Pioneer officially took the wraps off its new line of plasma HDTVs on May 9. It's impressive technology. Having seen pre-finalized versions at the Consumer Electronics Show, it's clear Pioneer wants to be thought of as the best plasma television maker on the market. The HDTVs offer very deep blacks, and come with new filters to keep out ambient light (a big problem for plasmas) and processors to widen the color gamut.
What's not clear is how Pioneer can buck the fierce pricing pressure that's hurting everyone from consumer electronic markets to retailers. Pioneer execs say they will not engage in price battles with Panasonic, Hitachi and others as they hope to skim off "the discerning shopper" who is willing to pay more for perceived quality.
Two problems there: In HDTVs, that market seems to be fairly small. Most people have a hard time telling the subtle differences when viewing 50 sets hanging on a wall at Best Buy.
Second, companies are relying on volume to pay for their billions-dollar investments in panel factories. With plasma facing continued marginalization from LCD technology touted by Sony, Sharp, Samsung and others, it's already been a difficult market for plasma makers.
Pioneer's higher-pricing strategy will be an interesting experiment to watch during the holiday season, where desperation often starts to kick in. It was Pioneer, after all, that took the unprecedented step of offering buy one $7,500 Pioneer Elite plasma TV, get a free 50-inch $3,000 Pioneer plasma after Wal-Mart kicked off last holiday's bloodbath by slashing prices on Panasonic plasmas.
No doubt every other television maker will be watching Pioneer to see if they can succeed in substantially raising price points.
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