By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Lite-On IT, a China-based manufacturer of value-priced optical-disc drives and other PC components, is making rapid advances into the U.S. consumer electronics market with a line of easy-to-use DVD recording decks, which shortly will include aggressively priced combo decks.
In recent months, the formerly IT-centric company has expanded its offerings beyond its original commercial distribution focus to embrace retail distribution, offering lines of PC peripherals and DVD recording decks, according to Chuck Bridges, Lite-On’s U.S. marketing manager for optical storage products.
Currently the company distributes DVD recorders through Circuit City, CompUSA, Costco, Sam’s Club and several regional chains and e-commerce retailers, including BestBuy.com, Dell and NewEgg.com.
“Our charter is to build a volume business, and we are looking to expand our distribution in the consumer electronics channel. We are having discussions with all the major retail players primarily focused on a tier-one strategy,” said Bridges, adding that Lite-On will cater to CE and IT channels with separate strategies. “We did not want to simply go into the office supply superstore segment and be all things to all people.”
Bridges said Lite-On gives consumer electronics retailers the opportunity to sell a line of high-value, attractively styled DVD recorders at aggressive price points.
“As a manufacturer Lite-On is very focused on ensuring the consumer is in much closer contact with the unit by making it very simple to use and understand,” Bridges said.
Key selling features in Lite-On decks are front-mounted IEEE-1394 ports for easy connection to DV-format camcorders, and a menu system that is simple to set up and operate, with menu-guided operation for recording, playback and disc finalization, Bridges said.
The Lite-On DVD recorder line starts with the currently available LVW-5001, at $229 suggested retail, which writes to DVD+R/RW format media.
To date, the flagship product has been the favorably reviewed step-up LVW-5005, at $249 suggested retail, with multi-disc recording formats (DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, CD-R/RW) and multiple brands of blank DVD media.
Multi-disc compatibility in the LVW-5005 is achieved using the company’s proprietary “All-Write” technology.
“We are the only company that gives you both +RW/R, both -RW/R and both CD recording formats,” Bridges said, adding the LVW-5005 sells for approximately $50 less than a similarly positioned Sony multiformat deck, which does not offer CD recording or DVD+R compatibility.
In October those models will transition into new models, featuring a slimmer form factor and the addition of Windows Media support and VCR+ programming, Bridges said.
In September the company will ship its first combination DVD recorder/hard drive-based DVR, model LVW-5020, featuring a built-in 80GB hard drive, Windows Media support and All-Write capability. The deck will carry a $429 suggested retail.
Although the combo deck lacks a TiVo-like electronic program guide, it does include the ability to easily time-shift using the Gemstar VCR+ code system, as well as pause and resume live programming.
“Even at $429, a planned $30 mail-in rebate will get you a combo deck for a sub-$400 price point,” Bridges said. “The competition right now [for combination DVD recorder/DVRs] is at $650 and above.”
Planned for November is a combination VCR/DVD recorder at a price to be announced. The deck will enable bi-directional dubbing from DVD to VHS or VHS to DVD, Bridges said.
A test of the currently available LVW-5005 “All-Write” model revealed an intuitively easy-to-operate recording and playback system using the system’s menu-directed guide.
The deck was also compatible with multiple brands of DVD plus and dash rewritable and write-once media.
But as with some other brands of DVD recording decks, playback of both the dash and plus rewritable discs recorded on the LVW-5005 at various compression settings was problematic on several other brands of DVD players. Write-once media playback of recordings made with the LVW-5005 was slightly better, however. Additionally, 5005 recordings made on both rewritable and write-once media played back without problem on the Lite-On deck and on several Lite-On and non-Lite-On brands of DVD PC drives.
Bridges said universal compatibility of recordings across DVD deck brands is the biggest issue facing most DVD recording decks, and it remains difficult to resolve.
To help minimize consumer confusion and product returns, Lite-On offers a 24-hour, seven-day per week technical support line, as well as online support at www.liteonamericas.com, Bridges said.
Meanwhile, the company continues to address the information technology retail market with next-generation writeable DVD drives.
Currently available are the $129 suggested internal SOHW-832S DVD rewritable drive with double-layer DVD+R support and up to 8x single-layer DVD recording speed, and the SOHW 832SX, an external version at $179 suggested. Newly released is a single-layer DVD writable drive with up to 12x recording speed, the internal SOHW-1213S at $129 suggested, and external SOHW-1213SX at $179-suggested. Both drives are compatible with DVD+RW/R, DVD-RW/R and CD-RW/R writable discs.
Later in the year, the company will ship some of the industry’s first DVD rewritable drives with up to 16x recording speed. The 16x models will be available in two families: single-layer-only models — the internal SOHW-1613S, $129 suggested, and external SOHW-1613SX, $179 — and a pair of drives that also add 2.4x double-layer DVD+R compatibility — the external SOHW-1633S at $129 and SOHW-1633SX at $179. Internal versions of both series will ship in September, while the external versions will ship in October, Bridges said.
Lite-On DVD burners add the latest Nero DVD/CD-burning software, including a version that supports double-layer recording in applicable models, and CyberLink’s PowerDVD DVD playback software.
Bridges said a key strength for Lite-On is its ability to produce high volumes of optical storage products. The China-based factories currently have a run rate of 4.5 million optical storage products a month, while at the same time producing approximately 150,000 DVD recording decks a month for consumer electronics distribution.
“Literally what happens is that our DVD writable drives go down the line, exit the left door from the PC world, and enter the right door into the CE world where they are integrated into our DVD recording decks,” Bridges said.
Revenue for the company has grown from about $4 billion in the U.S. in 2004 to a forecasted $6 billion in 2004.
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