The enigmatic VCR category may not take center stage at CES 2000, but it will continue to be a noisemaker as vendors look to enhance lines to protect market share in the popular product segment.
Despite the high acceptance rate of DVD players, unit sales for VCR decks continued to surge to record levels in 1999, although heavy price promoting shrank profitability across the board.
On course, in a 23 million-unit (sell-in) year and increasing price erosion, the industry is trying to pump up margins with units that enhance performance. Thus, watch for renewed interest in the S-VHS category this year.
As some manufacturers return to the high-resolution deck format, others are beefing up assortments and/or reducing prices to all-time lows.
Meanwhile, the four-head mono segment generated the biggest share of the business again last year, although Hi-Fi units gained considerable ground. Vendors said the two-head mono business was also strong, as sale prices dipped close to $50 dollars in some areas. But fewer SKUs and weaker supply helped to drive business into step-up goods.
The outlook for this year is for virtually flat sales, although 23 million decks isn't at all bad. New trends are a resurgence of S-VHS units, which some deck marketers now peg at 5% of the business.
At the opposite end of the business, some makers are expanding assortments of two-head models in order to address the heavy volumes the segment generated last year.
The following is a glance at some of the new VCR lines manufacturers are displaying at this week's CES:
JVC: The inventor of the Super-VHS category vows to maintain its market share leadership position by returning with four Super-VHS-ET models this year.
Jerry Barbera, JVC consumer video division general manager, said his company would gauge activity of newcomers and players returning to the format before announcing prices on the new decks. He added that JVC would not lose its edge.
The company will also offer four Hi-Fi VHS models this year, and two four-head mono units. It no longer offers two-head models.
Panasonic: This year, the company will discuss seven new models under the Panasonic brand. Common features throughout the line include a universal light-tower-illuminated remote, VCR Plus, auto clock setting with 24-hour backup, commercial skip or movie advance, multifunction clock display, index search, program-end search, and tape position display.
The assortment will include one four-head mono deck, with the rest in the Hi-Fi category. Panasonic's top-of-the-line Hi-Fi VHS deck (PV-V4660) will see a $219.95 estimated street price. It includes Dynamorphous metal heads, Movie Advance, VCR Plus Gold, and rapid fast forward/rewind.
The company will also return with one S-VHS-ET model (PV-VS4820), which will carry a $299.95 suggested retail price.
Meanwhile, the company's sister brand, Quasar, offers two new VCRs this year -- the four-head mono VHQ-400 and four-head Hi-Fi stereo VHQ-450.
Both feature auto clock, 24-hour backup, multi-brand universal remote and onscreen menu. The VHQ-400 will carry a $79.95 suggested retail, and the VHQ-450 is $99.95.
Philips: The Philips brand will appear on four new VCRs, including a new Super-VHS-ET. A new feature for the line is tape manager, which allows users to input title content in an onscreen menu template. Upon insertion of a cassette, all of the contents are displayed in an onscreen menu, enabling viewers to advance directly to the program they wish to view.
New models include the VR-660BPH, a four-head mono deck with 19-micron head for improved playback quality of EP tapes, VCR-Plus C-3, and universal remote. It ships in April.
The Philips VR-810BPH is an entry four-head Hi-Fi deck with 19-micron head, tape manager, and VCR-Plus Gold with C3 capability. It ships in July. The VR-960BPH is a four-head, 19-micron Hi-Fi deck with VCR-Plus C-3. It ships in June.
The new S-VHS-ET deck that will be shipping in July is the VR-1010BP. The unit includes tape manager and Philips' Turbo-Timer easy programming system. The mechanism enables record programming in four steps. Other features include front panel jog/shuttle control and VCR Plus Gold.
Samsung will show two new high-tech "world" VCRs that are designed to play back tapes made in the various broadcast formats from around the world.
The flagship model is SV7000W ($1,299 suggested retail), which incorporates tuners for NTSC, Pal, Secam and Secam L. It will also decode MTS stereo from any system. Deck styling includes a simulated wood finish and a decorative front panel.
Model SV5000W ($659.99) omits the Secam L (France) tuner but will decode Secam L tapes for playback in black & white. It also will decode other Secam, Pal and NTSC signals, although MTS stereo decoding is offered for NTSC only. Other features include: VCR-Plus for the U.S., and Europe; the similar ShowView system for other portions of Europe; and G-Code for Korea.
Key features in core decks include front A/V jacks, auto-clock, 10-minute memory backup and universal remote. Also added for the first time are 19-micron heads for the first time to boost EP performance.
Samsung is also offering select models with compact chassis with new styling designs that introduce translucent cabinets in teal and blue. Models VR5060T (teal) and VR5060B (blue) are four-head mono units that are billed as limited editions. They are set to ship at the end of the first quarter at a $109 suggested retail.
The new lineup will start to ship this month and will feature two four-head units, VR5060 ($99), VR5070 ($109), with midsize chassis designs.
In Hi-Fi, the company will offer the VR8060 ($109. 99) and the VR8070 ($119.99) in midsize chassis designs. Also offered are two full-size models, both of which offer quasi-S playback for S-VHS tapes.
Completing the lineup are the VR9060 ($145.99), and the top-end VR9070 ($169.99). These add Commercial Advanced functions, front-panel shuttle control, time stamp, and cable box control. Also included is an intuitive onscreen record programming setup menu, real-time counter, and a large fluorescent readout.
Sharp will offer a total of nine core-line decks this year. Models start in the four-head mono segment and range up to a Super-VHS-ET deck. Sharp continues with S-VHS after re-entering the category two years ago. The company made the transition in August 1999 to the VCS-101U, which continues to sell at a $269.95 suggested retail price.
Features include front S-video input, S-video inputs and outputs on back, VCR Plus, and a front-panel shuttle control. A new A/V auto record system is designed to default to the VCR record programming systems of various set-top boxes that offer the capability as part of their onscreen program guides. The feature is typically found in DTV decoders, DirecTv IRDs and some cable boxes.
New features in the line include an "exact record" feature that automatically determines recording time left on a tape in standard-play mode and activates the EP function to capture the full length of a selected program. Other features are a special one-touch rental rewind button, front A/V inputs throughout the line, S-VHS quasi playback and 19-micron heads.
Toshiba: The company will announce its re-entry into the S-VHS deck category, after dropping the segment from lack of consumer interest several years ago.
Claude Frank, video product manger, said the recent emergence of the S-VHS-ET technology -- which allows S-VHS recording on standard High Grade VHS tapes and greater awareness of superior video resolution sources -- has helped to pump new life into the high-end VCR technology.