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Can Ultra-Premium Flat Panels Succeed?

Yesterday, I helped Tom Norton unpack and set up a 60-inch Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD LED-backlit LCD TV (shown on the right above) that he will review over the next couple of weeks. (Interestingly, the name Sharp appeared nowhere on the box, only Elite.) Even before setting the basic picture controls—but after selecting the Elite Pure picture mode and Low color temperature—the image looked remarkable, with deep blacks, bright whites, and rich colors. Also, the Sharp is sitting next to Tom's 60-inch Pioneer Elite PRO-141FD plasma (on the left above), so he will be able to do direct side-by-side comparisons to see if Sharp has managed to wrest the flat-panel crown from the Kuro.

In addition to exceptional picture quality, both TVs have something else in common—a very hefty price tag. The PRO-60X5FD lists for $6000, while the 70-inch version is a whopping $8500. (The 60-inch PRO-141FD was $7000 in 2009.) In my opinion, such high prices lead to the demise of the Kuro, because a best-possible-performance, cost-no-object flat panel is unsustainable in today's—or even yesteryear's—economic climate. So I'm concerned that the new Sharp Elite TVs will suffer the same fate as the Kuro.

Do you think ultra-performance, ultra-expensive flat panels can succeed in today's marketplace? Or are they simply too expensive to manufacture and sell in quantities large enough to make business sense?

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice.

Can Ultra-Premium Flat Panels Succeed?
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COMMENTS
shutyertrap's picture

If you were to ask a random sampling of 100 people if they knew what a 'Kuro' was, I'd put money on 99 of them saying no. People are gonna go to Costco and see a 70" Sharp there for $2500, then go to Best Buy and see the Elite for $8000, and turn right back around to Costco. Readers of this site obviously can understand the differences, but even I'd have a hard time justifying it KNOWING how much better the Elite looks, because like the majority of people, it's not going into a dedicated home theater, but a living room. Triple the cost is just too high. At 5 grand, I think they'd move a lot more as that's much more within people's grasp. It'd still be a stretch, but more obtainable.

_thx1138_'s picture

why would an LED be compared to a PLASMA is beyond me. Im really thinking of cancelling my hometheater subscription, because of things like this. an high end LED should be compared next to another high end LED, dont you all agree??? or am i the only one understanding this poppy cock story of running a side by side comaprison of such hardware.

den1on2's picture

yes there are comparing the pioneer elite to the sharp elite to see if sharp made the tv with the elite standers as the pioneer elite

_thx1138_'s picture

right but comparing a pioneer elite plasma to this sharp elite LCD is bogus the pioneere will blow the sharp LED elite away..there might be slight similarities but the pioneer will win hands down. ide put money on this if i could. again its a bogus comparison..just another test by the incompetent testers at HTmag.

cjcollard's picture

I have a Kuro 60 inch and love it. I shed tears when they announced the discontinuation of the line. However, a LED manufactured by Sharp and Pioneer could prove taking a look at. Just because it is LED does not mean it can't run hand and hand with the Kuro. I'm willing to bet that this TV will have nearly identical specs as the last gen Kuros.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I disagree that comparing the Sharp Elite LED-LCD to the Pioneer Elite Kuro plasma is meaningless. The Kuro set the standard against which all flat panels have been judged since it was introduced and after it was discontinued, so any flat panel, regardless of technology, that claims to meet or beat that standard must be compared with the Kuro. Of course, I'm sure Tom will comment on its performance in relation to other high-end LED-LCDs as well.
_thx1138_'s picture

we will see..

Berryman's picture

It was a TV I always wanted but I could never justify the price. Now, I know I can't spend more than what I sold my motorcycle for. (2006 Suzuki Hayabusa)

Stephen Trask's picture

Conditionally, I'd say yes if expectation of low sales and low production numbers are figured into the price. In any economic climate there is always a demand for premium products. The trick when producing them is correctly gauging that demand and pricing accordingly.

David Vaughn's picture
I finally got to see the sharp Elite the other day and it's a magnificent looking set. In fact, it would be the only LCD-TV that I would even consider purchasing (I'm a plasma fan). I watched part of Episode III from about 5 feet away on the 70" set and the picture was outstanding.
notabadname's picture

The price of the set just needs to pay for the total cost to develop and manufacture the set for it to technically "succeed". As with the auto industry model, many electronics companies produce a high-end product that accounts for only a few percent of their overall sales. But this model, like an Audi R8 or Lexus LFA, can be used for it's marketing "halo" effect for the rest of a manufacturer's product line. This marketing angle's return can't be measured really by units sold.

