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Panasonic Expands 1,080p Plasma, Launches Blu-ray Decks At CEATEC

Tokyo — Panasonic followed through on its “Living In High Definition” theme here at Japan’s CEATEC show, where the company expanded its selection of 1,080p plasma TVs to four models and launched its first two Blu-ray player/recorders capable of playing back prerecorded BD-Video discs.

One of the Blu-ray recorders doubles as a DVD-RAM recorder.

Also at the event, Panasonic demonstrated its first high-definition camcorder to use the new AVCHD form co-developed with Sony. The company promised a spring introduction in the United States.

In home networking technology, the company unveiled its second product to use 190Mbps HD-PLC powerline-network technology, complementing this year’s U.S. launch of PLC Ethernet adapters with a PLC security camera that can be controlled from a home’s PC or from a remote PC via the Internet.

In Blu-ray developments, the company plans mid-November availability in Japan of two models, both with internal hard disk drives (HDDs), but the company has no plans for U.S. availability because the two models incorporate tuners for Japan’s terrestrial- and satellite-HDTV broadcast standards.

The BR100 features 200GB HDD, DVD player and the ability to record onto write-once recordable Blu-ray discs and rewritable Blu-ray discs. It features one terrestrial HDTV tuner and one satellite HDTV tuner. Its price is 240,000 yen, (approximately $2,034). The step-up Blu-ray player/recorder, the BW 200, incorporate 500GB HDD recorder, Blu-ray recorder and DVD-RAM recorder. It adds two terrestrial HDTV tuners and two satellite HDTV tuners for recording two satellite or two terrestrial programs simultaneously. It’s priced at approximately $2,542.

The players will play Blu-ray discs recorded on a 2004-launched Panasonic Blu-ray recorder, which incorporated the Blu-ray recording standard but shipped before the standard for prerecorded BD-Video discs was finalized. The player has since been discontinued.

Simultaneous with the hardware launch, Panasonic will launch write-once and rewritable Blu-ray discs. Both types will be 50GB dual-layer discs. The rewritable discs will retail for approximately $51, and the write-once disc will retail for $36.

To reproduce the disc’s 1,080p resolution, Panasonic has begun offering its first four 1,080p plasma TVs, at least two of which are coming to the U.S. Here at CEATEC, the company demonstrated four SKUs in 103-, 65-, 58-, and 50-inch sizes. They began shipping in Japan in September, and the 103- and 65-inch models will ship in the U.S. in October, a spokesman said. U.S. prices had previously been announced at a suggested $69,999 and $9,995, respectively.

The previously announced 103-inch model is the world’s largest plasma display, and two have already been sold to the NBC TV network in the U.S., the company said. The 103-inch model is targeted to commercial users as well as to high-end A/V specialty dealers in the U.S. The 50- and 58-inch 1,080p plasmas might be available in the U.S. “in the near future,” a spokesman said.

Panasonic’s U.S. chairman and CEO Yoshi Yamada stands by his 103-inch 1080p plasma TV.

All four plasma sets feature HDMI 1.2 inputs, SD Card slots and Viera Link, which coordinates the operation of similarly-equipped Panasonic home theater components. Those components include DVD recorders, Blu-ray players and audio gear.

In an under-glass demonstration of its AVCHD camcorder, the company revealed that its first AVCHD model will record in 1,080i, although the standard supports 720p and 1,080i recording. The device will record onto removable SDHC flash-memory cards, an evolution of the SD flash memory standard that expands capacity to 4GB. The AVCHD standard allows for recording to flash memory, HDDs and small discs.

The three-CCD camcorder will support three recording modes at 6, 9 and 13Mbps. A 4GB card will hold 40 minutes of 1,080i video at the highest quality mode of 13Mbps. The 6Mbps mode allows for 85 minutes of video on a 4GB card.

In the U.S., Panasonic plans spring shipments of the camcorder at an undisclosed price, Yoshi Yamada, chairman/CEO of Panasonic in the U.S., told TWICE.

To date, one other company, Sony, has announced an HD camcorder based on the AVCHD standard, but JVC might follow. JVC, majority owned by Panasonic, demonstrated an HD camcorder that stores 1,080i video on an embedded HDD, but the company refused to disclose the video codec that it will use in its three-CCD device. It would be JVC’s first high-definition HDD camcorder and is due in Japan and the U.S. sometime in the second quarter, a spokesman said.

In other camcorder news at the show, Hitachi demonstrated its Hybrid Cam, said to be the industry’s first camcorder to incorporate an HDD and DVD recorder. It will be launched in the U.S. in January with 6GB HDD and transition in the second half to 30GB HDD, said Hitachi America marketing VP Daniel Lee. For DVD recording, it uses small DVD-RAM discs.

In networking, Panasonic unveiled a $600 security camera incorporating the 190Mbps powerline-network standard called HD-PLC. In-home and remote PCs loaded with Panasonic software will be able to move the camera lens and view live video through the cameras. It will be available some time next year in the U.S.