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Digital Category Hits Home With Y2K Video Lines

As the industry watches sales of new digital video devices — from DVD players to digital television monitors — eclipse market sales expectations for the Christmas selling season, it almost goes without saying that CES 2000 will be the launching pad for a wide range of such devices this January.

The new decade promises to be fruitful for video manufacturers and dealers alike. Currently hot new products such as DVD players, digital television displays and hard drive recording devices have all achieved strong sales results in 1999. Market prognosticators expect more of the same in 2000.

The following is a category-by-category primer on some key trends we have spotted heading into the show:

DVD: The DVD player market is here to stay, and manufacturers are proving that point with a wide range of players that will introduce a number of new performance benefits to category.

Samsung and VM Labs just announced plans to show one of the first DVD players enhanced with Nuon circuitry. This will lend greater power and speed to the machine, which is capable of producing fluid fast-forward and reverse scanning as well as picture zooming.

The Nuon technology will also offer new levels of interactivity for game-playing and other benefits. VM Labs is expected to announce licensing deals with developers of new video games that can be played on these devices. Other manufacturers are also expected to show prototypes of similarly featured decks.

Another trend for the DVD category comes in the laptop portables. A number of new vendors are expected to announce players that will be supplied both with and without built-in widescreen LCD monitors. Similarly, a number of companies were planning to show integrated DVD receivers in a variety of sizes and configurations.

Also look for demonstrations of the first DVD recording decks. Manufacturers expect the concept to be an integral part of the home networks of the future, although for the first couple of years, the lack of copy protection and high prices are likely to keep sales volume low.

Another feature plagued by copy-protection indecision from copyright holders is DVD-Audio. A number of manufacturers were planning to make this a big part of their CES plans this year but have withheld shipping schedules until a system is finalized.

A few companies will attempt to get closer to the A/V home-network concept by introducing 200- and 300-disc DVD jukeboxes. Some companies see this as being a critical element for whole-home distribution systems that will use such jukeboxes as a central server for multiple playback devices.

Home satellite systems: Another booming category is direct-broadcast satellite (DBS), and DirecTv and EchoStar will travel to Las Vegas armed with new local-TV channel services. Readying a head-on assault against the cable industry, both providers are expected to update dealers on their local-TV services while gearing up for the next battlefields of HDTV and interactive applications.

Showgoers will hear more plans for satellite-delivered interactive receiver systems, and they will see a number of new players integrating standard, local and high-definition satellite decoders in next-generation ATSC digital TV (DTV) receivers.

Digital television: Speaking of DTV, expect to find a broad assortment of next-generation 1080i- and 720p-capable television displays, some of which will present new display engines in consumer packages.

JVC said before the show that it would showcase its first digital-ready rear-projection set, called the D’AHLIA 3D Hologram. The rear-projection set features a 61W” 16:9 screen and D-ILA display source that produces high-resolution images with 3D quality.

The system also produces some of the highest brightness and contrast levels available in rear-projection systems. It will present both the 1080i and 720p HDTV formats in native scan.

Sharp and Samsung will also offer new advancements in LCD technology for rear-projection HDTV-ready monitors.

New at this year’s show will be demonstrations of possible data-casting applications that broadcasters will one day use to enhance high- and standard-definition digital broadcasts. Also look for some brave manufacturers to show DTV sets and set-tops incorporating the IEEE 1394 digital interface, even though a content-protection standard is still unsettled.

Hard Disk Recorders: TiVo and Replay started a buzz by showing the first prototype hard disk recorder systems last year. TiVo and partner Philips recently began a national sales push of their set-top product and combined subscription service.

Replay, meanwhile, has been selling its own branded recorder online. Sometime in the first quarter, Panasonic promises to begin retail distribution of its Replay device.

Heading into CES, both TiVo and Replay were promising new manufacturing and distribution partnerships for the new year, while competition builds from new system developers. MGI is offering a video recording solution for PCs now selling in Japan, and at least one vendor is promising a similar approach for an integrated PC/TV system.

The idea of using these recorder systems in home-networking applications is also expected to be discussed by a few suppliers.

Analog television: Flat-screen direct-view television is coming on in a big way since Sony first introduced the concept in its FD Trinitron Wega series two years ago. Look for a number of TV makers to announce their own designs in both analog and digital products slated to reach the market next year.

Thomson also promises to push the onscreen guide feature developed by Gemstar. GuidePlus will be standard issue in most RCA and ProScan models and in other manufacturers’ lines as well.

TV/VCR Combo: Add DVD to the combo category this year. Several manufacturers plan to include the capability, and some will debut with very aggressive prices.

Panasonic reports strong demand for its tri-way, 27″ TV/VCR/DVD models that debuted last year.

The strong growth in traditional TV/VCRs is also expected to influence greater activity in this segment of the market next year.