Pioneer Sees DVD-RW, HD-DVD In Its Vision Of Non-audio Growth - Twice

Pioneer Sees DVD-RW, HD-DVD In Its Vision Of Non-audio Growth

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Pioneer will launch DVD-RW recorders in the U.S. in late 2000, a home entertainment network in 2001, and high-definition DVD in about five years as part of its strategy to build its non-audio business, top Pioneer executives said.

They said they were on track to reach last year's announced goal that in 2005 40 percent of sales will be generated from four of the company's core businesses. These core units are DVD; next-generation displays such as plasma and organic EL (electroluminescent); digital networks; and OEM component sales, including sales of DVD pickups and drive mechanisms. (The drive mechanisms in a pair of 301-disc DVD changers being launched at CES come from this business unit. The changers carry suggested retail prices starting at $1,100.)

The company also announced that four hardware companies have lined up to support the DVD-RW technology that it championed before the DVD Forum, which recently approved DVD-RW as an official DVD spec. The companies are JVC, Ricoh, Sharp, and Mitsubishi.

"We have every confidence that Pioneer's DVD recorder will become the de facto standard" for rewritable video discs, said Pioneer president Kaneo Ito.

In a progress report on his company's Vision 2005 corporate-restructuring blueprint, Ito said the company expects to double its sales in its "four core competencies" to 24% of worldwide sales in the fiscal year ending March 2000. That will come to $1.4 billion and includes sales of digital set-top boxes and DVD-based car navigation systems.

The blueprint, announced a little more than a year ago, also called for improved efficiency, a doubling of overall revenues in fiscal 2005, and a return on equity of 10%/

As part of its revenue-doubling effort, the company plans a fourth-quarter 2000 U.S launch of a DVD-RW recorder, the DVR-1000, Ito said. A model began shipping in Japan this month, but U.S. sales are scheduled for late next year, by which time the DVD Forum's copyright protection technical working group (CPTWG) is expected to develop a "more elaborate copy-protection scheme," Ito said. That would give Pioneer the confidence to develop a U.S.-market recorder whose home-recorded discs would be playable in playback-only DVD players, not just in DVD recorders.

The Japan-market recorder produces home-recorded discs that can't be played back on current DVD players because it "doesn't finalize the disc to DVD specifications," optical systems executive VP Paul Dempsey explained. Once the CPTWG approves copy protection standards for the format, however, Pioneer will upgrade the domestic players for free to allow for DVD-spec finalization.

Write-once discs recorded on those players and on the second-generation player due in the U.S. would play back in any DVD player that reads dual-layer discs, as most do with the exception of some early models. Rewritable discs will play back in any player that can read CD-RW discs, but other players won't. "It's a logic issue," Dempsey said. "DVD-RW has lower reflectivity (that is) equivalent to the second layers of a DVD disc," he explained. "Some players will ask `Where is the first layer?' to determine that it's a legitimate disc." If it doesn't detect the first layer, the machine won't play the disc.

A firmware upgrade would be required to upgrade these machines, Dempsey said, but it hasn't been determined how that would be accomplished.

The details on compatibility diverge from what Pioneer executives disclosed to TWICE earlier this year during the Berlin IFA show. There, executives outlined the same write-once scenario but said all existing players would have to be upgraded to play back rewritable discs.

The Japan model will incorporate an analog TV tuner and only analog inputs for such devices as cable boxes, satellite receivers, and videocameras. The U.S, model might also incorporate an analog tuner, spokesman said, and will feature only analog inputs. According to Dempsey, digital inputs "are very dangerous for potential replication."

Rewritable discs will be single-layer discs offering 4.6GB of capacity per side.

In describing plans for digital networking, Ito said the company's trademarked "Digital Network Entertainment" (DNE) concept would be launched in 2001 and be built around a digital A/V station, or server, called the K-3. It would connect to a residential high-speed broadband gateway for Web access and to a digital off-line network, which would include a DVD/CD changer with possibly up to two separate transports. The off-line network would also include a DVD player/recorder, CD player/recorders, and solid-state audio systems. The products would be connected to the station via IEEE1394, and the station would use wireless RF or wired connections to distribute content from these sources to displays and audio playback devices around the house.

The device itself would incorporate a hard drive to store downloaded content from the Web, time-shifted video from TV and satellite systems, and music that could also be distributed throughout the house. The device would be controlled through an LCD touchscreen or by voice command.

For wireless distribution, Pioneer is considering the use of Bluetooth technology as well as other solutions in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, a spokesman said.

As for high-definition DVDs, Pioneer might be able to deliver the product in five years, "but we will try to accelerate (the timetable)," Ito said.

At CES, Pioneer will play back a single-sided HD DVD that accommodates 27.4GB (or four hours) of high-definition 1080i content on two layers. The player will use a violet-laser mechanism purchased on an OEM basis from Nichia, a spokesman said. However, Pioneer plans to jointly develop a consumer version with another company to shorten development time and save development costs, Ito said.

Ito also said he envisions recordable HD DVD discs and players to time-shift HDTV programming, but "first we must develop playback (device)." For HD recording, he added, "maybe we will use both (hard drive recording and recordable discs)." Pioneer "can't decide which way yet."

As for Internet audio portables, Ito said he did not have a timetable for an introduction, although the company will bring to CES a portable purchased from Sony on an OEM basis. Pioneer recently licensed Sony's Memory Stick memory card format, which will be used in the displayed portable.

Ito also held out the possibility that Pioneer will also license other solid-state memory formats. "Maybe Memory Stick is good for audio, but for communications, I don't know. We are quite open."

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