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Panasonic Unveils VIERA Flat TVs

LAS VEGAS — Panasonic announced that it has achieved key growth and profitability goals in 2003 and is on course to maintain its digital leadership status throughout 2004, during its CES press conference, here.

The company also announced VIERA as the new name for its family of flat-panel TV products, joining its DIGA family of DVD recorders and Tau family of flat-faced CRT picture-tube products.

Don Iwatani, Matsushita Company of America chairman, announced that the company made significant technological and market share advances in its core product areas — DVD-RAM, Secure Digital (SD) cards and Digital TV — and has taken steps to maintain its lead in the coming year.

He also reported that under Panasonic CEO Kirk Nakamura’s leadership, worldwide profitability rose 60 percent in the first half, ‘thanks to the launch of outstanding display products,’ while the stock price rose 100 percent over the last year, Iwatani said.

In DVD recorders based on the DVD-RAM rewriteable disc format, Panasonic reported that decks based on the format accounted for over 50 percent share of the U.S. market every month of last year, and holds over 70 percent market share in Japan. It accounted for 61 percent of DVD recorder sales in the United Kingdom at the end of last summer, the company said.

Panasonic believes it is on the way to seeing DVD-RAM becoming the ‘worldwide de facto standard’ for DVD recording, said Andy Takani, Panasonic Consumer Electronics president.

Regarding SD flash memory media, Iwatani said analysts have reported key gains, putting the format ‘on its way to becoming a de facto standard.’

The company announced it will release its first 1GB SD card in the first half of the year at an expected retail price of $199. The company is also working on 2GB and 3GB versions for future releases.

As for DTV, Panasonic was the first company to introduce CableCARD-enabled fully integrated HDTV sets, and will expand its offerings in 2004 with more rear-projection products and flat-panel HDTVs.

Takani said one of the keys to success in 2004 will be in the company’s ability to deliver on its commitments to retailers.

To that end, he said Panasonic has taken steps to ensure that it will meet dealers’ expectations for supply of high quality flat-panel LCD-TV and plasma displays by expanding production lines, and marketing support programs.

Takani said Panasonic is stepping up production of plasma displays this year with the opening of its third plasma-display production facility — this one in Osaka, Japan — which is expected to enable the company to reach a 1 million unit global production capacity in 2004 and 1.5 million in 2005.

Meanwhile, all VIERA models will include HDMI digital interfaces with HDCP content protection, while all high-definition plasma models slated for 2004 will have built-in ATSC tuners, he said. Panasonic expects to be one of the first to deliver CableCARD-enabled plasma HDTV sets this year.

VIERA plasma sets with CableCARD capability include the 37W-inch TH37PX25U ($4,999.99, June), the 42W-inch TH-42PX25U ($5,999.99, April), the 50W-inch TH-50PX25U ($8,499.99, April).

The company will complement the line with a pair of EDTV level fully integrated HDTV sets in the 42W-inch TH-42PD25U ($4,499.99, May) and the TH-37PD25U ($3,999.99, May).

Five LCD VIERA models will be offered in the 14-, 17-, 20-, 26W-, and 32W-inch screen sizes at prices to be announced later.

In rear-projection HDTV sets, Panasonic said it would offer six models in the 47W- and 52W-inch screen sizes based on LCD micro-display technology. Three of those will feature a ‘Digital Platinum Package’ including a host of picture enhancement technologies such as the proprietary Precision Picture Processing (P3) technology, ATSC tuning and CableCARD capability.

Prices for the integrated models will run $1,999.99 for the 47W-inch PT-47XD64, when it ships in August; $2,199.99 for the 53W-inch PT53XD64 when it ships in August and $2,399.99 for the 53W-inch PT53TWD64 when it ships in September.