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Pioneer Elite TVs to re-emerge, courtesy of Sharp

Pioneer has licensed its Elite branding to Sharp for the latter's upcoming, high-end LCD televisions. The sets will launch later this year.

The Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD

Just a few years ago, Pioneer was sitting atop the HDTV market with its line of Elite Kuro plasma televisions. But in 2009, Pioneer announced it would leave the television business to focus efforts elsewhere and abandoned the branding for TVs--until yesterday.

That's when Sharp announced that it has licensed the Pioneer Elite brand name for a line of high-end LCD televisions it plans to launch later this year in the U.S. and Canada. Pioneer, which has continued to use the Elite branding for other products, said the strategy will complement its Elite line of home-theater products, including A/V receivers.

Sharp will sell the sets through Pioneer's "authorized Elite dealer network." Both companies plan to market the televisions.

CNET contacted Sharp for more details about the deal, but the company declined to comment.

Sharp will have some big shoes to fill.

The Pioneer Elite Kuro line of plasma televisions are still remembered as some of the top sets ever made. Although expensive, the plasma sets delivered outstanding picture quality. A CNET review in 2008 of the Elite Kuro PRO-111FD said the set "represents the pinnacle of flat-panel HDTV picture quality."

Sharp said it's up for the challenge of following in Pioneer's footsteps.

"The Elite brand is highly respected in the high-end market and Sharp can deliver the quality and innovation that Elite customers demand," John Herrington, president of Sharp Electronics Marketing Co. of America, said in a statement.

The relationship between Pioneer and Sharp isn't new.

When Pioneer announced a restructuring plan in 2008 (PDF) to eliminate in-house plasma panel production for its TVs--which preceded its decision to quit the TV market entirely--the company mentioned an "alliance" with Sharp that had begun the previous year. At the time, Pioneer noted that the "two companies are conducting joint product development by making effective use of each other's resources in their respective fields of expertise."

Pioneer added that it would partner with Sharp "to develop LCD TVs that carry on the legacy of the Pioneer Kuro series in terms of high picture and sound quality."

Now, the time has come to find out whether Sharp can follow through on Pioneer's promise.