Although a WebTv terminal and two digital cameras represented its newest categories, Thomson's RCA brand also enhanced most of its traditional categories in the 1999/2000 season.
Improving on its strongest area -- color television -- the company announced that the Gemstar GuidePlus onscreen programming guide system will play a huge role going forward, with some 50 models this year carrying one version of the feature.
A majority of new RCA sets this year will include either GuidePlus+ "basic" or the new GuidePlus+ Gold system that adds NewsGuide text-based news updates from MSNBC. The entry model to the GuidePlus+ Gold feature is a basic 27" RCA set carrying a $399 suggested retail price.
Thomson is replacing the ColorTrak Series name that has defined its better-goods lines in years past with the new Entertainment Series moniker. All Entertainment models include either GuidePlus+ basic or gold guides.
Representing the top tier of the RCA television offerings are the new digital high-resolution monitors that were unveiled at the company's dealer meeting in May. The line includes new multi-synch 4:3 projection TVs and big-screen direct-view models, including the 32" and 36" sets offered under both the ProScan and RCA labels.
To drive digital television pictures on these newly repositioned "hi-res" monitors, Thomson said it will begin to ship this month the RCA (DTC100) and ProScan (PSHD10) HDTV set-top decoders, both priced at $649.
To encourage one-brand (monitor and set-top) packages, Thomson is using an RGB via VGA broadband interface to send converted digital signals to the display. Content, some of which will include DirecTv HD services, can be copy protected via an adaptation of the CGMS system, according to an engineer with DirecTv.
In addition to ATSC signals, Thomson boxes will receive DirecTv's standard and HDTV channels. The HDTV services, however, will require a special 24" elliptical dish, which Thomson is selling as a $199 option to the decoder.
Thomson executives singled out the VCR category as a potential trouble spot for profitability this year, following news that Fry's had broken the $50 price barrier with an entry (non-Thomson) model. Sources said other major discounters are looking to go even lower this fall, and the discounting is expected to drag down pricing on all models despite continued strong demand for decks.
For its VCR line, which starts at $169 for a two-head mono and $219 for a four-head stereo unit, Thomson is promoting Commercial Advance, Movie Advance and VCR Plus+.
Following recent demographic trends that indicate swelling ranks of senior consumers, the company is dressing up its RCA VCR line this year with the addition of Senior Friendly models. The RCA VR646HF, for example, is a four-head Hi-Fi deck with large digital readouts, large buttons, and other ease-of-use enhancements.
Thomson continued to stay out of the digital camcorder arena and has further scaled back its analog offerings by officially eliminating the 8mm format this year.
RCA will focus on the VHS-C and full-size VHS, which has seen a comeback in popularity after LCD monitor panels were added to some step-up units.
Another important growth category for RCA is TV/VCR combos. The line this year includes two models each in the 20" and 25" screen sizes, three 13" models, and a $349 suggested retail 9" model.
In DVD, Thomson said it would offer a five-disc player (the RCA RC-5910P) for $499 this fall. It includes component video output, jog shuttle control, and both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs. A laptop LCD-based portable DVD unit is planned for early 2000.