After two years of steady price erosion on universal remote controls, new models due out this quarter could take the category out of its low-end slump and into the $30 suggested retail price point market once [text]again. Look for feature-rich units that can control home satellite systems, onscreen programming and advanced TV features such as picture in picture.
Low-cost models from Gemini, Memorex, Recoton and Sony still serve as loss-leader items at many mass merchants and consumer electronics chains, but suppliers are seeking to recapture the middle-priced segment of the remote market this fall, especially in the wake of less than stellar second-quarter sales of accessories in general.
Last year, sales of universal remote controls reached $126 million at retail, according to the EIA, with sales up 20% in 1994 over the previous year.
Looking to keep up the pace in the upcoming fourth quarter, suppliers have already released new product aimed to more upscale buyers looking for remotes that can be used in the dark, shut TVs off automatically, and control a host of new components such as home theater systems, onscreen programming guides and home satellites.
Other manufacturers -- including Jasco (under the Emerson name), Memtek, Philips, Sony and Thomson -- are expected to introduce new remotes at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Among the remotes shipping now are:
Absolute Electronics: The launch of the company's Video One Touch is up and running. The new remote has a $44.95 suggested retail price and is fully compatible with the RCA Digital Satellite System.
The Video One Touch is a couch potato's dream -- a user can channel surf through all 175 channels delivered through the DSS receiver and then preprogram 20 buttons with his or her favorite premium cable channels.
And there's more: Eight user-selectable buttons can be programmed with a viewer's favorite network channels. The remote also has a single-touch button labeled "View" that eliminates several steps to selecting a program off the DSS, while an "Info" button lets users gain instant access to programming information.
With more than 1 million DSS units sold to retailers last year -- and a major push underway to move the system at the mass merchant level -- Absolute is expecting sales of its new remote to take off with a bang this quarter. The company, based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., is also launching a media campaign and has released in-store POP touting the new product to DSS owners.
Gemini: Gemini of Clinton, N.J. will promote this fall its Q50 model universal remote control, which allows TV watchers to literally turn off the TV in their sleep.
The four-component Q50 controls TVs, VCRs or cable boxes and features a sculpted design and an easy-to-hold base. Gemini put large buttons on the remote and offers the most-used buttons, namely channel and volume controls, in a spherical layout for easy access.
By pre-setting the sleep timer function, the consumer can fall asleep, while the remote automatically shuts off the TV after 60 minutes. The sleep feature operates whether or not the TV already has a built-in sleep timer. The Q50 also features mute, last-channel recall, and TV/VCR switching.
Recoton: Recoton of Long Island City, N.Y. has completely redesigned and repackaged its Sole Control line of four universal remote controls. All four units now stand up vertically and offer four-color keypads.
The top-of-the-line model, SC-460 ($29.95 SRP), controls six components, including a home satellite receiver. The unit offers menu-control operation of all original component functions, including sleep timers, picture in picture, onscreen programming and CD multi-play.
The SC-460 also features a key labeled "Xtra" that changes the functions of other keys as users go from controlling one component to another.
Also new in the line is the SC-440 ($24.95), a four-component audio/video replacement remote that has all the features of the SC-460 except the audio and satellite receiver control.
Two entry-level models complete the line. The SC-230 ($14.95) controls three components -- TV, VCR and cable box -- and has a full numerical keypad, a recall feature for returning to a previously viewed channel, and a TV/VCR switching key.
The $19.95 SC-240 allows users to control a fourth component, a CD player, and it also has a sleep timer that can be used to turn off any one component.
Universal Electronics: In its One For All line, Universal Electronics of Twinsburg, Ohio is launching a media campaign for the One Call 3 and One Call 4 remotes. These devices allow customers to program the remote over the phone with a live operator, technology that was used successfully previously with Gemstar's Control Tower remote.
Universal's One Call 3 ($24.95 SRP) operates a TV, a VCR and a cable box, while One Call 4 ($29.95) controls those devices plus a CD player. The remotes are already being carried by Kmart, Sears and Wal-Mart, as well as several major CE chains.
The new One Call remotes also offer a feature that guarantees permanent memory retention of device codes when a customer changes the batteries in the remote.
Also new from Universal Electronics is the One For All Lite ($29.95), which controls up to four devices and is completely backlit for easy reading in the dark. The remote contains a light-diffusing membrane that evenly illuminates the entire keypad using six LEDs.
Consumers can activate the backlighting only when necessary using an on-off switch. In the on position, the LEDs automatically turn on for five seconds. Users can reactivate the light by pressing any key.
