Syntax-Brillian Downfall Details Emerge

From the “if it sounds too good to be true” department, the Arizona Republic published a front-page history on May 24 of the rise and fall of one of the most remarkable (or so it seemed) upstarts in the TV technology business in many years: Syntax-Brillian, which oversaw the manufacture of LCD HD sets overseas under the Olevia brand.

The company, based in Tempe, Ariz., had been praised several times in recent years (and duly noted on several occasions here in HD Notebook) by the CE industry and grateful big-box retailers, and was cited for its quality and pricing by Consumer Reports and other respected reviewers. It even partnered up with ESPN for a couple of years—giving Syntax-Brillian a high profile among sports viewers who have always been one of the key demos targeted by HD proponents.

After recording eight-fold revenue jumps in a span of only three years for its LCD HD shipments with reported sales of nearly $700 million in fiscal year 2007 (and apparently having little, if anything, to do with the economic downturn that continues today), Syntax-Brillian filed for bankruptcy last July.

Its problems began not by thinking outside the box, per se, but rather what was inside the box. In September 2007, the firm’s Taiwan manufacturer shipped more than 1,000 boxed 65-inch LCD television sets to China. The problem was that each box should have weighed at least 235 pounds; instead, each box weighed only 41 pounds. Some observers of the court proceedings now say the boxes had to have held parts of HD units — not finished retail-ready units that the firm apparently had claimed—which required final assembly in China (or elsewhere).

When an investigation began, what reportedly followed were discoveries of accounting incongruities and ensuing stock problems. (Today its stock is essentially worthless.) Syntax-Brillian has established a couple of trusts under Chapter 11 to attempt to sell some assets to partially repay creditors, but most individual stockholders have lost their investments altogether.

The Olevia trademark, licensing rights and intellectual property recently were bought for about $1.3 million by Emerson Radio Corp., according to the Arizona Republic.

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