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More Universal SACD/DVD-Audio Decks Expected

Dealers will find fewer home audio suppliers practicing format monogamy while they’re away at CES, where the selection of universal SACD/DVD-Audio/Video will expand.

At the show, Denon and Linn will introduce their first universal player capable of playing DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, and multichannel SACD discs. Denon’s models join recent introductions of the first such models from Marantz, Onkyo, Integra and Yamaha. Other universal suppliers include Apex and Pioneer.

Universal players will also show up in a handful more home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems because of Pioneer’s introduction here of its first two Pioneer-series HTiBs to sports universal players, complementing an Elite-series system that shipped late last year.

“I’d be very surprised if manufacturers didn’t go to all universal players,” said Denon VP Steve Baker. “It’s now possible to do both at a reasonable cost with a high degree of performance.”

Said Onkyo product manager Don Milks, “As long as the record companies release both formats, it’s a big benefit to consumers to have a universal player.”

Some companies, however, remain in one camp or the other. Toshiba and Panasonic, for example, remain in the DVD-Audio camp, but with differing degrees of enthusiasm. Whereas Toshiba offers a single component DVD-A/V player, Panasonic is spreading DVD-A throughout its line. “Almost all of our DVD players and recorders, with exception of a few leader models, will all be DVD-Audio capable,” said Panasonic senior merchandising VP Mike Aguilar. Nine of 10 new Panasonic home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems, for example, will feature DVD-Audio, the company said.

“We are a supporter of DVD-Audio. There are more and more titles coming out every day, and we will continue to support that format,” Aguilar contended.

On the SACD side, SACD co-inventors Sony and Philips remain wedded to SACD, with Philips following Sony in launching its first two HTiBs with SACD/DVD-Video players.

Companies that recently introduced home universal players include Yamaha at a suggested $999, Onkyo at a suggested $1,000, Integra at a suggested $1,200, Marantz at a suggested $1,499, and Pioneer Elite series models at $500 and $1,000 suggested retail. The Elite series also sports the industry’s first HTiB with universal player, priced at a suggested $2,000.

At least one company said it has held off a DVD-Audio introduction because of lack of demand. Samsung showed two models at least year’s CES but never shipped them, and it doesn’t plan to show new models at CES, said marketing director Claude Frank. “The DVD-Audio market is sluggish, so we’re not concerned that we missed the boat yet,” he said, citing limited software availability.

Here are additional details on what dealers will find at CES:

Denon: The $999-suggested DVD-2900 universal player features digital bass management for SACD and DVD-A playback, MP3 CD playback, RS-232 and remote I/O ports, progressive output, and 12-bit/108MHz video DACs. Targeted ship date is April.

The company plans additional universal models in 2003.

Krell: The company’s first SACD player is tentatively priced at $4,000, which plays multichannel SACDs. Ship date had not been set at press time.

Linn: The Unidisk SACD/DVD-A/V player also plays MP3 CDs. It’s due sometime in the first quarter. Pricing was unavailable.

Motorola: The DCP301HD combines a 4×45-watt receiver with DVD-A/V player, analog and high-definition ATSC video tuner, and standard-definition/high-definition digital-cable tuner. Amplification is digital.

Panasonic: Of 10 new HTIBs to be launched in 2003, nine feature DVD-A/V, up from five in the current line. DVD-Audio equipped systems will top out at a suggested $999, up from the current line’s $699, which ranges from a suggested $399-$699. The expanded selection will top out at a suggested $999.

All 10 HTiBs will feature MP3 and WMA-CD playback, marking the first Panasonic HTiBs with WMA capability.

Philips: The company the company plans to launch its first two HTiB systems with SACD/DVD-Video players.

Pioneer: The company plans to introduce its first two universal-player HTiB systems in the Pioneer line. Both feature progressive-scan capabilities. Details were unavailable.

Toshiba: A replacement for a current portable DVD-A/V player will be displayed at a suggested $799. It features slimmer design, lighter battery pack, SD/Smart Media slot for viewing JPEGS, progressive output, and high-resolution LCD screen.

The company offers a single component DVD-A/V player and plans to replace it in July, but it wasn’t expected to be on display, a spokesperson said.

Yamaha: In October, the company shipped its first universal player, the flagship single-disc DVD-S2300 at a suggested $999. Now, the company plans to launch its first SACD/DVD-Video player and a new DVD-A/V player. The SACD/DVD-Video player is the five-disc $499-suggested DVD-C940, which features SACD bass management, MP3 CD playback, and compatibility with DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs. It ships in April. The DVD-A/V player is the $399-suggested single-disc DVD-S840 with progressive output. It ships in May. They join a five-disc DVD-A/V player whose suggested retail was reduced recently to $999 from $1,299.

“We’re trying to show logical steps,” said training manager Gary Altunian, who pointed out that adding DVD-Audio to a DVD player is less expensive than adding SACD.