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Panasonic Set To offer Its 1st 720p HDTV

Panasonic will show at next week's National Association Of Broadcasters Convention a new multi-scan 56" HDTV-ready rear-projection set with a native scan capability of both 1080i and 720p ATSC formats.

The set is among only a handful of HDTV-ready displays capable of producing 720p in native form, in addition to 1080i and 480p.

Panasonic's current 56W" model (PT-56WFX90) displays 1080i in native scan format, but the 720p signal is converted by Panasonic's DTV set-top decoder (TU-DST50) to the 480p SDTV format for display.

Like the current model, the new version (PT-56WXF95) is designed to connect with a DTV set-top box. The TU-DST50 connects to the set via broadband component Y-Pb-Pr connections, which deliver all formats in native form or downconvert formats to 480p.

The new set will add some cosmetic changes to the existing model, but Bill Mannion, Panasonic television products general manager, said it will have the same basic feature package.

"This will be a replacement piece to the current set," he said. "We think it will generate some excitement because it will be one of the only displays capable of showing ABC's HDTV programs in native scan."

Displaying formats at their native scan frequencies cuts down on the picture artifacts that are generated when formats are converted up or down to another scanning frequency. These artifacts tend to get more severe when a scan format is converted from progressive scan (as in 720p) to interlace (as in 1080i).

Although the 1080i format offers more horizontal and vertical lines of resolution, the 720p actually has a higher scan frequency: 45kHZ for 720 versus 33.75kHz for 1080i and 31.5kHz for 480p.

"Now that there are 720p broadcasts from ABC, it made a lot of sense to support both HDTV formats," Mannion said. "Initially, when we were developing the 56W" set, there was no knowledge of ABC going to 720p."

He said the additional cost of supporting 720p's higher scanning frequency could not be justified without the assurance that a broadcaster or network planned to use it.

"We believe that anybody broadcasting wants the consumer to see the program in the native form," added Mannion. "Yet, there is a perception that 1080i is a better picture than 720p."

At press time, Panasonic had not announced a price or availability date.