As part of a restructuring announced on Friday that will see it exit the LCD TV business in the U.S., Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America (MDEA) is essentially putting all its TV eggs in the rear-projection-TV basket: The company will focus on rear-projection DLP microdisplay in the very largest screen sizes, all with 3D capability.
The move puts an end to the company's Unisen line of LCD TVs, which the company tried to differentiate in an increasingly crowded LCD market though the use of 16- and 18-speaker integrated Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound systems.
In a statement issued to announce the move, the company said MDEA's goal is to "reclaim our position as the 'large screen' company" by focusing on microdisplay projection sets and laser-backlit Laservue TVs in screen sizes 73-inches and larger. The company will also continue selling front projectors, which have traditionally done well in CR's Front Projector Ratings (available to subscribers), as well as commercial products.
While we saw an upcoming 92-inch 3D rear-projection DLP set from MDEA at CES, no new Unisen models were announced--in retrospect, a harbinger of last week's announcement. Since the exit of Samsung from the rear-projection TV market in 2009, MDEA has been the sole company producing and selling rear-projection sets.
The move has considerable risk, as the market for rear-projection TVs continues to wane while flat-panel TVs continue to get larger and cheaper. For example, now have several 65-inch TVs in our labs, and 70- and 72-inch LCD TVs are expected to arrive later this year. And it's been getting harder to secure retail space for rear-projection TVs. Based on conversations I had with Mitsubishi executives at CES, it appears that home-shopping channels are among the company's biggest retail channels for its rear-projection sets.
Retailers with inventories of Mitsubishi LCD TVs are expected to continue selling sets, but not restocking them. Presumably, MDEA will continue to maintain parts and service for its LCD TVs. We'll update this story if we get additional information from the company.
--James K. Willcox