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Thomson Debuts $300, $400 SDTVs

LAS VEGAS — After a tumultuous year of shedding its TV assets, RCA shook up the television market by announcing what it calls the first SDTV for $300. SDTVs have integrated over-the-air ATSC tuners and display a traditional 480i image.

Thomson will market seven of them under the RCA brand, said Al Arras, president of TTE, the joint venture formed between China’s TCL and Thomson. The company plans to roll out five 27-inch models, beginning with a $300 price point and a pair of 32s that start at $400. The introduction will help Thomson meet the FCC’s tuner/decoder mandate. In total, Thomson will introduce 35 new DTVs this year.

Arras noted that not everyone can afford the many high-priced flat-panel displays dotting the CES show floor. “We believe that the digital TV transition should be available for all Americans, including those of very modest economic means.

Affordability is the key” for expanding the penetration of DTV, Arras told a packed press conference. He also noted that many consumers now want digital quality in other rooms of the house, once they’ve gotten a taste of HDTV but don’t want to spend a fortune for a second or third set. Despite the emphasis on affordable digital televisions, RCA is not averse to selling expensive TVs. Arras noted their 61-inch wall-hanging “Best of Innovations 2005” DLP-based Profiles HDTV costs $6,999 and the 50-inch model shipping later this month is $4,999, hardly stuff for the wretched masses yearning to see free.

Thomson will continue its push into the DLP category in 2005 with 10 fully integrated HDTVs (all digital cable ready) ranging from 44 inches to 61 inches; the entry level model will have a price below $2,000. The standout on display was the 175 series with a floating screen design. RCA will also offer seven LCD TVs from 15 inches to 32 inches with integrated NTSC tuners; prices start at $399.Arras said CRT-based rear-projection HDTVs will remain “the best value for consumers” and he announced 10 new models. All are widescreen 52-inch, 56-inch and 61-inch models and they’ll be introduced this year with $1,100 the opening price point.

Arras told the crowd that HDTV is truly gaining traction with the public after all the predictions made at CES for the past 10 years that this would be the year for HDTV. “A year ago we told you that 8 million U.S. consumers had an HDTV product at home and we predicted the industry would top an additional 6 million units sold in 2004. We were a little too conservative…it’s now looking like 7 million units sold as an industry for 2004. Final numbers will be reported this week. With projections calling for another 10 million digital TV products to be sold this year, we’re fast approaching the point where one in four U.S. households is likely to have a digital TV product.”

Although RCA execs were pleased with the growth of broadcast HDTV content, Arras noted that the company would release an OEM HD-DVD player under the RCA brand this year so consumers could have even more to see. The company would be having dealer meetings at the show to gauge retailer response to the next-generation DVD formats, so they were very circumspect about product details and pricing. The product would be OEM’ed. Although Thomson was voting for the Toshiba-backed format in hardware, they stressed its Technicolor division would have an ecumenical approach on the duplication side of the business and support HD DVD and Blu-ray. They left open the possibility of a Blu-ray player in the future.