Pioneer plans to innovate plasma, in-car entertainment

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Las Vegas (NV) - Pioneer is working on an in-car navigation system that can control every mobile device you need, and even do it with voice recognition, as well as plasma TV sets that are so thin they literally float on your wall.

Last year, Pioneer spent a nauseating amount of time in its press conference talking about its line of plasma HDTVs.  This year, car audio and video seemed to take the front seat.  The main product announcement was the AVIC-Linc, a hybrid navigation system that can be used both as a portable device and an on-dash guide.

AVIC-Linc devices will come pre-installed with over 12 million points of interest, have integration with AM/FM/XM/Sirius radio, MSN Direct, and Bluetooth mobile phones.

The products will also have the ability to automatically detect new sources and will switch when necessary, for example when a cell phone call comes in.  It will all be touch-screen and from the preliminary photos, AVIC-Linc products will feature an interface almost identical to most of the higher-end Pioneer devices on the market now.

Additionally, Pioneer is working on a new line of single-CD in-dash players.  There are hundreds of these available, but Pioneer says it has new technology that allows its players to sound better than the competition.  It's called "advanced sound retriever" (ASR) and can apparently deliver a richer and fuller sound than has been seen in car audio before.

ASR devices also include USB and iPod connectivity, and are HD radio ready.  They also contain an enhanced iPod interface to allow users to navigate through their playlists directly from the in-dash system.

On the HDTV side, Pioneer's other main industry, the company showed equally ambitious future plans.  However, the presenters appeared to be more concerned with defending the plasma standard.  Plasma has suffered in market share compared to LCD, and Pioneer is the biggest player devoted exclusively to plasma displays.

The quote that summed up Pioneer's pitch was Pioneer general manager Ken Shioda saying that contrast ratio is now "irrelevant".  The company says it has been able to create such a massive contrast ratio that it is no longer worth comparing to anything else.  This goes hand in hand with Pioneer's long-time push to deliver the deepest black levels possible, one of plasma's biggest advantages over LCD.  Pioneer said it will continue to expand the Kuro line, its most elite lineup of plasma HDTVs.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Pioneer showed was a concept 50" HDTV that's only nine milimeters thick, which is thinner than your pinky finger.  Though don't expect to see it this year.  Pioneer's revolutionary new form factor would allow TVs to be mounted on a wall and have it literally look like part of the wall.  

This press conference also gave us one of the first opportunities of CES to hear a response to Warner Home Video's decision to back Blu-ray exclusively.  A Pioneer executive focused on the company's Blu-ray Disc division said that although this does not preclude the ending of the high-def format war, it is a milestone achievement in creating a format that will make consumer want to jump into the next generation.