Pioneer unveils revamped plasma technology

At a New York press conference, company focuses on the ability to create the deepest levels of black on a plasma TV screen. Photos: Pioneer gets 'Elite'

NEW YORK--For Pioneer, black is the new black.

At a press event Wednesday morning, the electronics company unveiled its new line of high-definition plasma televisions, a selection of new home theater equipment, and a new technology and business strategy that it calls "Project Kuro," after the Japanese word for "black." And black was the focus of the event: after all, Pioneer claims that its new eighth-generation flat panels provide the most advanced levels of deep black of any television on the market.

According to presentations by Pioneer executives, the company has completely restructured both its technology and business strategies as part of Project Kuro. New color filter technology and cell structure have allowed for "significantly deeper black levels," said Russ Johnston, senior vice president of marketing for Pioneer USA, who called it "game-changing technology." This revamped plasma technology will be available in all Pioneer flat-panels.

Some analysts have expressed doubt about plasma television technology's success in the HDTV market, but Pioneer's executives painted a sunny outlook on the grounds that the color quality is better overall. "Plasma is self-emissive in red, in green and in blue," Johnston explained. "It can also reproduce the entire color spectrum from white to black."

At the same time, as many electronics manufacturers are trying to make their HDTVs become more common and more affordable, Pioneer wants to emphasize the opposite. Tom Haga, CEO of Pioneer North America, said that the company is aiming to "break away from the commoditization models that so many companies are chasing," and instead demand the highest quality possible in audio and video.

Pioneer executives said at the press conference that Project Kuro reinforces the company's dedication to a customer base of "discerning entertainment junkies"--consumers who all share a passion for high-quality audio and video and are willing to shell out the cash for it. "We want consumers to walk into the store and see that our panels are the best," said Ken Shioda, general manager of display products for Pioneer. "These consumers expect a very unique experience when they make any purchase."

In June, Pioneer will be shipping the first models of its eighth-generation plasma TV line, which had been at the Consumer Electronics Show in January: the 42-inch Pioneer PDP-4280HD, which will sell for $2,700; and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD for $3,500. A month later, the first models from the Pioneer Elite line will be available: the 42-inch Pioneer Elite PRO-950HD for $3,200; and the 50-inch Pioneer Elite PRO-1150HD for $4,500.

More flat-panel plasma TVs, these with higher-end 1080p resolution, will ship this fall. The 50- and 60-inch models range in price from $5,000 to $7,500.

Additionally, Pioneer's new Elite line includes new home theater equipment offerings: a Blu-ray Disc player for $1,000, a Blu-ray Disc computer drive for $299, and four new audio-video receivers that retail between $650 and $1,600.

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