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Mitsubishi Unveils Next Phase Of Digital Television Rollout

LAS VEGAS – Claiming the top market share position in digital television sales, Mitsubishi unveiled the next phase of its digital rollout plans at the company’s dealer line review here.

At the same time, the company vowed to maintain its dealer agreements that maintain “no Mitsubishi products are to be sold on the Internet.” Company executives said the stipulation will ensure that Mitsubishi’s products are properly displayed and demonstrated on dealer sales floors.

Max Wasinger, Mitsubishi’s sales and marketing VP, said all of the company’s Web-based promotional activity is aimed at driving customers into stores and not at enabling e-commerce.

“Our products need to explained to customers. To sell an HDTV set, the product must be demonstrated,” he said. “Brick and mortar retailers play an important role in providing the HDTV experience. We believe e-commerce creates the impression that these are replaceable commodities. It devalues the product.”

At the same time he said his company will not underwrite the conversion of CBS Network prime-time television shows into HDTV format as it did last year. Mitsubishi said CBS is expected to continue the HDTV broadcasts with underwriting from other manufacturers. Wasinger said Mitsubishi would consider sponsoring HDTV telecasts of other special events from CBS or other networks.

Highlights for the 2000-2001 line include a total shift to 16:9 widescreen digital capable sets, the introduction of the company’s first digital light processing (DLP) powered rear projection set, and an unusual “promise” to customers that all Mitsubishi digital capable TVs will be “upgradeable.”

This promise, said marketing director Robert Perry, involves a plan to eventually provide an add-on module that will bring all Mitsubishi digital-capable sets (including first-generation models) the latest jacks, software and communication protocols to enable today’s sets to be compatible with systems and standards in the near future. This will enable capabilities ranging from interactive datacasting to home automation A/V networks that will interconnect numerous devices in the home.

The module, which will sell for less than $1,000 including on-site installation, will incorporate an IEEE 1394 digital interface, copy protection and the Home Audio Video Interoperability (HAVi) protocol. Perry said the module would not be available for 18 to 24 months, because no content is available today to make use of it.

Stressing the importance for forward compatibility, Perry said IEEE 1394 digital interconnects, 5C copy protection and HAVi device communication protocols will be critical capabilities for using the DTV broadcast system, when all of its elements are fully deployed around working business models. However, he cautioned that for today, only HDTV image resolution and Dolby Digital surround sound have practical business models.

Datacasting and multicasting systems, intended to be part of the DTV experience, currently lack realistic business models, he said.

Mitsubishi introduced seven analog rear-projection sets in two model series – Silver and Gold, all available this month. The three Silver Series models feature screen sizes of 45 inches (VS-45607, $1,899 suggested retail); 50 inches (VS-50607, $2,199) and 60 inches (VS-60607, $2,399).

All models include component video inputs, three S-video inputs, 3D-Y/C Digital Comb filters, 64-point Digital convergence adjustments, two-tuner picture-in-picture with split screen and dynamic white balance circuitry.

Four Gold Series models will be available with screen sizes of 50 (VS-50707, $2,499), 55 (VS-55707, $2,799), 60 (VS60707, $3,199) and 70 inches (VS-70707, $3,899). All models include Silver Series features plus Color Tuned Diamond Shield, Diamond Brite Screen, Illuminated remote and improved sound quality.

In explaining Mitsubishi’s strategy of selling only widescreen digital TVs this year, Wasinger said, “4:3 transitional products are less important to the consuming public today. We will be driving the trend” to the proliferation of widescreen DTV displays.

Mitsubishi Digital Electric America president Yoji Otani said the company exceeded its planned production of digital television products last year, but still could not meet all of the demands of its dealers. This year, he said, the company is investing in additional plant capacity to handle more than 300,000 projection TV units.

The nine widescreen HD-capable (digital ready) models in the new line are categorized into four series – Platinum, Platinum Plus, Diamond and a new 65-inch DLP model (WD-65000, $10,000).

The DLP unit, which is expected to ship in December, uses a newly developed single-chip 16:9 DLP engine with 720×1280 resolution. The chip was developed by Texas Instruments and is to be sold exclusively to Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Panasonic for HD-capable rear-projection sets, all of which are due later this year.

The new chip design has been significantly improved over previous XGA versions and pictures show greatly improved contrast ratios, brightness and resolution. Mitsubishi is targeting the display at customers who want a home theater-capable HD display that will also display computer images in sharp detail.