If the Elite can earn a "Benchmark" rep for Sharp, it can turn around a perception many have that Sony or Panasonic are the only options for a high quality flat-panel. That would, in my opinion, be the measure of "success" for this screen. Of course, like anyone, I wish this feature set and quality could be had for $5,000. But at $150 per month over five years, it is affordable to me. My mobile phone plan is $120 per month, and premium Direct TV package $100 per month. So for something I spend so much more time with than my $400 per month car, I can justify it. Can't wait for the review.

AVtheaterguy's picture

Seeing as Sharp is the pioneer in regards to the development of LCD technology, it makes sense for them to launch an premium line.

With NUVISION out of the game, no retail LCD/LED manufacturer had a product to compete with the top Sony and Samsung LED/LCD models (8000 series, and XBRs).

Now with sharp doing extremely well with their Quattron product line, its great to see them release something truly flagship.

Lexus succeeds because Toyota already had a great product. Dress it up, throw in the bells and whistles and the cars move off the lot (as we've seen for the last 20 years).

I think SHARP is doing the same thing with the ELITE line. They've done well in the LCD game for years, and now its time to show off what they really can do with a picture.

My two cents.

akak's picture

Given that Sharp only holds about 3% of the TV market (which has itself been flat in the last few years), a drop from about 20% five years ago, it's hard to say that Quattron, which was greeted by skepticism in the CE press when it was unveiled, has been an unqualified success.

Pete Putman's HDTV Expert blog had an excellent article on the Elite line, which sums up why Pioneer Elite failed and why Sharp Elite may do so as well: http://www.hdtvexpert.com/?p=1433 .

K.Reid's picture

Though I love this TV's picture quality. I can't see Sharp selling large quantities of the televison given its hefty price point. Maybe Sharp intended a low volume niche product.

Though Best Buy sells the TV and some people with a keen eye may see the picture quality difference, the high price will cause the average consumer to seek more affordable TVs that have good picture quality, decent sound and that's good enough - sad to say.

Unlike we videophiles, the avg. consumer is not concerned with absolute black, perfect Rec. 709 color, shadow detail, 3:2 pulldown, etc. They just want a good TV at an affordable price.

Malcolm02's picture

I agree it's not for the average person, but I don't see why it shouldn't succeed in a niche market. The high end audio market if full of products like preamps and power amps selling for thousands of dollars and speakers well into the 5 figure range. Many other markets have high quality products selling for premium prices. Maybe video is different; I don't know.

BigMac's picture

I own a 50in Kuro and paid about $2200 for it brand new back in 2007. While it's only a 720p HDTV you wouldn't know it if you sat it next to the best 1080p plasma.

Although it's the best picture in the house, and I'm sure this new Elite line will be just as good, I would not pay 6K for another Elite. It's just not justifiable.

Good Luck Sharp!

coolness1966's picture

If they were around 2000 to 2500 dollars i would definately consider buying but as it is the price is too steep to afford.

g48dd's picture

Yes!! Without doubt; only if it is the best and production is managed correctly and there is no compromise in the quality; and service is OUTSTANDING! Then yes, proof? Ask McIntosh in business since 1949 still in business, still producing amps that perform and perform. Amps built in the 50's still performing well today. I have never heard a compliant about McIntosh service. I am sure there are some and they have had some difficulties with a few amps but over all outstanding friendly service, great product, they can cost as much as a new car.

akak's picture

My understanding is that this TV is being built to fill a gap among high-end AV shops who stopped having a premium, exclusive product to sell when Pioneer closed its TV business. One wonders how Sharp can be successful when Pioneer was not, given a) that the premium Panasonic, Samsung and Sony TVs are all pretty spectacular and sell for a lot less than the Elite models and b) the rate of technological change in TVs is so rapid that it's hard to justify spending so much on something that may be functionally obsolete in only a few years.

That second reason is why it is impossible to compare video products with audio or cars -- a 15-year-old set of speakers or car will work just fine, while a 15-year old TV, no matter how large or high-end at the time, is a doorstop today. One wishes the Elite line success, but their value is questionable.

Scottyb09's picture

...but the target market for Mercedes AMG or BMW M series type of cars won't be happy with a 15 year old car - they'll want a car that's relatively new(er) even though the old one still works fine... :)

stilespj's picture

Even though I voted "NO", Sharp may still succeed if they afford to lose money on each sale to get the status of having the "best" LCD (arguably) out there. If I had more money than brains (and I'm not all that stupid), yes, I'd pick up a Sharp ... ooops ... an Elite or two.

I think that this is just one of those statement things ... look what we can do ... that will be eclipsed next year or sooner by a mainstream priced product or two. Nevertheless, in the mean time, if yo wants yo toy yo pay da price!

