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Matsushita Execs Preview Key Digital Technologies

Matsushita gave Japan Electronics Show ’99 (JES) attendees and visiting U.S. journalists a preview of early 21st century home technology, as well as insight into the company’s strategies.

Under its Panasonic brand, Matsushita highlighted DVD, products based on its Secure Digital (SD) memory card technology, and home networking technology – under the theme “Exciting Digital World” – during JES, held earlier this month in Chiba, just outside of Tokyo.

The company focused on these technologies just as digital broadcasting is set to begin in Japan, sending a message to the industry that it has competitive, cutting-edge technologies for the dawning digital era.

In Matsushita’s “DVD World” the company debuted several DVD products, including: a 4.7GB recorder; an audio player; a player with a 15-inch LCD TV; a portable laptop player; and a progressive player (TWICE, October 11).

SD was well-represented at the Panasonic booth. The company showed 22 prototype products – developed in conjunction with Toshiba and SanDisk – that could use SD, including a DVD player, cellular phone, music player, still camera and video printer. SD capacities shown were 32, 64, 128, 256 and 512MB, as well as 1 gigabyte.

SD-based music players that will back the SDMI standard are scheduled to bow from Panasonic next spring in 32MB and 64MB sizes.

At JES, Panasonic also spotlighted digital networks for the home by showing multichannel and interactive TVs. Visiting U.S. journalists got a closer look at the company’s plans with a tour of its “Warp Square HII House” in the Multimedia Center in the Tokyo area.

The HII (Home Information Infrastructure) project combines Panasonic’s expertise in CE, major appliances and housing systems, and uses a hard disk/DVD server, fiber-optic cable and wireless connections to control a wide variety of home functions. (See an upcoming issue of TWICE for more details.)

During a press briefing, three Matsushita Electric Industrial executives – Kirk Nakamura, president of its AVC Company and senior managing director; Sakon Nagasaki, director of the DVD and AV Media Card Business Development Offices; and Yoshiaki Kushiki, director/member of the board responsible for multimedia R&D – outlined their company’s views on new technologies.

Nakamura commented that DVD will “dominate CD and take over the CD world” during the next few years. Due to “better pictures and affordable pricing,” he said, DVD player sales are growing three times as fast as CD audio when it was introduced in the early ’80s. However, DVD’s role with SD and hard disk drives, which will be a key component in home networking, will be one of “coexistence. a complementary relationship.”

“HDD has huge data capacity, DVD is central packaged media [with A/V and PC applications], and [SD] has a smaller storage capacity,” Nakamura said. But, he added, SD is more mobile and can link with the Web and home networks.

One illustration of how DVD and SD applications can be intertwined is in camcorders. Last year Matsushita showed a DVD-RAM prototype, but at JES it displayed an SD prototype. While not admitting that work on a DVD-RAM camcorder has been dropped, Nakamura said “consumers usually say. ‘smaller is better.'”

Matsushita has also faced choices while developing hard disk drive (HDD) servers for home networks and hard disk personal video systems. The company is working with disk drive expert Quantum to develop a home network server, but it has signed an agreement with Replay Networks to introduce a hard disk-based personal video system (TWICE, June 21).

Nakamura and the other Matsushita executives did not theorize on a common industry standard for home networking. However, Nakamura commented, “The HDD market will expand in 2000 through the near future. TV is the center of the [home] entertainment network. PC is the center of the creative network. Both will expand into home networking.”