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Thomson Bows Cable-Ready Digital TV Line

Thomson formally celebrated the send-off of its nearly finalized joint venture with China’s TCL by introducing a comprehensive line of next-generation HDTVs, including 11 fully integrated “digital cable-ready” (DCR) sets.

The new television offerings, which will be produced by the new TCL-Thomson Electronics (TTE) company after that company begins operations in July, will include two previously announced RCA Scenium “Profiles” ultra-thin DLP rear-projection sets that measure 6.85 inches deep and offer DCR capability.

The high-end DLP sets are expected to begin shipping in September, and to have the industry’s thinnest rear-projection cabinets. Company executives said the sets would be thin and light enough to hang on walls.

The new sets will serve as statement pieces for the new television technologies to emerge from the joint venture company. Under TTE, Thomson will work in tandem with TCL on television product research and development and will coordinate sales and marketing in the United States and Europe, while TCL supplements its market-leading position in China’s television industry with new high-tech products, such as DLP TVs.

The new company “will become the world’s largest manufacturer of color TVs, with an annual production capacity of 22 million sets and annual sales of 18 million sets, accounting for 11 percent of the global TV market,” said Li Dongsheng (a.k.a. Tomson Li), chairman of TCL corporation.

In the United States, sales, logistics, warranty administration and consumer contacts for TTE will be administered under contract with Thomson’s Consumer Solutions Businesses unit headed by executive VP Mike O’Hara.

Meanwhile, Tom Carson, a member of Thomson’s executive committee and former head of the company’s patents and licensing division was recently named Thomson’s executive VP for worldwide marketing and sales services, handling TV, audio and video products and new business opportunities.

Charles Dehelly, Thomson CEO, told TWICE his company would try to leverage its new relationship with TCL and its relationships with motion picture and television broadcast companies to help establish opportunities for the U.S. content industries in China.

As for new U.S. consumer electronics products, TTE will add seven fully integrated DLP rear-projection HDTV sets with DCR capability under the RCA Scenium brand, and four fully integrated CRT-based rear-projection HDTV sets with DCR capability under RCA.

O’Hara said his company expects the simplicity of the digital cable-ready message to boost digital television sales significantly in 2004.

“As cable ramps up aggressive promotion of HDTV, we believe that up to 1 million digital cable-ready HDTV sets could be in U.S. homes by Christmas,” he said.

O’Hara said all 11 RCA and RCA Scenium DCR sets will also “recognize the broadcast flag” to ensure against unauthorized redistribution of broadcast content.

All new DLP models will include ATSC tuning, DCR capability, HDMI digital inputs and component video inputs.

Step-up DLP models will add two IEEE-1394 two-way digital inputs with DTCP copy protection, TV Guide Onscreen electronic program guides and Internet browsers.

All of Thomson’s DCR products will include slots for uni-directional CableCards that will allow users to unlock encrypted premium cable channels without a separate set-top box.

The two aforementioned Profiles DLP sets stand as the flagship DLP offerings. They will be offered in the 50W-inch ($8,999 suggested retail) and 61W-inch ($9,999) screen sizes in starting in September.

Other RCA Scenium DLP HDTV sets will offer cabinet depths of approximately 16 inches, and will include three model/feature series. In the 165 series the company will introduce a new 44W-screen size. The HD44LPW165 is scheduled to ship in the fall at a $3,699 suggested retail and will include a TV Guide Onscreen electronic program guide, HDMI and IEEE-1394 digital interfaces and an Internet browser.

The 163 series will include 50W-inch ($3,999, August) and 61W-inch $4,599, August) models with the TV Guide EPG, Internet browser and IEEE-1394 and HDMI inputs.

The 162 series will also include 50W-inch ($3,799, July) and 61W-inch ($4,399, July) screen sizes and like the others will include integrated ATSC tuning, DCR capability and HDMI input, but will omit the EPG, Internet browser and 1394 interfaces.

Thomson will also carry over the current 42 series DLP HDTV sets in the 50W-inch ($3,799) and 61W-inch screen sizes ($4,299), which do not offer DCR capability but include an EPG, Internet browser HDMI and 1394 interfaces.

The company will add four digital-cable-ready RCA CRT-based rear-projection sets, with three 52W-inch SKUs and one 56W-inch model. All carry ATSC tuners, HDMI and component video inputs.

The entry 52W-inch HD52W55 will carry a $1,899 suggested retail when it ships in July. The 56W-inch HD56W58 will ship in July at $2,499.

The company will also carry over four CRT rear-projection HDTV monitors in the 52W-inch ($1,499 and $1,699), 56W-inch ($1,999) and 61W-inch ($2,199) screen sizes.

In flat-panel television, Thomson has dropped plasma displays following the recent acquisition of panel supplier, NEC, by Pioneer, as it focuses on DLP and HDTV-level LCD TV monitors.

The company will offer the RCA branded 26W-inch LCDX2620W LCD TV monitor in June at a $2,599 suggested retail. It will have open distribution and will include 1,280-by-768 resolution, DVI-HDCP, HD component and RGB inputs and a built-in NTSC tuner.

Under the RCA Scenium line the company will carry the 27W-inch LCDX2722W LCD TV monitor, which will ship in June at a $2,799 suggested retail. It offers 1,280-by-720 resolution. The Scenium line will also carry the 32W-inch LCDX3022W LCD TV monitor, which will ship in July at $3,799, and will offer 1,280-by-768 resolution. Both will include NTSC tuning, DVI-HDCP, HD component video and RGB inputs and more advanced picture processing circuitry than the 26W-inch RCA model.

Also shown were two new HD-capable hard-disc video recorders, designed to interface with some of the new DCR sets through the 1394 interface. The models will be available with up to 80 hours of HDTV storage capacity ($569) and up to nine hours of HD storage. The 1394 interfaces will recognize both the DTCP and broadcast-flag content-protection systems.