Scott Wilkinson's picture
Your comments are clear, but I don't understand the subject line...please clarify.
MatthewWeflen's picture

Although I think that these prices are a little steep, I do still think they will sell - and probably the 70" more than the 60". Sony is offering their 65" local-dimming HX929 for $6000 MSRP, meaning it represents a better value for size with similar technology. But the 70" LCD set is currently a rarity on the market, and should get some interest just based on the size.

Anyway, I think there is a market for $5k-plus televisions. As long as manufacturers can differentiate the technology and make a case for the value, they will sell as a niche item for the "bleeding edge" consumer. Right now it's local dimming LED backlights. My guess is that the next big "ultra-premium" niche will be 4k. OLED might have an outside shot at seeing some hyper-expensive larger-sized panels, too.

TheJoBoo's picture

How do you determine success in a luxury category? It is certainly not by quantifying your sales results and comparing them with commodity goods sold through discount chains and wholesale clubs. Yes, I'd question such a large price tag at Best Buy. They are not an outlet for high end product lines. They and those like them sell mid line and below. Will Ferrari outsell Honda? No. Is there a market for Ferrari? Yes. Should Honda dealerships also sell Ferrari? No. Should we listen to the myriad of Honda or Kia buyers who speak ill of Ferrari solely because it's out of their price range and they will never have to account for their opinions? No.
As to the Sharp Elite panels, they sicken me. Imagine trying to market a Ferrari with a technologically limited drivetrain. Oh, yeah, it looks like an internal combustion, high performance car, but it's not. It's LED.

MatthewWeflen's picture

I would define success as making a profit for the company. By that definition, I think there is probably a market for a $6k TV.

jnemesh's picture

Rather than compare it to an old Elite set, that you cant even buy anymore, I would rather see this set compared to the VT30 Panasonic sets and the Sharp LC60LE835U LED. Give us a comparison of sets currently available for sale and the various price points so we can make an informed buying decision based on price and performance.

Scottyb09's picture

It depends on what constitutes 'success'. I've go to think that Sharp is smart enough to know that Elite displays aren't going to sell with your average consumer in mind and comparing Elite displays to big screens at Costco isn't a proper comparison. However, as many others have stated, there are PLENTY of other high-end/premium products across all sorts of product lines (clothing, cars, etc.) which have been around for ages. If the Elite line helps improve consumer perceptions of the quality of the 'regular' Sharp line (and if they can incorporate some of the Elite technology into them), they can change their brand perception in the eyes of consumers by quite a bit. I took delivery of my new 60" Elite this past weekend and am totally blown away by it - so much so that in our next house I would now consider a non-Elite big screen from Sharp for our living room (i.e., the Elite would stay in my dedicated theater) (and this is coming from a die-hard plasma lover). I will qualify this by also saying that they need to find a way to get the price down a bit - I think it's still a bit too high even for a luxury product. I'm really looking forward to this review!

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

My answer to the poll question is hard because the Pioneer Kuro Elite's where the best tv's on the market but it was very expensive when the tv's where out and with the prices of LED LCD HDTV's continuing to drop a Ultra-Premium Flat Panel might not succeed in today's marketplace. But who know's for sure.

dnoonie's picture

I answered "don't know" but if there would have been an "I hope so" option I would have chosen it.

I would like something to replace my Elite Kuro with when it breaks...or in the unlikely event that it gets destroyed or stolen. Right now there is no such display available, maybe the Sharp will be good enough but so far I'm not impressed with LCD. Here's hoping!

On another important note! Consumers need to have something awesome to compare too! People seem to be constantly "bottom fishing", starting at the worst and picking something below average. It has pushed the video(streaming quality is quite bad) and audio(mp3 quality is quite bad) market to the worst state in several decades! That trend must change or SACD quality music and Blu-ray quality video will take the rest of my life to be realized for the general market. Mediocre has replace good, good has replaced excellent, the trend must change before mediocre replaces excellent! Expectations need to be raised!

Jonasandezekiel's picture

I saw the new Sharp Elite LCD, and quite frankly, I'm just not impressed. It STILL looks like an LCD, albeit a very good one. It had a candy-like look to the picture that I found to be unnatural. It would certainly be appealing to the customer that's shopping for bright, eye-catching displays on the floor, but in real-world use, it looks fake.
It also had the refresh rate turned up, and boy it looked like crap.
My cheapo Panasonic 720p display looks more natural--to me. Maybe it needed to be calibrated, but I wouldn't waste my money.

I also think that that high-end displays MIGHT find a niche, but the quality if lower priced displays are so good, that its hard to justify spending that much.

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