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Digital Video Recorders Set For CES

Disc-based video recorders are scheduled to materialize en masse at this week’s CES, where a number of hard-drive decks and related services will square off with new DVD recorders to become the dominant video recording tools of the next generation.

Announcements of new partnerships, products and promotions are scheduled from a number of hard-disk recorder concerns. They include Replay, TiVo, WebTV and MGI, all of which hope to drive the market for hyper-time-shifting products – which some see as the video cache memory for the collectors of tomorrow’s in-home digital networks.

Meanwhile, DVD recorders – a category some think will serve as the video archival tool for these same home networks – will draw saber rattlers to Las Vegas. Heading into the show, such companies as Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer and Samsung planned DVD A/V recorder demonstrations, and some even have marketing plans in place for later this year.

Xia Xin, a China-based manufacturer entering the U.S. market, will have one of the most unusual variations on the disc recording concept. The company, which will use the brand Amoisonic, plans to demonstrate an MPEG 2 digital recorder that uses conventional CD-R and CD-RW data discs to record both video and audio.

The company claims to offer video-enhancing circuitry that will make it hard for novices to discern the difference between a recording made on the deck and one made at lower bit rates on a DVD recorder.

However, company executives acknowledge that with a bit rate of 2 Mbps (compared with 6 Mbps or higher for DVD recorders) the picture quality is weaker than the highest settings on DVD-based platforms. Still, they say the deck can be sold for around $300, offering a cost-effective alternative to the first DVD recorders, which will sell for well over $1,000.

The deck will record up to 45 minutes of MPEG 2 video on a CD-RW disc, the company said. It will include 16MB of internal flash memory that will serve as a buffer to permit the seamless exchange of discs in the middle of a recording or playback.

The deck is said to copy audio CDs, although it includes only analog inputs, preventing a direct digital dub from a CD player. The deck will play back audio CDs, VCDs and S-VCDs (the latter two are popular Asian formats) in addition to the MPEG 2-level video discs it produces.

Xia Xin will begin initial attempts to develop a brand name and sales organization in the United States, starting with the unusual device. Future generations of the recorder will extend to DVD (a format selection has not been announced) and multi-disc CD-R/CD-RW video decks. The recorder is expected to sell for around $300 and uses a one-chip encode/decode solution developed by Stream Machine.

Panasonic plans to dedicate a significant portion of its booth space at CES to the DVD-RAM format it championed with Hitachi, Toshiba and others, and the company will debut its first DVD-RAM home recorder that it plans to deliver this summer.

Model VDR-10000 will offer only analog inputs and outputs but will have both interlace and progressive-scan output capability. The recorder features four bit-rate record modes:

  • XP mode permits up to one hour of superior video quality per 4.7GB side of a DVD-RAM disc.
  • SP mode permits up to two hours of S-VHS quality video per disc side.
  • LP mode permits up to four hours of VHS quality per disc side.

At press time, marketing officials were uncertain of the deck’s price, backward compatibility of DVD-RAM discs with legacy DVD players, and whether the unit includes an NTSC.

Panasonic will also show its first Replay hard-drive recorder, which is slated to reach retail floors in the first quarter.

Pioneer recently started selling a DVD recorder based on its DVD-RW format in Japan and plans to offer a similar player here in the fourth quarter. Four hardware companies – JVC, Ricoh, Sharp and Mitsubishi – lined up to support the DVD-RW technology prior to its recent designation as a spec officially approved by the DVD Forum. (It joins the DVD-RAM format in receiving DVD Forum approval.)

By the time the DVR-1000 is ready for the U.S. market, Pioneer expects a copyright-protection scheme to be in place. Pioneer said that using that scheme, it will design a recorder capable of producing discs playable in DVD video players as well as in DVD recorders.

The Japan model sells for $2,400 and incorporates an analog TV tuner and only analog inputs for such devices as cable boxes, satellite receivers and video cameras. The U.S. model might also incorporate an analog tuner and will feature only analog inputs. Rewritable discs for the DVD-RW system will have a single-layer capacity of 4.6GB per side.

Pioneer plans to use the DVD-RW system in video servers that will be part of its Digital Network Entertainment (DNE) concept, slated for a 2001 debut.

Pioneer is developing an HD DVD recorder for the future but will first offer an HDTV DVD player. At CES, Pioneer will play back a single-sided HD DVD that accommodates 27.4GB (or four hours) of high-definition 1080i content on two layers.

Philips was planning to offer demonstrations of a recorder using its DVD+RW format at CES.

At Comdex, the company gave demonstrations of a prototype recorder based on the 4.7GB format to stress the backward compatibility of DVD+RW disc recordings with current DVD video players.

Although the company has not been able to claim any other supporters for its system, executives have issued statements asserting their determination to move forward with the format on its own if need be.

Other manufacturers have publicly criticized Philips’ claims that DVD+RW discs are playable on legacy DVD video players, but the company will be out to prove them wrong at CES.

Meanwhile, Philips was also expected to announce marketing plans for an integrated DirecTv receiver/TiVo PVR system at the show.

Samsung expects to be one of the first to market a consumer DVD recorder in the U.S. this year. Model DVR-2000 will ship to dealers in the third quarter at a $1,999 suggested retail price.

It uses the DVD-RAM format, features a built-in MPEG-2 encoder/ decoder, and has an onboard Dolby Digital decoder for playback of pre-recorded discs. The company gets around copy-protection issues by omitting digital inputs and outputs. The DVD recorder will have component video outputs and other analog jacks.