Pioneer's return to TV: what it means and why you should care

Pioneer returns to the TV market in 2014

The news that the Pioneer brand is returning to the TV market will have sent tingles down the spine of every self respecting videophile, but the revelation transpires to be both more and less than it appears.

Pioneer famously announced its exit from the plasma TV business back in 2009, unable to make a dime despite being widely heralded as the best television manufacturer on the planet.

During their run, Pioneer Kuro screens achieved almost mythic status and even today remain a benchmark for flat panel image quality.

Small wonder then that Dixon's announcement that it was exclusively licensing the marque for its own usecaused a tsunami of interest. But hopes that a Pioneer return will see the TV universe cosmically rebalance itself after Panasonic's plasma capitulation are likely to prove unfounded.

The owner of Currys and PC World is handling all product development and component procurement, much as it's done previously with Prinztronic, Logik and Saisho. "Dixons Retail has been granted the exclusive rights to source, develop, produce and sell Pioneer TVs in selected European markets," read the release that heralded the news.

Cynics might rightly despair at this, but there are encouraging caveats.


Kuro plasmas were heralded as the very best in the business

Geoff Wood, Pioneer UK sales manager, told us that while Dixons Retail was specifying the screens, there would still be significant Pioneer involvement. "Dixons will develop the products, but we will oversee and check their specifications," he told TechRadar. "It's our brand name on the front, after all. For a TV to carry our brand, we have to be happy with it…"

The first wave of rebooted Pioneer TVs screens will be distributed in Nordic territories, and comprise a trio of Full HD LED TVs in 40-, 46- and 55-inch screen sizes.

The sets will be 3D-enabled, have Smart connectivity and multimedia playback. And according to Wood, they will definitely be upmarket, not least because Dixons needs another cheapo TV brand like it needs a hole in the head.

As yet, we're told, no decisions have been made in regard to any UK product, although a 2014 launch is all but a certainty. What's more, Pioneer TVs could also be heading back to North America. "I suspect Best Buy will also be taking a close look at this deal," reveals Wood.

The Chinese connection

What few people realise is that Pioneer has been quietly running a similar operation in China for more than three years. Pioneer TVs have been produced under license there, using locally sourced panels. Will the same Chinese pixel power the new European models? That's yet to be seen.

But according to Wood, the retailer has always had a crush on the brand. "When we stopped making plasmas, Dixons were on the phone straight away," he confides. "They've been calling ever since, they've always been keen."

For an outfit like Dixons, licensing a brand name which still has equity in the TV market makes enormous commercial sense. It's also less prone to banana skins.

The Matsui own brand, launched by Currys in the Eighties and sold with the tagline 'Japanese Technology Made Perfect' (even though it was only marginally less Japanese than mushy peas), famously came a cropper when World War 2 veterans protested products because of a perceived association with Japanese General Iwane Matsui, leader of the infamous Nanking Massacre.

Codenamed Fuga

Naturally we're hopeful that Dixons will respect the phenomenal legacy of the brand. When it came to image quality, Pioneer produced screens of unfeasible brilliance. It didn't so much push the envelope as strap it into the back seat of a Daimler.

But we'll wager you won't see Pioneer's last great advance, codenamed Fuga, land at a PC World store anytime soon.

We saw Fuga screens being demo'd against the brand's 9th gen Kuros back in 2008 and were astounded by what we witnessed Fuga was designed as a replacement circuit for the brand's PureDrive LSI, which gave the screens their trademark black level.

In fact, the Fuga analyser was so mind-bendingly advanced it could actually alter the depth of field in an image, scanning moving images in real time and making a judgement about the perceived depth of the various elements that comprised the picture.

The circuitry could actually decide to defocus parts of the background to give pre-eminence to elements in the foreground in real time, just as you might shut the aperture down on a camera to create depth.

This was, in short, TV image processing gone mad. The Fuga circuit could actually alter the vision of a cinematographer, by changing the chosen focal plane of the original composition, and do it with an accuracy that was supernatural.

At that point, the lunatics really had indeed taken over the asylum. It's perhaps a good thing the plug was pulled when it was.

Read more from Steve May


Steve May
Home entertainment AV specialist

Steve has been writing about AV and home cinema since the dawn of time, or more accurately, since the glory days of VHS and Betamax. He has strong opinions on the latest TV technology, Hi-Fi and Blu-ray/media players, and likes nothing better than to crank up his ludicrously powerful home theatre system to binge-watch TV shows.