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CE 2000 Preview In Berlin

TV sets with interactive data capabilities, TV-centric home networks, and digital video recording technologies stood at the technology forefront during Berlin's International Funkausstellung (IFA) electronics show, which started its nine-day run on August 28 and attracts 400,000 to 500,000 visitors.

At the biannual event, Philips and Pioneer demonstrated competing rewritable DVD-Video recording technologies, with Philips planning worldwide deliveries of its product during the second half of 2000 and Pioneer planning December shipments in Japan.

Philips' product, demonstrated as an engineering sample, is a variant of the DVD+RW standard and will use rewritable discs said to play back on existing DVD-Video players.

Pioneer used a working sample to demonstrate its favored technology, whose specs are being finalized within the DVD Forum, but the technology doesn't provide for the backward-compatibility of rewritable discs with existing DVD players unless the players are upgraded.

In the A/V-network realm, Philips demonstrated a TV-centric home A/V network that, in finished form, will be based on the HAVi standard adopted by eight major CE companies. It expects demonstrations of HAVi-equipped products to occur by the end of the year and for HAVi-enabled A/V products to be available from multiple vendors in the second half of 2000.

Among TV-based data-services technologies on display, Thomson demonstrated its solution, developed in conjunction with Microsoft. Thomson's technology will give analog TV broadcasters the ability to deliver interactive data service to compatible TV sets. The company expects some U.S. broadcasters to commercialize the technology in the second quarter to coincide with spring availability of Thomson's first compatible direct-view and rear-projection sets.

In audio, Thomson announced plans for a portable headphone CD/MP3 player, and Philips announced that Super Audio CD players will make the transition to multichannel playback as early as mid-2000, when Philips said its Marantz unit will begin worldwide deliveries of a multichannel model. Philips, which co-invented the SACD format with Sony, demonstrated a prototype multichannel SACD player and discs at the show (see story, p. 4).

In a related development, Philips embraced DVD-Audio by announcing third-quarter 2000 plans to launch a combination SACD/DVD-Audio/ Video player in the U.S. and elsewhere. It, too, would play multichannel SACD discs.

For its part, Sony reaffirmed plans to deliver a multichannel SACD player sometime in 2000, although a U.S. executive earlier this year said it probably wouldn't arrive until late in the second half.

Also at the show:

  • Sony demonstrated a digital camcorder that records on specialized MiniDiscs, but the company doesn't plan to commercialize the camcorder. Instead, its intent was to demonstrate the enhanced storage capacity (650MB) of its new higher density discs. As a camcorder medium, it would deliver only 15 to 20 minutes of better-than-Hi8-quality movies.

  • And Philips CE division CEO Adri Baan said the company's first DirecTv set-top box would be "available at retail locations in the U.S. early next year." Pricing was unavailable. The unit will also be sold to DirecTv, which will subsidize the product to convert its Primestar customers to the smaller dish technology, a spokesperson said.

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