Why I may be a fan of Sharp, their recent move to resurrect the defunct Pioneer KURO line of HDTVs under the "Elite" moniker has me scratching my head. Much like Sony's XBR series of televisions, Pioneer Elite TVs offered upgraded aesthetics as well as increased performance resulting in higher prices. For years people bought Pioneer Elite televisions especially their lauded "big screen" sets which in the early 1990s were about as good as money could buy. Sharp, a household name in Japan but not in the United States, licensed the Elite name from Pioneer to come out with a new line of high end HDTVs complete with 3D technology and an upgraded, glossy look.
Sharp's new Elite branded HDTVs that were recently announced in New York include a $6,000 60-inch and - get this - an $8,500 70-inch display. While these displays are branded with the Elite name, active 3D functionality and a different physical look, they still appear eerily similar to some of Sharp's existing LED backlit HDTVs - say for instance the 70-inch Sharp hanging in my office which retails for two thirds less. Perhaps I am missing something but on a week when the Dow Industrials lost 4.6 percent of its value, don't you have to offer more value to the consumer than 3D, a new brand name and a shiny wrapper to earn $4,000 more per TV?
HomeTheater.com video guru, Tom Norton, who went to the Sharp New York press event, noted that LED HDTVs still have "halo" or "blooming" issues that plasma (think Pioneer Elite, Panasonic, LG) sets don't have. At $6,500 and $8,000 respectfully you can look at plasma solutions from the likes of Panasonic or LG, for both make 60 plus inch plasma displays that don't suffer this fate. Of course you could easily purchase a capable HD front projector and a high contrast screen for what Sharp - I mean Elite - is hoping to charge for their new 60 and 70-inch models.
Where Sharp really blew it was in the licensing of the name Elite. The real juice in the market is in Pioneer's KURO brand name over Elite. The Elite name is good but KURO is where the heart and soul of the enthusiast consumers still are. My article "Its Time To Get Over Pioneer's KURO HDTV" received flames and hate mail from video enthusiasts who refuse to believe that anybody has made a better HDTV than the Pioneer KURO. The truth is Panasonic's current line of plasmas are better, but no fanboy wants to believe there's better than KURO which is why they continue to sell used on Craigslist for $2,000 plus. For my hard earned money, I will take a new set...thank you very much.
When push comes to shove, many consumers will pay $5,000 or more for an HDTV assuming that it is one of the best HDTVs on the market at the time. Consumers were willing to pay $5,000 plus in 1990 when I was a teenager selling Pioneer Elite big screens at Bryn Mawr Stereo in Philadelphia, and they will pay it again today if given the right value proposition. Today, more than ever, video companies have to deliver value. Clearly the value in the Sharp line is downstream, for the specs are almost identical. The Elite name, 3D and a glossy bezel aren't enough for me to even consider bucking up an extra $6,000 for a 70-inch LED HDTV. Hell, for $6,000 you can outfit an entire 7.1 home theater including top performing speakers, an HDMI receiver, universal remote, cabling and more. Consumers demand value and Sharp went Rodeo Drive on us all with their Elite brand. Will the move pay off? Time will tell. If it doesn't maybe Sony can try to revive the KURO. I mean third time is the charm, right?