By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Las Vegas – HTiB suppliers are trying to make their systems easier to operate and set up while raising average selling prices, which have fallen so dramatically that dollar volume has remained essentially flat despite upwardly surging unit sales.
To battle price compression, suppliers here plan to upgrade performance levels, add PVRs and DVD recorders, and in the case of Samsung, offers systems that control docked MP3 portables.
Suppliers are also enhancing a system's cosmetic appeal in a home, in some cases by offering wireless surround speakers or offering front speakers that deliver front and surround channels.
Here's what key suppliers plan:
JVC: In launching 12 new HTiBs (nine of them integrated models), JVC will offer its first three with built-in HDD PVR, expand its selection of models equipped with DVD recorder to five from two, offer its first three with HDMI output and up-conversion to HD, and expand its selection of systems with Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES to six from two. New models include the company's first seven with wall-mountable speakers and first two with wireless surround speakers.
All DVD-equipped models play back recordable DVDs in the DVD-RAM and DVD-R/RW formats.
Prices and availability of all products were unavailable at press time.
The HDD models, all with 160GB HDD, are the TH-R8 and TH-R6 integrated models and the QP-F82AL with separate receiver. All feature DVD-RAM/-RW/-R single-disc recorder, and the TH models add 8x dubbing speed. Both TH models also feature DV input for DV camcorders. The TH-R8 adds floorstanding speakers with wall-mount capability and wireless surrounds. The QP-F82AL features 6x100-watt receiver, video up-conversion from composite and S to component, aluminum wall-mountable floorstanding speakers and virtual surround back channel if a consumer doesn't have space for a back-surround speaker. The two systems with DVD recorder but without HDD are the integrated TH-R4 and the QP-F72AL with separate 6 x 100-watt receiver. The latter adds up-conversion to component video, virtual surround back channel and wall-mountable floorstanding speakers.
Other systems of note, all with wall-mountable floorstanding speakers, include the integrated TH-C6 with five-disc changer; the integrated TH-C8 with five-disc changer and wireless surrounds; and the QP-F32AL with separate DVD-Audio/Video player, up-conversion to component video, and virtual surround back channel.
Norcent:Two systems, the $99.99-suggested DP-2700 and $199.99 DP-5000, are the company's first with progressive-scan output. It features slim DVD-receiver, PAL/NTSC output, MP3- and Picture-CD playback, compatibility with DVD+R/RW and –R/RW discs, vacuum-fluorescent display, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding, memory play and remote. The 5000 delivers almost double the output at a stated 600 watts.
The company's first 6.1-channel system will also be displayed, but it will lack a DVD player to appeal to current owners of DVD players. The suggested retail is $179.
Onkyo: The company is replacing three receiver-only HTiBs. The new models, due in the spring, will also be available as derivatives with DVD player.
At a suggested $299, the 5x100-watt HT-S580 features new-style speakers. The $399 HT-S680 features 6.1-channel surround, 6x110-watt amp, and new slim speakers. The $499 HT-S780 boosts power to 150 watts per channel from its predecessor's 120 watts and adds auto calibration with included microphone.
Panasonic: Although new HTiBs weren't expected to be on public display, the company plans to talk up four integrated systems and one receiver-only system. That system's slim receiver is designed to cosmetically match DVD recorders available separately from Panasonic. All feature silver finish and are priced from a suggested $299 to $499. The integrated models feature DVD-Audio.
Like before, the integrated systems pack all amplification into the subwoofer module, but this year, three of them will feature tower left-right speakers, up from one. The tower speakers feature removable adjustable-height stands. Once the stands are removed, the 4-inch-deep speakers can be mounted on the wall or can sit on a bookshelf on their built-in base.
The tower-speaker models are the $349-suggested SC-HT730, $399 SC-HT830V, and $499 SC-HT930, all due in April. The 730 features a five-disc carousel changer and full-range speakers. The 830 features a five-disc elevator changer, HiFi VCR and two-way front speakers.
The system without DVD will retail for a suggested $499.
Pioneer: Three new 5.1-channel systems at a suggested $250 to $650 will maintain the company's selection of three systems with combination front/surround speakers and up the number with wireless surround speakers to two from one. The company will also offer a wireless-surround add-on for use with any home theater system.
The systems are receiver-based and lack DVD player.
All three feature combination front/surround speakers, or front left-right speakers with detachable surround speaker. When attached, they use angled drivers and the systems' DSP to deliver surround information without placing the surround speakers in their traditional locations.
The front/surround systems are the $250-suggested HTP-2600, the $365-suggested HTP-3600, and the $650 HTP-4600. The latter two offer left-front tower speakers.
The 4600 also comes with a wireless speaker system that incorporates wireless receiver, amplification, and left-right surround drivers in a single enclosure.
A separately available wireless-speaker add-on is the $475-suggested XW-HT1, which features a wireless transmitter that can be added directly to a TV, a component receiver, or an HTiB system via their RCA audio outputs. A line-level-to-RCA converter is included to connect the transmitter to TVs or home theater systems lacking an RCA audio out.
Sharp: The company is expanding its selection of wall-mountable home theater systems to five with the introduction of the $229-suggested HT-X1. Like the recently released $699-suggested SD-AS10, it's packaged with speakers and subwoofer. The other three models ship without speakers at a suggested $599 to $1,499.
All five feature vertically-oriented, flat main units that fit on a narrow shelf or mount on the wall via their keyhole slots.
The X1, due in the spring, features a single-DVD main unit with Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, MP3-CD playback, two compact cylindrical speakers that double as front and surround speakers, a cylindrical center channel, and a subwoofer. The speakers' pedestal stands can be removed to allow for wall mounting via universal brackets.
Sherwood: The first in a series of Hollywood-At-Home "virtual" HTiBs is the $399.95-suggested VR-670, which uses Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Headphone to deliver a DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound experience from 2.1 speakers and from any pair of stereo headphones. Its DVD-receiver plays MP3 and JPEG CDs, Kodak Picture CDs, DVD+R/RW, and DVD-R/RW discs. Output is 2x25 watts plus 1x100.
Sony: The company's first HTiB with upscaling (720p/1080i) output is an SACD-equipped Dream System. Additional details were unavailable.
Toshiba: Three 5.1-channel integrated systems, designed to match Toshiba TVs, will expand the HTiB selection from two and include the company's first with HDMI output and first with memory-card slots to display digital images. Like last year, one features DVD/VCR combo; all come with passive subwoofer.
The SD-V57HT features a single-disc progressive-scan DVD, VCR, and 500 watts at a suggested retail of $299, and is due in March. The SD-C67HT features a progressive five-disc elevator-style DVD changer with HDMI output that upconverts to 720p or 1080i, two memory card slots accepting up to nine different card formats, 600 watts and left-right tower speakers. It's due in April at a suggested retail of $399.
Yamaha: The company's first integrated HTiB with universal SACD/DVD-AV changer is the $449-suggested DVX-C300, due in April. The 5.1-channel system features a five-disc carousel changer; CD upsampling to 176.4kHz; 192kHz/24-bit audio DACs on all channels; eight surround modes; Dolby Pro Logic II; and the ability to play discs in the following audio and video formats: DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, MP3, WMA, JPEG, and DivX (MPEG-4). The subwoofer uses active servo technology.
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