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Our message to consumers is Panasonic is a plasma TV company. Since August 2004, we really reallocated marketing resources and human resources onto plasma. Until then, our market share was around No. 2, 3, 4. It depended on the week. But since September 2004, we've had the No. 1 position every month in the United States. This last Christmas season our market share went up to 40 to 50 percent in the U.S. The second manufacturer is at 12 to 15 percent. That's a factor of three.
Clear direction and focus certainly resulted in the gain of market share. We really kind of increased our brand awareness by focusing on one product category.
What do you think when you hear all of the analysts say that plasma is fading out and that the future belongs to the LCD or SED (surface-conduction electron emitter display)?
Yamada: They are not really seeing what's happening in the marketplace. Today more than 75 percent of consumers prefer plasma for large-screen flat-panel TVs. I'm talking about 37 inches and above. There are two technologies for flat screens: LCD and plasma. More than 75 percent of consumers are buying plasma (over 37 inches). Because once you are over 37 inches, there is no comparison.
There is a reason for that. Both technologies are getting better, but there are inherent weaknesses in the LCD, especially in (capturing and presenting) moving images. Plasma is the best technology for the large screen.
We can't use plasma for small screens. (He points to cell phone.) That is true.
From a manufacturing standpoint, plasma also has an advantage. Plasma only takes two days in processing. LCD takes one week. That creates a difference in manufacturing costs. That is going to be more severe when the size of the screen becomes larger. There are inherent technology issues and inherent manufacturing issues.
Some, though, question the reliability and durability of plasma. Energy consumption is also an issue.
Yamada: Those people have not studied it well. If it were five years ago, they could be right. But the technology has been changing every year. Today, power consumption is the same. Some people like to say plasma is more power hungry than LCD. Yes it was, five years ago. I agree. Today the technology has changed. Our plasma is on the eighth generation. If there are people who think plasma is behind LCD, he or she should study much harder.
What changes or improvements do you foresee for plasma?
Yamada: One is the size. We announced a 103-inch plasma with 1080p (progressive resolution), which means full high-definition. This is the direction we believe consumers want to see. If you look at the picture of those plasmas, you'll be surprised (at the picture quality). I was surprised when I first saw it. There is a big difference.
Unfortunately most of the consumers in the United States don't know how beautiful those pictures are. They are still watching poor-quality TV today. But once they see (high definition), I don't think they can go back. Until they see it, they maybe don't think they need it.
The fall sales-season of 2004 was interesting. There is a version called ED, extended definition, which is different than true high definition. In the fall season of 2004, the proportion of HD TVs among Panasonic's plasma TV sales was about 25 percent or less. The remaining was ED. I was shocked to see the results for fall 2005. The percentage of HD is now 75 percent. It flipped completely. I didn't expect that. I expected that about 50 percent would be HD. That was my forecast in January 2005 at CES last year. I was completely wrong, but in a good way.
One thing that's difficult about plasma is the size. I live in a home in San Francisco. You couldn't get a 103-plasma in there without an extensive remodeling job.
Yamada: Ah, but you could get a 65-inch one.
True, but how about screens below the 40-inch line. Do you have any interest in extending plasma down in size?
Yamada: We have a threshold at 37 inch. That is the line. Anything bigger than 37 inch we use plasma. For screens below that, we use LCD. I should say IPS (in-plane switching). It is a version of LCD, but it helps with the drawback LCD has, which is the response time. We are still using the word LCD, but I don't want to use it because it is confusing.
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