sales and marketing practices, said Ken Shioda, Pioneer display products general manager.
"It was decided that we needed to do this more consistently on a global basis," he said. "We enlisted the support of TBWA/Chiat/Day consultants and began a 360-degree view of the market and our business. Over time, we will look at everything from product development to the selling environment to post-purchase service and, of course, marketing and advertising with TBWA."
TBWA will handle Pioneer's flat-panel television business globally as well as additional audio and video assignments, Pioneer said. This will include brand strategy, creative, and in some markets, media buying through Omnicom Media Group.
New campaigns will launch this fall, with an ad budget that is about double what Pioneer invested last year, said Russ Johnston, Pioneer Electronics USA marketing and product development senior VP.
Shioda said Pioneer will focus on growing its target customer base, which he labeled "discerning entertainment junkies. They are not determined only by age and gender, but by their passion for entertainment film and sports. They understand the difference in quality that Pioneer offers."
Secondly, the Pioneer executive said the company is paying closer attention to the entertainment community in developing and marketing high black-level displays.
U.S. executives said their product and distribution strategy has been on target with the new global initiative, and will not change significantly. The company will continue to use its Pioneer-branded products for national distribution, which includes a large partnership with Best Buy, but excludes warehouse club channels and other price-driven mass merchant venues.
Elite will continue to be reserved for A/V specialty dealers and custom installers that can sell the value-added message at higher price points than more commodity-driven lines.
"We are in a unique position," said Tom Haga, Pioneer Electronics USA president and chairman. "We don't represent the world's largest capacity of displays, but we represent state-of-the-art technologies. This allows Pioneer to break away from the commoditization model that so many companies are chasing. We must deliver to those who demand the best — that is what we provide and that is what those consumers deserve."
"Here in North America, we will be razor focused on providing the best product and service," Haga vowed. "We will continue to place great importance on communication in our relationship with retailers across the United States and Canada."
The richer colors and deeper black levels of the plasma line resulted from a new panel cell structure and direct color filter, he said.
"By creating a new electron source at the base of the new cell structure, idling luminance is now reduced by 80 percent," Johnston said. "Traditional plasma must maintain a minimal charge inside each cell to obtain peak brightness just before the cell fires. This minimal charge is very visible and is a barrier to created deep blacks."
Pioneer's new technology nearly turns the cell off, he said, to achieve deeper blacks. It also increases the gradation three times in the black areas, providing more detail and color space, he said.
The company's new direct color filter is said to reduce secondary reflections and ambient light to maintain the deep black level performance over a wide range of room light conditions.
For video processing, Pioneer is employing a new ASIC video processor that is designed to improve the clarity of HD and SD content. The system delivers high-performance video scaling, high-performance de-interlacing and MPEG-compression noise detection to reduce image artifacts.
The company will begin shipping the new models in June with Pioneer-branded 42- ($2,700 suggested retail) and 50-inch ($3,500) XGA models.
In July, the company will deliver Elite 42- ($3,200) and 50-inch ($4,500) XGA models.
In September, the company will offer four 1080p models including 50- ($5,000) and 60-inch ($6,500) Pioneer models and 50- ($6,000) and 60-inch ($7,500) Elite models.
"There is a slight reduction in our prices from last year," said Johnston. "The biggest reduction is in our 1080p models, not the XGA."
He said Pioneer's 20-person sales training force will be leveraged to educate dealers on the new technology.
Pioneer also announced it will add a new Blu-ray Disc player in May under the Elite line. The BDP-94HD ($1,000) will feature Dolby Digital TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus surround sound and HDMI-CEC operation integration. Output will include HDMI v1.2 connectors. The player will accept both DVDs and CDs in addition to Blu-ray Discs.
Pioneer will bundle the player with two Blu-ray Disc titles featuring Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, unlike most other BD releases which have been limited to Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, and in some cases, multichannel PCM.
In computer drives, Pioneer announced the BDP-2202 ($299) Blu-ray drive with Blu-ray Disc movie read ability and DVD and CD read and write capability.
Also announced were four A/V receivers, all with 1080p/24 fps video scaling and video switching. The receivers feature HDMI v1.3a connections. Pricing will range from $650 to $1,600.