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Divx, EchoStar/WebTV Top JVC Line

JVC announced pricing and ship dates for its first Divx-enhanced DVD player and first WebTV/EchoStar-IRD combo. But the company said it probably wouldn’t ship its first DTVs and DVD-Audio players until early next year.

During a press briefing in Orlando, Fla., JVC announced June shipments of a Divx DVD player at a suggested retail of $699.95. It will be the industry’s first Divx player with built-in Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding, the company said. It also passes through DTS Digital Surround and features a component output.

In the future, said consumer video general manager Jerry Barbera, “as Divx grows, we’ll continue to expand our lineup.”

In satellite TV, EchoStar representatives said the satellite-TV company would begin shipping its WebTV-equipped IRD, which has been renamed DishPlayer from WebStar and comes with keyboard and dual LNB. EchoStar plans late-April shipments at a suggested $499. “We will be the first with hard-drive recording,” said Mark Gilpin, EchoStar’s special markets distribution manager, in effect, saying it will beat TiVo and Replay Networks to the market.

JVC said it would follow up in May with a JVC-branded version at a suggested retail of $499 as well as with a dishless $449 version.

The combination products, Barbera claimed, and the success of EchoStar’s Dish network, will enable JVC to expand distribution despite rival network DirecTv’s exclusivity contracts with retailers.

The units’ ability to “pause” a program for 30 minutes will be expanded in the fall to four to six hours, depending on the program material, through a software download, said EchoStar’s Gilpin. Fast-forward and rewind functions, however, probably won’t be available until the second or third generation, said another EchoStar representative.

The pause function makes use of an internal 8.6GB hard drive that also stores a seven-day program guide. Other EchoStar IRDs store two-day guides.

JVC is launching the products at a time when executive VP Harry Elias said retailers will need “strong training programs” to survive in an industry in which products are proliferating and consumers have armed themselves with product knowledge obtained from the Internet.

“In the past four to five years,” he noted, “the industry’s retail base has been shrinking dramatically, and we’ll probably this year see further shrinkage. [Nonetheless] some markets are still understored.”

Company executives also outlined longer-term product plans:

  • JVC is “prepared” to develop and produce CD-R recorders in 2000, depending on consumer demand.
    Consumer audio general manager Karl Bearnarth said the company will focus this year on MiniDisc, which he called superior because of its portability, to give the recordable format the “opportunity” to grow. “But eventually the consumer makes the decision,” so JVC is “prepared in 2000 to develop and produce CD-R,” he said.
  • A JVC DVD-Audio/Video player will “likely be out in early 2000.” It’s “important the product be universal [playing DVD-Audio and DVD-Video discs] because of the limited DVD-Audio software base,” Bearnarth said.
  • DTV announcements from JVC will be made “very shortly.” Consumers will “probably see” JVC HDTVs in “very early 2000,” said color TV general manager Michael Holmes.
  • JVC is still formulating product and marketing plans for D-VHS VCRs, and wouldn’t rule out its first DVD changers in 1999.
    JVC also outlined its new video product plans for the near term. Many of the products were announced at CES, and some are already shipping. (See page 81 for a JVC audio update.)The video products include:
  • A new top-end seven-SKU D series of direct-view TVs, priced at an everyday $429 for a 27″ to $1,299 for a 36″. They’re the first JVC TVs to incorporate digital comb filters, BBE sound enhancement, and component video inputs, which complement the company’s first DVD players with component outputs. Three models include Gemstar’s program guide.
  • A new core TV line that increases the 20″ selection to three models from two, reduces the 27″ selection to two from three, reduces the 32″ selection to two from three, and maintains the 36″ selection at two SKUs. Unlike last year, the core line lacks models with Gemstar’s program guide.
  • The company’s first two TV/VCR combos in several years. A 13″ and 20″ model feature four-head S-VHS Quasi playback, and the 20″ adds MTS stereo and VCR Plus. Their suggested retails are $299 and $449, respectively.
  • Four new EchoStar IRDs, including the DishPlayer, expanding S-Video outputs to JVC’s entire IRD line for the first time, including the entry-level model expected to retail for $150. Two of the models, including the DishPlayer, join JVC’s D-VHS/IRD in offering Dolby Digital 5.1 passthrough.
  • Ghost-reduction circuitry, available for the first time from JVC in a top-end S-VHS ET VCR at a suggested retails of $640.
  • A four-SKU S-VHS VCR lineup starting at a national ad value of $319, all feature S-VHS ET technology launched by JVC in 1998.
  • VHS-C camcorders that incorporate digital technologies throughout the lineup, even in the opening-price model at a national ad value of $379. The technologies include DSP, digital wipe/fade, and digital image stabilization. All seven SKUs are from 29% to 35% smaller than their predecessors, and they include two new VHS-C “DualCam” camcorders that offer digital still picture capability at suggested retails of $799 and $849.
  • JVC will offer new digital camcorders including two models featuring stepped-up 680,000-pixel CCDs at national ad values of $1,499 and $1,699. The latter incorporates a removable 4MB MultiMedia Card for capturing digital still images, Payesko said.

The top-end digital model, at a $1,999 national ad value, features a 380,000-pixel CCD that scans progressively to create still-picture quality that’s equivalent to the quality produced by a 760,000-pixel interlace-scan CCD, the company said.