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HD DVD, DirecTV2Go, Sirius In Thomson’s ’06 Road Map

Las Vegas — Thomson’s 2006 audio/video plans include a $499-suggested HD DVD player, its first portable media player with high-speed digital connection to transfer time-shifted TV programs from a DirecTV DVR, its first Sirius-ready home audio products, and an expanded selection of audio systems that rip CDs for transfer to MP3 portables.

The company is also expanding its commitment to home systems based on Internet Protocol (IP) technologies through such products as a Wi-Fi-equipped universal remote and a co-branded RCA Akimbo IPTV set-top box that will deliver more than 8,000 video-on-demand titles from Akimbo.

In demonstrating HD DVD here, the company said it expects second-quarter shipments of the play-only HDV5000, which transfers video at resolutions up to 1,080p via an HDMI 1.3 output to high-definition displays. Many details were unavailable, including the types of audio connections available to transfer new high-bandwidth multichannel soundtrack formats to home theater systems. It also wasn’t clear which high-bandwidth audio codecs it supports.

Dan Collishaw, COO of Thomson’s Americas audio/video and accessory businesses, said he expects “adequate movie studio support” to launch the format and expects content announcements this week.

The company also revealed that its next-generation Lyra X3000 portable media player, due this month, will not only time-shift TV programs directly from a connected TV in real time but, with a second-half software upgrade, will get DIRECTV2Go capability. That will enable the X3000 to store DirecTV content transferred at up to 10x speeds from select DirecTV DVRs due in the second half with support for DirecTV2Go portables.

The $399-suggested X3000 with 20GB HDD will also store protected Windows Media Video (WMV) files (purchased or rented) that are downloaded by PC from such sites as CinemaNow. Audio formats include MP3, protected WMA purchased and rented downloads and spoken-word files. Macrovision prevents recording of prerecorded DVDs and VHS tapes. Stored video can be displayed on a connected TV.

In satellite radio, the company said it plans summertime deliveries of its first three Sirius-ready home audio products: a home theater in a box (HTiB) system, a stereo shelf system, and a GE-branded Spacemaker undercabinet CD/radio. In expanding its selection of CD-ripping home audio systems from one, the company launched three Rip And Go stereo shelf systems and one Rip And Go HTiB, some with 2x ripping speed and all with included slide-out MP3 portable. Two other shelf systems also rip CDs to MP3 but aren’t bundled with MP3 player. They connect via USB to any USB-equipped MP3 portable.

The company also showed its first flash-memory MP3 players with customizable covers and decals in 256MB and 512MB capacities starting at a suggested $59.99.

In IP technology, the company said it plans spring availability through retailers of a co-branded RCA Akimbo IPTV set-top box. It will deliver more than 8,000 video-on-demand titles over an Ethernet-connected broadband DSL modem from Akimbo’s download site to a connected TV. The device will feature component output, three USB 2.0 input slots, optional 802.11g adapter and 80GB drive that allows Akimbo subscribers to store up to 150 hours of movies and video for on-demand playback. It’s also compatible with the MovieLink download service.

Thomson also launched its first Wi-Fi/IR universal remote, the Acoustic Research-branded WiQ at a suggested $299. The universal remote will control home entertainment components and digital media receivers via IR as well as display an electronic program guide delivered via Wi-Fi-equipped broadband modem from TV Compass, which also delivers local news and weather to the devices.

Other IP-based products include a new VoIP ADSL 2+ Gateway, the model DV5213/7213, said to be the first gateway to integrate cordless Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) technology. It offers wireless Internet access, wireless multi-line VoIP and TV-over-DSL when connected to a set-top box.

“Thomson has made a strategic commitment to focus on IP technologies and solutions across many product groups,” said Ghislain Lescuyer, systems and equipment senior executive VP. “Our efforts in this area will increase significantly in 2006 as we expand our product and solutions portfolios to meet the needs of the ever-changing broadband services market,” he added.

In communications products, Thomson plans fall availability of a $249-suggested cellular docking system that uses Bluetooth to connect up to two Bluetooth cellphones to a cordless-phone system. The cordless system’s handsets can then be used to send and receive cellular calls to take advantage of low-cost cellular calling plans. It would complement a cell docking system that hard docks with up to 60 cellphone models. It ships with one handset and capability to add four more handsets.

The company also launched a SoHo cordless-phone system with one of the industry’s longest ranges at 2,000 feet. The RCA 25450RE3 four-line base system, due in January at a suggested $599.99, includes one corded handset and one cordless handset. The base system can support up to 16 accessory cordless handsets, each at a suggested $199.99.

The company is also working on a dedicated cordless VoIP system using cordless DECT technology. The company said it will have “more to say” on this later this year.

For wireless networking, Thomson unveiled hideaway ATSC and NTSC tuners with wireless transmission to digitally transfer video up to 300 feet in the home to flat-panel TVs and computers. Under the Acoustic Research name, Thomson offers a $599-suggested WVS400 transmitter with high-definition ATSC tuner to send HD video to HD displays. A $499-suggested WVS300 features NTSC tuner to wirelessly send analog programming to television displays. Both are due in the summer.

The AR WVS200 at a suggested $349 sends content from audio/video components to television displays. It ships in the spring.

To prepare for the analog-TV cutoff, Thomson plans the $199-suggested RCA MC1000 set-top box in late 2006. It will convert over-the-air DTV signals into images that can be displayed on standard-definition analog TV sets via their composite or S-video inputs.

Thomson also unveiled a compact ATSC tuner at a suggested $399 for use with HDTV monitors with DVI or HDMI connections.

The company didn’t have much more to say about its previously announced plans to seek a strategic partner for its audio/video and accessories businesses but not its communications business or select network businesses.