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$699 Multichannel SACD, $399 DVD-A/V Players To Bow

LAS VEGAS -DVD-Audio is well on its way to becoming a standard feature in all but promotionally priced DVD players. And multichannel SACD playback won’t be far behind.

At CES, the selection of DVD-Audio/Video players is growing faster than the selection of DVD-Audio software, and they’ll hit a price point as low as a suggested $399 from at least two suppliers: Samsung and Toshiba.

Companies such as JVC, Panasonic and Pioneer were also expected to offer $399-suggested DVD-A/V players sometime this year, although the products weren’t expected to be displayed at CES, competitors said.

At CES, the rival Sony/Philips Super Audio CD format will add multichannel SACD playback, erasing one of DVD-Audio’s major advantages, and the price point will drop as low as a suggested $699. At the show, Philips will show its first two DVD-Video/multichannel SACD players, and Philips-owned Marantz will show its first.

Philips’ first model, due this month, will retail for a suggested $2,000, but a second model due in July will retail for a suggested $699.

The speed at which DVD-Audio is reaching prices as low as $299 has taken many suppliers by surprise, clouding their original plans to market DVD-Audio as a step-up feature to differentiate models within their lines. Nonetheless, one supplier said, “Overnight, it has become a must-have feature.”

If DVD-Audio proliferates at a variety of price points, the marketer added, then it could help the industry by removing a reason for consumers to hold off buying a DVD player.

Dealers at CES will bump into the first DVD-A/V players from Aiwa, Meridian, Rotel, Samsung and Yamaha. They’ll join models available from such companies as Denon, JVC, Kenwood, Panasonic/Technics, Pioneer and Toshiba, at street prices starting as low as $599 for JVC’s model.

Other less-than-$1,000 DVD-Audio players are priced at an everyday $799 for a Panasonic model and $999 for the Technics model, before $75 and $100 rebates, respectively, available through Jan. 31. An additional $50 rebate is available if one of three Technics DVD-Audio-ready receivers is purchased with the DVD player on the same day.

For its part, Sony won’t show multichannel models at CES but in the spring will unveil a $1,700 multichannel five-disc carousel SACD player. Sony also plans to make SACD more affordable in the spring, when it plans to unveil a $500 two-channel SACD player.

By the end of 2000, only about a dozen DVD-A discs from Warner Music and independent labels were on sale. In contrast, the number of two-channel SACD discs in the United States was around 140-150, four of which were $30 multichannel discs from DMP.

Those discs also feature duplicate two-channel SACD tracks and a CD-audio layer, said Sony senior marketing VP Mike Fidler. Stereo SACD software suppliers include Chesky Records, Sony Music and Telarc.

Beginning in March, however, Telarc’s new SACD releases will all be multichannel discs with parallel stereo SACD program and Redbook CD program at an expected price of around $25.

Telarc will also add its name to the DVD-A list with its first three introductions in February, followed by a fourth in March and 11 more on a staggered basis through October.

The growing availability of DVD-A software, said JVC video general manager Jerry Barbera, will likely spur retailers to display more DVD players in their audio departments. Today, he said, DVD-A/V player “in most cases are sold as a video product, but with the availability of DVD-Audio software, it will probably show up in both areas.”

The DVD-Video players of traditional hi-fi companies have also turned up in audio departments, particularly if they’re five-disc changers that are also positioned as CD changers, Barbera said.

Here’s what dealers will find to display in the department of their choice:

Aiwa: The company’s first DVD-A/V player will be a five-disc carousel that also plays MP3-encoded CDs. It’s due in the fall at a price that hasn’t been determined.

Harman Kardon: “It will be late summer before we have a broad range of [DVD-A/V products],” said president Tom McLoughlin.

JVC: An expanded DVD-A/V selection is planned but won’t be unveiled until later in the year. JVC’s current model retails for an everyday $599.

Marantz: Two new SACD players include the SA-12, the company’s first multichannel SACD player. It’s also the company’s first to play DVD-Video discs. Pricing wasn’t set at press time.

The second new model, the SA-14, is a two-channel SACD-only model. It will be about half the price of Marantz’ current $7,500 two-channel SA-1. Both ship in April at the latest.

Meridian: The 598 DVD-A/V player is due at the end of January at an undetermined price.

Meridian already offers two DVD-Video players that can be upgraded to play DVD-Audio discs when an optional DVD-Audio card or module is added.

A DVD-Audio card for the $15,000 800 DVD player will likely be demonstrated at CES and ship in the first quarter. It can be installed by a dealer or consumer, a spokesman said. A factory-installable DVD-Audio module for the $4,250 596 DVD player was expected to be available late in first quarter.

Panasonic/Technics: The brands will expand their selections of DVD-A/V players from one under each brand to multiple models per brand, including changers, sometime in 2001, but they won’t be displayed at CES. The selection of DVD-A/V-equipped shelf systems will also expand from one Panasonic model to multiple models sometime in 2001, the company said.

Philips: The company’s first DVD-Video/multichannel-SACD player, the single-disc SACD-1000 at a suggested $2,000, will be displayed for January shipment. In July, it will ship a DVD-Video/multichannel SACD player at a suggested $699.

DVD-Audio is not in Philips’ 2001 plans, said DVD marketing director Steve Jeans.

The company will bundle a sampler disc with both models.

Pioneer: The company’s first, and long-delayed, DVD-A/V players are now scheduled to ship in February. They are the $5,500 DV-AX10, which also features two-channel SACD playback and progressive output, and the $1,600-suggested THX Ultra-certified DV-38A.

A spokesman said Pioneer has no current plans for additional DVD-Audio/SACD players but wouldn’t rule it out. The company won’t rule out multichannel SACD, either.

Rotel: Expected to ship in the weeks before CES at a suggested $1,499, Rotel’s first DVD-A/V player offers progressive-video outputs and built-in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel decoding.

Samsung: The DVD-A901 single-player model is due in August at a suggested $399. Senior marketing manager Claude Frank said he “sees a street price of $299.”

It will be shown in mock-up, but the real product will include progressive output with 3/2 pulldown, HDCD decoding and-because of low-price DD/DTS receivers-no built-in DD or DTS 5.1 decoding.

The company’s 2001 DVD player lineup will start at a suggested $179 and top out with the DVD-A901 before stepping up to a DVD recorder.

Additional details were unavailable.

Sharp: No new SACD players are planned. The current two-channel model is priced at a suggested $2,799 and available only to SharpVision dealers.

Sony: Having shown two new two-channel SACD players at CEDIA, the company won’t announce new models at CES. But it’s expected in the spring to publicly announce a single-disc two-channel SACD at less than $500 and a $1,700 multichannel five-disc carousel SACD player.

Sony currently offers the industry’s lowest-priced stereo SACD machine, a five-disc carousel model, at an everyday $1,200. It also offers a stereo-SACD-equipped DVD-Video player at an everyday $1,500.

Toshiba: The company’s entry-level DVD-A/V player will be the 4700 with progressive-scan output. It ships in June at a suggested $399. About a month later, the company will ship a step-up $449-suggested 5700, which adds HDCD audio decoding. It will be Toshiba’s first silver DVD, matching some of its TVs.

An existing DVD-A/V player, available since November, has been retailing every day at $1,399.

Yamaha: One of two new DVD players is a DVD-A/V model. Both are the company’s first with CD-R/RW compatibility. The DVD-A/V player, due about May at a suggested $999, offers built-in DD and DTS decoding, and progressive video output with 3/2 pulldown. The other model, also single play, will retail for a tentative suggested $299.

Yamaha has no SACD plans.