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Blu-ray, HD DVD, New Flat-Panel Technology Highlight CEATEC

Chiba, Japan — The rollout of next-generation Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD recorders, and new advances in flat-panel TV technologies helped color the first day of the 2006 CEATEC Expo here.

More than 200,000 people are expected to visit the exhibition over its five-day run, and should best last-year’s attendance, which topped 199,680 people. Approximately 807 exhibiting companies — 283 from outside Japan — are presenting products this year, as show organizers look to become more competitive with rival international electronics shows, including Germany’s IFA, which went to an annual schedule for the first time this year.

Among the day one highlights was the unveiling of the first working 55W-inch surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED) flat-panel HDTV set, which is scheduled to be manufactured for the Japanese consumer market by joint developers Canon and Toshiba late in 2007. The products could be available in the United States in 2008, company representatives said.

Toshiba took the wraps off several working 55W-inch 1080p flat-panel HDTVs based on its Surface-conduction Electronic-emitter (SED) technology. The TVs, which could be in the U.S. market in 2008, offer 50,000:1 contrast ratios and 1ms response times, similar to CRT TVs, but with the form factor of a plasma or LCD set.

The technology offers a very high 50,000:1 contrast ratio, and 1ms response time, similar to CRT TVs, but with the thin, flat-panel form factor of an LCD or plasma TV. Resolution will be “full HD” 1,920 by 1,080p and brightness is said to be 450 nits.

Toshiba executives declined to offer possible pricing on the technology, but one technical officer said it “will be competitive” with LCD pricing. He said a recent breakthrough in the manufacturing process, which he did not elaborate, will enable the companies to keep step with rapidly declining prices of LCD and plasma sets.

Also making contrast performance strides, Pioneer showed here a prototype 60W-inch 1,080p plasma TV which was said to produce a 20,000:1 contrast ratio. U.S. marketing plans were not available.

Sony kicked off the show by being the first of several companies to announce two next-generation Blu-ray Disc recorders. New models will be compatible with 25GB discs but not the newer 50GB capacity Blu-ray Discs. The units, will, however, play BD-ROM discs that carry pre-recorded 1,080p high-definition movies.

Although Blu-ray recorders have been available in Japan for several years, early models were not compatible with pre-recorded BD-ROM discs. As with several Blu-ray recorders announced by other companies here, including Panasonic, Hitachi and others, Sony’s new units contain built-in hard drives and tuners.

Sony’s models, which have no announced U.S. marketing plans, will be released in Japan in December. Both models will record two TV programs at once via their two digital and one analog tuners.

The Sony decks will be compatible with previous-generation Blu-ray Disc recordable cartridges and new AVCHD discs. The step-up BDZ-V9 ($2,543 suggested retail) offers 1,080p output, DLNA network streaming to compatible components, and video conversion to MPEG-4 standard definition for playback on handheld PSPs. It incorporates a 500GB hard disc drive. Connections include HDMI out, and i.Link and USB inputs to hook up digital camcorders and cameras. The entry BDZ-V7, which features a 250GB hard drive, will have a $2,119 suggested retail.

Sony unveiled a pair of next-generation Blu-ray Disc recorders, including the BDZ-V9 ($2,543 suggested retail), which will debut in December in the Japanese market. Both models include hard disc drives and dual digital TV tuners.

(All pricing for the Japanese market and converted from yen.)

Just prior to the show, Toshiba announced an HD DVD slim-drive for PC applications that will read and write to HD DVD recordable discs as well as standard DVD and CD discs.

The SD-L902A will read and write to HD DVD-R discs and offers support for high-density HD DVD-ROM discs, including pre-recorded movie titles. The drive measures 12.7 millimeters in height, suitable for use with notebooks.

At the other extreme, Toshiba showed a rather bulky next-generation HD DVD recording deck, which was first introduced in Japan in July. Like Sony’s new Blu-ray Disc recorders, the Toshiba unit integrates a hard drive for digital video recorder applications, and local satellite tuning for the demands of the Japanese market.

The RD-A1 ($3,375 suggested retail) offers a built-in 1 terabyte hard disc drive and will back up recordings from the hard drive to HD-DVDs. It will store 115 minutes of HD content on a 15GB single-layer HD DVD-R and up to 230 minutes to a 30GB dual-layer HD DVD-R. It also plays back recordings in on DVD-RAM/-RW/-R discs. It outputs high-definition video in up to 1,080p format over an HDMI output.

Sharp is using CEATEC to showcase AQUOS LCD TV models produced at its eighth generation LCD plant in Kameyama, Japan. The company is presenting its entire lineup of full high-definition AQUOS with screen sizes ranging from 37W-inches to 65W-inches.

Sharp showed at CEATEC a family of AQUOS products, including an AQUOS big-screen LCD TV linked via its Familink technology to an AQUOS Surround sound audio system and digital video recorder.

New in select AQUOS models is the company’s “Familink” that networks the AQUOS LCD TV with an AQUOS HD recorder and the AQUOS Surround sound system. The technology uses a digital interface allowing whole system operation using a single remote.

Also on display is the Internet AQUOS PC-TV combination that lets users watch broadband broadcasting on a high-resolution screen.