And then there were three. This week, both Pioneer and Vizio revealed they were exiting the plasma TV market, leaving just three companies—LG Electronics, Panasonic and Samsung—active in the plasma business. But while Vizio is dropping plasma to focus on LCD, Pioneer is leaving the TV business entirely.
Yesterday, Pioneer confirmed earlier rumors that it was exiting its display business, which includes TVs. The company said it will cease new-product plasma TV production for the U.S. as of April, 2009, and that it will completely be out of the display business by March 2010. It will continue to provide service for the TVs it has sold, however.
Vizio's news was a bit more surprising, as there was little inkling that it was contemplating such a move, although the company didn't show any new plasma models at CES. Vizio, which created a major disruption in the TV market by offering plasma and LCD TVs at prices well below its major competitors, has quietly been selling off its plasma inventory, and all existing stock will be shipped by the end of the first quarter, the company says.
Pioneer: No more Kuro TVs
Pioneer's announcement will put an end to a TV brand that's consistently been at the top of Consumer Reports' plasma TV Ratings (available to subscribers). The company's newer line of Kuro plasma TVs drew acclaim for industry-leading black levels, and prototypes indicated further improvements and razor-thin designs. The company didn't make LCD TVs, but was expected to introduce its first models, sourced from Sharp, later this year—something that now will not happen.
For Pioneer fans, this might be a great time to get a set if you're satisfied that the company will deliver on its promise of continued support. According to a report in the trade publication Consumer Electronics Daily, Pioneer recently dropped minimum advertised price (MAP) requirements on its premium Elite-brand products, and began allowing Internet sales, something it had previously prohibited. It also has widened distribution through warehouse clubs. For example, on Costco's website, we found the 50-inch PDP-5020FD for $1,999, and the 60-inch PDP-6020FD, which was priced at $5,500 in CR's latest Ratings of plasma TVs (available to subscribers), for $3,800. On Amazon, OneCall had the Pioneer Elite Pro-111FD for $3,000; it's listed for $5,000 in the latest CR Ratings. Butterfly Photo had it for $2,839, the cheapest price we found.
The company also said that it was considering several options for its Blu-ray and DVD player business, including the formation of a joint venture. The obvious partner would be Sharp, which took an almost 15-percent stake in Pioneer last year. Going forward, the company said it would focus its home electronics business in three areas: audio products, DJ equipment, and cable TV set-top boxes.
Vizio: Focus is on LCDs
Unlike Pioneer, which is exiting the TV business entirely, Vizio is dropping plasma to focus on LCD TVs, which now represent 90 percent of the TV market. While, the company became established with basic TV models selling at very low prices, its more recent focus has been on offering step-up technologies, such as 120Hz refresh rates and even LED backlighting, at prices well below competitors.
If you're looking for Vizio plasma bargains, you may already be out of luck. We had a hard time even finding the two models in our Ratings—the 1080p 50-inch VP503FHDTV10A and the 720p VP422HDTV10A. And the few models we did find weren't priced lower than the average selling prices listed in our Ratings.
Though it's narrowing its TV focus, Vizio is broadening its product lineup beyond TVs. For example, the company is now selling a soundbar speaker system, and plans to sell its first Blu-ray player, a BD-Live model priced at $199.
We'll be monitoring the plasma TV business to see where the technology is headed. With just three major manufacturers remaining, we wonder if the plasma business will mirror what we've already seen happen in the rear-projection market, where just a single supplier remains.
—James K. Willcox
(Photo: davi sommerfeld)