Perry said he didn’t think DLP would replace CRT-based rear-projection sets for some time, if ever, adding that CRT-based displays still offer superior black level performance, among other things.

Mitsubishi will introduce the product in a limited rollout. Participating dealers will have to prove their ability to properly sell and demonstrate the system, Perry said.

The remaining new digital sets will ship in the August-September time frame.

Three Platinum Series models are available in screen sizes of 46 inches (WT-46807, $3,499); 55 inches (WS-55807, $3,999) and 65 inches (WS-65807, $4,499). All include the features of the Silver and Gold analog models plus a third-generation Diamond Digital Pixel multiplier; MicroFine phosphor CRTs; motion-adaptive 3D-Y/C comb filter; five-picture format modes; high-speed velocity scan modulation and a film mode with 3/2 pull-down compensation.

The latter will offer a smoother conversion of film-based material (shot at 24 frames per second) to video (running at 30 frames per second).

Two models make up the new Platinum Plus series. These include the 55-inch VS-55857 ($4,499) and the 65-inch VS-65857 ($4,999). Both include all the features of the Platinum Series models plus Enhanced Depth-of-Field circuitry; high-resolution bit-mapped graphics processor; sophisticated 3D graphics menu system called View Point; VGA computer input and the new System 4 Home Theater Control interface, which will operate multiple devices connected to the television.

Diamond Series HD-upgradeable models include screen sizes of 55 inches (WS-55907, $4,999); 65 inches (WS-65907, $5,499) and 73 inches (WS-73907, $9,999). These include all of the Platinum Plus features plus a Tru-Focus lens system, enhanced 2-way audio system, gold plated connectors and high-gloss cabinets. Additionally, the 73-inch model uses 9-inch CRT optics.

Other new products include a five-model VCR line that for the first time offers more S-VHS units than hi-fi VHS models. The line includes two hi-fi models with significantly reduced entry prices. The HS-U446 carries a $149 SRP, while the step-up HS-U576 carries a $199 price. Both models include 450x fast-forward and rewind speeds, Commercial Skip function, advanced one-touch recording, Auto Clock Set, 19 micron precision gap heads and Energy Star rating.

The HS-U576 adds VCR Plus with cable box control, DBS satellite receiver control and S-VHS playback capability at normal resolution levels.

The three-model S-VHS lineup includes the HS-U746 ($299), HS-U776 ($349) and the HS-U795 ($699).

The latter is an editing deck with flying erase head, 3D-Y/C digital comb filter, digital noise reduction, jog shuttle front panel control, jog dial on the remote and A/V dubbing control.

The remaining models record and playback in S-VHS and include 2D-Y/C comb filters. The HS-U776 adds front panel S-video input, VCR-Plus with cable box control and PrograManager function that memorizes the contents of a tape to quickly find program sequences.

Two DVD players include the DD-4001 ($299) and the DD-6000 ($999). The latter is shipping now and offers progressive scan video output for use with HD-upgradeable digital displays. It also incorporates a Dolby Digital processor.

New home theater audio components include two A/V receivers – M-VR700 ($599) and M-VR900 ($799). Both include Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, S-video and composite video switching (four inputs), auto-standby operation and four DSP models. The VR700 offers 70 watts x five channels of power, while the VR900 offers 100 watts x five channels.

Two speaker packages include the M-S100 six-piece system ($899) and the M-S200 ($999). The first package features five speakers with integrated mounting bracket/base, 4-inch Polymer woofer, 3/4-inch polycarbonate dome tweeter and an 8-inch powered subwoofer.

The S200 package features a pair of two-way, 7-inch ported and shielded front tower speakers, a two-way 5-inch shielded center channel with passive radiator, a pair of two-way 5-inch bookshelf surround speakers and a 10-inch, 100-watt powered subwoofer.

The company acknowledged that its next-generation DTV set-top decoder with DirecTV capability (SR-HD400) has been delayed due to developmental issues with the new Advanced Program Guide, which will eventually integrate off-air analog and digital TV broadcast listings along with DirecTV-delivered fare.

The company currently expects delivery in June. As previously reported, Mitsubishi will sell the receiver in two packages, both with and without the new oval dish needed to receive HDTV and standard DirecTV programming. The SR-HD400 is the receiver only ($899) and the SR-HD500 is a dish and HD receiver package at $1,199.

Mitsubishi continues to sell a standard DirecTV receiver in three configurations: the SR-SD50 is the receiver only ($349), the SR-SD100 is the receiver with 18-inch dish ($399) and the SR-SD200 is a receiver with new 24-inch oval dish ($549).