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Panasonic Bows 65W” Plasma

Panasonic unveiled at CEDIA Expo, here, one of the industry’s largest plasma screen sizes in a 65W-inch model that is part of a new family of high-end plasma models for the high-end A/V specialty and custom installation markets, and its first DVD recorder with integrated high-capacity hard disk drive and home networking capability.

Model TH-65XVSS30V (shipping in November at a $19,999 suggested retail) is a 65W-inch high-definition plasma display panel that will be positioned as the flagship in Panasonic’s new ONYX XVS series of next generation, high-performance HD plasma products. Other products in the family will include the 42W-inch high-definition TH-42XVS30V, shipping in October at a $7,499 suggested retail, and the 50W-inch TH-50XVX30V, shipping in October at a $9,499 suggested retail.

All models will use Panasonic’s seventh-generation plasma display panels. The 42W-inch models list a native resolution of 1,024 by 768, while the 50W-inch and 65W-inch models each list resolution of 1,366 by 768. All feature a new cosmetic design crafted to resemble “a sheet of glass floating on a wall.” All will ship in a two-piece configuration featuring the panel and an outboard Media Box, which connects to the panel using a supplied 7-meter cable. The box includes ATSC and NTSC broadcast tuners, a QAM digital cable tuner and CableCARD slot.

Inputs in the box include two HD component video jacks, HDMI with HDCP and a PC input. Audio is supported with 16-watt detachable speakers. Other features include a digital memory-card slot for SD and PCMCIA flash-memory cards.

The networkable DVD recorder — DIGA model DMR-E500HS — will incorporate a 400GB hard disk drive that is said to be capable of storing up to 709 hours of video recorded in EP mode, or 90 hours of recordings in “DVD quality.” The unit, which ships at the end of September at a $1,499 suggested retail price, will also include a slot for SD or PCMCIA memory cards for easy playback of digital photos, and a “DV input” for easy connection with Digital Video format camcorders.

Other features in the deck include a TV Guide On Screen guide for easy program recording with no service subscription requirement, easy laptop or PC connection to share digital files, and connection to other DIGA family DVD recorders.

An Ethernet port is included for wired and wireless connection to PCs or another DIGA DMR-E500HS recorder placed in other rooms of the house.

In other news, Panasonic said it cut prices on five fully integrated digital-cable-ready HDTV and EDTV plasma sets as of Sept. 1. New prices on the following models are as follows: HDTVs: TH-50PX25U ($7,499.95); TH-42PX25U ($5,499.95); and TH-37PX25U ($3,999.95). In EDTVs: The TH-42PD25U is $2,999.95, and the TH-37PD25U is now $2,499.95.

On the issue of pricing, John Iacoviello, product and marketing VP of Panasonic, commented, “There have been some pricing moves in the market like ours, to meet competition.” He added that industry inventories “are in good shape for the fourth quarter. We haven’t heard anything about an oversupply.”

In the spring Panasonic moved smaller customers, to the chagrin of many independent dealers. When asked about the current situation, Fred Towns, Panasonic’s sales and marketing VP was candid. “Independents were initially upset, and it is still early yet, but so far things are going well.” He noted that their distributors “have a good supply of HDTV and have been responsive [to independents’] needs. [Panasonic HDTV] sales for many of those independents have improved” vs. last year at this time.” — ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STEVE SMITH