FORTUNE Small Business

A $20,000 TV - that's actually worth the price

You've probably never heard of the small company that makes this set. But watch 'The Godfather,' 'The Matrix,' or some other classic on it and you'll see a different movie. Really.

By Jonathan Blum, FSB contributor

LAS VEGAS -- Big companies usually get the buzz in consumer electronics. Multinationals such as Sony Electronics (Charts), Pioneer and Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500) do most of the media huffing and puffing about their products.

But I am loving what small business is showing me right now.


Take television maker Runco and its latest set, the 65-inch XP-65DHD.

This 100-person, privately held television and projector company in Union City, Calif., was started by Sam Runco back in the 1970's. Runco makes some of the best consumer-electronics equipment on the planet. Not only is the XP-65DHD no exception, it was the best single product shown at last week's gadget bonanza, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

This set is my personal best-in-show.

Runco targets the ultra-luxe market. So the company has plenty of freedom to bring fresh ideas to market. And does it ever.

Runco customers expect the best possible image, so Runco TVs require lots of processing power and special electronics. And rather than stuffing all that gear into the set (it probably wouldn't fit anyway), Runco pulls most of its TV-control hardware out into a separate processing unit. Then it uses its own special mathematics, called DHD, and code wrangled from THX, the commercial-grade video standard used by Hollywood, to create probably the most excellent picture quality on the market.

I'll spare you the techie mumbo jumbo: Trust me, life is too short to know a "doubler," from a "scaler" from a "video processor." But in my limited testing here in Vegas, the XP-65DHD does an exquisite - and I mean exquisite - job.

Throw anything at this set - any of the ridiculous competing broadcast TV standards, any poorly mastered standard-definition video, any of the goofy competing high-definition video standards such as HD-DVD and Blu-ray - and the XP-65 renders a lush and deep picture that renews what you watch.

Watch The Godfather, The Matrix or some other classic on this set and you'll see a different movie. Really.

Now about the price. Remember, Runco is a high-end TV maker. Quality on this level is not cheap. This unit, with processor, lists for $19,995. That's right: You can get a Toyota Corolla or a Runco.

But before you dismiss this as so much rich-man's fluff, I assure you that there are plenty of bits of consumer electronics at these prices that are not nearly as good as the Runco XP-65DHD. Hitachi Electronics (Charts), Pioneer Electronics and Fujitsu (Charts) all make very good higher-end displays. None compare.

Further, Runco is a lesson to the larger consumer electronics industry. As the rest of the gadget world struggles with razor-thin margins, too much capacity and a poor relationship with its customers, it might be wise to touch base with companies like Runco. These are operations for whom style, good engineering and innovation are not some concept in a PowerPoint presentation.

They are why these people show up to work.

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