Zenith Accessories: As part of its Allegro line of multi-brand remote controls, Chicago-based Zenith will introduce model MBC4035, a seven-function preprogrammed remote with every key having Zenith's trademarked Night Vision glow-in-the-dark finish.
The remote will offer all the features of the company's popular MBC4030 remote, which only had glow-in-the-dark keys for its primary functions, such as channel, volume, and the VCR controls such as rewind and fast forward.
Like the MBC4030, the new unit will operate a TV, VCR, cable box, an audio source and three other components.
The MBC4035 will also offer Zenith's AutoFind setup feature, which scans the existing code library for component brands. The unit can control most onscreen menus, offers direct channel access with mute and enter buttons, and has an LED light that indicates operation and setup status.
Zenith is also expected to heavily promote its four-function preprogrammed remote, the MBC4025, which has a completely glow-in-the-dark keypad and operates a TV, VCR, cable box, laserdisc player, and a second VCR or TV. All of the remotes in the Zenith line are have easy-press large buttons and are ergonomically designed for comfortable holding.
Sony's Broadened Tape Line To Offer Mini DV Cassettes
By Cathy Ciccolella
Sony Recording Media is broadening its line with a number of new blank tape products, including a 6mm digital video (DV) cassette to complement its new Digital Handycam camcorders.
The company has also re-vamped the packaging on its core blank tape line to focus on the Sony brand identity and provide display flexibility for the retailer.
The new Mini DV cassettes, due out this month in conjunction with Sony's launch of the hardware, are available in 60- and 30-minute lengths. The tiny cassettes' housing contains a 4-kilobit memory chip for indexing contents and their locations on the tape.
The cassettes feature double metal-evaporated recording layers, protected by Sony's proprietary DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) layer for improved durability, plus a sliding write-protect tab to protect against accidental erasure.
The new cassettes bring "un-precedented performance to a camcorder," says Bob Striano, marketing VP for Sony Electronics' recording media and energy products group. The 30-minute DV cassette has a suggested retail price of $19.95; the 60-minute version is $24.95.
Striano says development of new Mini DV cassettes in conjunction with the digital camcorders illustrates the synergies of Sony's various product divisions. "Now, more than ever, Sony will capitalize on its core strength in recording media," he notes. "No other company has the vertical integration and resources to provide such a total media solution."
A second blank media introduction tied to hardware developments is Sony's V Home Theater video cassettes, a new super-premium formulation designed for use with big-screen TV sets and stereo and surround-sound systems.
To help bring them to consumers' attention, Sony has begun packing V Home Theater cassettes with select Sony home theater products such as large-screen TVs, according to Steve Denny, director of marketing, consumer media products.
Another hardware/blank media combination -- this one on the audio side -- is Sony's MemoPak, which combines a Sony microcassette recorder, two Sony AA Walkman batteries and eight 60-minute Sony microcassettes, packaged together in a clear, clamshell-style case. The $34 MemoPak is designed to provide a "one-stop shopping solution," Denny says.
Sony recently improved the performance of its microcassettes with a new roller mechanism and a new tape formulation.
Also new in Sony's audio tape line are CD-IT Pro type II cassettes in 74- and 100-minute lengths. The longer cassette is intended to record two average-length CDs, one per side. The CD-IT Pro tape incorporates Super Fine Uniaxial particles, said to provide 33% higher performance.
Sony's new packaging for audio cassettes and micro floppy disks now carries the same "S" logo found on all Sony Electronics products, for closer identification with the hardware side.
The company's HiFi, UX and Metal SR audio cassettes now carry consumer information in an easier-to-understand format, according to Striano.
"While providing consumers with more product information, we've actually managed to make the overall packaging much more eye-catching," he says. "Now Sony products stand out on the shelves as much as they do in performance."
Sony's video tape lineup retains the "V" brand name, but in a revamped, "two-faced" package design that allows the products to be displayed vertically or horizontally. The firm's 8mm video cassettes now use the same family packaging style.
Zenith Accessories' new model MBC4035 is a seven-function preprogrammed remote featuring the company's trademarked Night Vision glow-in-the-dark finish on all keys.
Absolute Electronic's One Touch for the RCA DSS lists for $44.95.
Mini digital video cassettes are due this month.
Recoton's redesigned Sole Control line now offers a stand-up vertical design and four-color keypads on all four units.
Universal Electronics has launched a media blitz for the One Call 3 and One Call 4 models in its One For All line. The devices allow customers to program the remote over the phone with a live operator.
Home Theater video tape is designed for use with big-screen TV sets and stereo and surround-sound systems.
Sony's MemoPak includes recorder, two batteries and eight microcassettes.
Sony recently improved
the performance of its microcassettes with a new roller and tape formation.