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Thomson Unveils All-Widescreen DTV Line

Thomson formally unveiled here a 2002-03 RCA Scenium product line featuring a shift to all widescreen digital TV sets and monitors, and the company’s first combination hard-drive video recorder and progressive-scan DVD player.

The decision to go all widescreen came in reaction to growing consumer preference for 16:9 monitors as a result of the popularity of the DVD movie format. In fact, Thomson integrated progressive-scan DVD players in four of the new Scenium DTV monitors 61W-inch ($3,299 suggested retail), 52W-inch ($2,699), and 40W-inch ($2,399) rear-projection monitors and a 34W-inch flat direct-view ($2,599) monitor.

The total DTV line consists of nine RCA Scenium models — three of which are fully integrated HDTV sets — and three RCA models, all of which are HDTV monitors, lacking the integrated ATSC tuners.

All of the DTV displays incorporate secure digital interfaces — DVI-HD with HDCP copy protection for DTV monitors, and both DVI-HD and IEEE-1394 with DTCP (DTVLink) copy protection in HDTV monitors.

Thomson executives said they believe that both digital interfaces will be necessary in the DTV marketplace. The DVI connection offers a path for uncompressed video from a set-top box or digital video recorder to a DTV display. DTVLink will be used to send compressed video streams around digital home networks and as an input vehicle for digital video recorders.

Integrated sets are offered in the 65W-inch ($4,299), 61W-inch ($3,799), and 52W-inch ($3,299) screen sizes. All include built-in Ethernet ports for connection to external broadband cable or DSL modems that can be used to browse the Web to augment TV viewing. Scenium sets also add Adaptive Reverse 3:2 pull-down processing of film-based content.

Also introduced was a Scenium HD-level 50W-inch plasma display panel ($14,999).

In other RCA Scenium categories, the company unveiled a Digital Media Recorder ($599) that combines a 40GB hard drive and a progressive scan DVD player. Unlike the UltimateTV digital video recorder, which Thomson has since dropped, the new personal video recorder portion of the device does not require a subscription service. Users program the unit to record programs using an integrated free Gemstar GuidePlus+ on-screen program grid.

The recorder, which can store up to 30 hours of video, as well as MP3 music and JPEG photos, will find and record over-the-air programs offered free through Gemstar’s program listings networks, and can record programs from outboard satellite tuners and other set-top boxes through IR blaster commands.

In DVD, RCA Scenium will carry a progressive scan DVD player with DVD-Audio support ($229), but had no details on plans to launch a previously announced DVD+RW recording deck.

At the same time the company quietly dropped a number of product categories, some of which had received much fanfare as recently as January CES. Gone from the RCA line are ebooks, camcorders, digital still cameras and UltimateTV personal video recorders. In addition, in announcing several new fully integrated HDTV sets, the company opted to omit integrated DirecTV satellite tuning for the first time.

Officially, RCA has sold out its inventory on ebooks and is finished with the category due to lack of content. RCA partner Gemstar still sells the category. Meanwhile, Thomson continues to sell the remaining inventory on its next-generation UltimateTV recorders, but has no plans to replace them with new models. Ironically, Thomson launched the second-generation UltimateTV recorder with an 80GB hard drive at CES, but that was before its service partner Microsoft decided to shut down the UltimateTV headquarters and transfer its development engineers to its Xbox unit.

Dave Arland, Thomson spokesman, said the decision to omit DirecTV HD and standard program tuning for the new integrated HDTVs was due to a number of RCA dealers who did not wish to sell DirecTV programming services.

DirecTV has been quietly paring back commissions for some retailers and eliminating others altogether as it steps up its direct marketing programs. The satellite operator is also doing more business through special programs with retail giants including Blockbuster.

To a lesser extent, Arland said, the decision to omit DirecTV tuning was influenced by the uncertain status of the DirecTV/EchoStar merger, which makes long-range product planning difficult and dangerous.

Arland, however, denied speculation that RCA Scenium was out of the Liquid Crystal on Silicon-based HDTV monitor display business, although he could not give details on next-generation products based on fixed-pixel technologies, except to say that Thomson continues to look at fixed-pixel technologies for future products.

Mike O’Hara, Thomson executive VP of worldwide sales and marketing, announced at the line show that the LCoS display, which was first announced at 2001 CES, had only recently started shipping to select retailers after extended delays.