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SD, DVD Top Panasonic’s CES Lineup

Panasonic unveiled several futuristic music playback, digital camera and camcorder devices based on the upcoming Secure Digital (SD) memory card, as well as a slew of DVD devices, including a DVD Audio player slated for release this summer.

Panasonic showed several SD-based products, many of which are prototypes with no scheduled release date. These included a film-cassette-size digital camera and a camcorder about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

Don Iwatani, president/COO of Panasonic Consumer Electronics, displayed a wristwatch-mounted SD music playback player and an ultra-thin portable player.

As part of the Panasonic Network Universe, a concept where all home computer, consumer electronics and appliances are networked, the company has what it is calling an A/V Platform on display. The Platform is a Celeron-powered PC featuring a DVD-ROM drive and integrated LCD panel. It is intended to be a nexus for a home network that will bring together and manage all the information gathered by the home’s A/V devices.

The Platform is now available in Japan, but Panasonic has no plan to ship it in the U.S., said Dr. Paul Liao, VP and chief technologist for Matsushita Electronic Corporation.

One of the highlights of Panasonic’s CES Eve event was the announcement of a recordable DVD deck based on the DVD-RAM format.

The company demonstrated the technology by recording a live performance of violinist Meg Okura.

Meanwhile, the new DVD player lineup will include eight players this year. Five models are in the “home deck” category, which will feature two five-disc DVD changers. The company will also expand its assortment of portable DVD players to three models.

Pricing will range from $279 suggested retail for the DVD-RV20 to $349 for a step-up unit with built-in Dolby Digital decoding. Also slated are two five-disc changers at $349 and $449, respectively. The step-up model includes Dolby Digital decoding.

Three new portable DVD models are also planned. Rusty Osterstock, DVD marketing general manager, said consumer research has shown that purchasers of Panasonic laptop portables are being connected to TVs more than 50% of the time, which has influenced product development. Models offer both Dolby Digital and DTS sound output.

New models feature slimmed-down prices to match their size. The DVD-LV75 ($1,399) includes a 7″ 16:9 LCD screen; model DVD-L55 offers a 5″ LCD at $999; and DVD-PV55 offers the same features without a built-in screen for $699.

Panasonic announced a new digital set-top decoder that is believed to be the first to output all signals in any ATSC format selected. It also includes an NTSC tuner and DirecTv standard, local and HDTV programming. The new DTV set-top decoder (model TU-HD520) will carry a $1,099 suggested retail price when it ships in May.

Other new products include an updated 34W” flat-faced Tau 16:9 direct-view monitor with built-in NTSC tuner and the company’s first 65W” rear-projection set. Model PT-65WXF95 will display both the 1080i and 720p HDTV formats in native form. Pricing will be announced later.

In the telecommunications category, Panasonic is featuring its first Internet phone, which allows users to make long-distance calls over the internet. This is made possible by an agreement with Net2Phone to incorporate its voice over Internet technology (VoIP) into Panasonic phones. The feature will be incorporated into a 900MHz cordless phone and is scheduled to be available in June.

John McNenney, assistant general manger of Panasonic Consumer Phones, explained that the consumer will be able to use the Internet long-distance service simply by pressing the Net Call button. The consumer pays a one-time sign-up fee of $25, and then long distance Internet calls are billed at less than 5 cents a minute.

Panasonic also featured a new two-line Web phone with color display that provides access to the Web. A second model works with the company’s new home gateway that provides high-speed cable or DSL access to the Web. The Web phones are scheduled to ship in June or July at a retail price ranging from $600 to $700.