by Jim Bennett (January 17, 2000)
Panasonic had an extensive booth displaying an impressive 60-inch Flat Panel Plasma prototype television that immediately caught my attention with its large clear images. Their small devices and wearable devices were also amazing, as well as their projected pricing and availability in the near term. Their head mounted wearable camcorder functions as a digital still camera and was very futuristic looking. It uses the Secure Digital (SD) Memory Card.
President Don Iwatani (Panasonic) showed off a slew of digital portables. He noted that both SD and DVD are keys to the vast consumer marketplace. Recordable DVD decks, based on the DVD-RAM format, were noted to offer meaningful growth in the future. Panasonic indicated a DVD player for vehicles using the DVD Audio format could replace the CD. It's coupled with a 7-inch monitor and should sell in the $3000 range later this year.
Toshiba displayed a wide array of digital and high definition television.
Philips Electronics demonstrated the interoperability of its DVD products on a large stage, using giant dice and remote controls. Philips and AOL announced development of a set top box to receive AOL service over standard television but further information wouldn't be available until later this year.
Sony Electronics had a packed house at their press conference, since many of their top executives showed off the newest, coolest products. It appears that i.Link and Memory Stick technology are keys to Sony's networking future. The Sony Network4 Walkman is a pocket sized MP3 digital music player encased in a tech looking brushed aluminum case. It's only 1.6 ounces and boasts a playback time of 5 hours and will not skip. It's not cheap at $330, but can transfer an hour of MP3 tunes in under two minutes. So how much is your time worth?
Sony has been caught in the HDTV and DTV rollout. The industry growth in general has been slower than forecasted. Much of this is due to lack of compelling content and high equipment prices. While several companies advise that HDTV is on track, I don't feel that it is on track now or even has been.
Standards and compatibility issues still need to be worked out at this late date. For example, FCC Chairman Bill Kennard is very upset that HDTV is still not compatible with cable television. If something is not done soon the FCC will do it. Sony and others are planning to introduce lower cost direct view HDTV sets later this year but compatibility needs resolution now.
Sony's Digital 8 Handycam product line adds four new models. I liked Model DCR-TRV280 that can print color images directly from the camera. Two new portable DVDs with 7-inch LCD screens are acceptable for mobile personal or vehicle travel.
Thomson/RCA is looking for a HDTV price point "sweet spot". It reduced the price of its RCA 38 inch wide screen direct view HDTV to only $3999. This may be part of a larger strategy to help kick start the small but growing HDTV market while gaining important market share. It could be a good move as production costs fall and more content is being made available every quarter.
Video on the go is called "ViGo" at Thomson and is a portable home theatre with a built in projector. It's coupled with a Scarab DVD projector that would mount on a wall and serves dual duty as a lighting fixture.
Pioneer showcased a prototype high definition DVD player with a very special feature set for HDTV. It records up to 27 gigabytes of data on a single DVD, with a four-hour play time. This is accomplished using blue laser technology.
Pioneer will offer a six-disc DVD changer coupled with 8-inch back seat monitors in the $4000 to $5000 range. A video game console should be compatible at extra cost. Who said you cannot make money with automotive technology since the volumes are too low or development times are too long? They should talk to dealers attending CES who are getting these prices for entertainment upgrades.
Sharp Electronics displayed a new range of flat panel monitors in different home situations. Their applications range from the kitchen to exercise room, to bedroom to garage. Connecting all these units will be essential.
Casio Computer Company displayed two new cool wristwatches. The first has image capture capabilities. The Casio WQV-1 digital camera watch has a monochrome display, 20 by 20 mm, 16 gray scales and a built-in 1 MB flash memory, which can store up to 100 frames with text. Cost will be less than $200.
The audio enhanced Casio MP3 watch tells time and weighs only 70 grams with a 32 MB memory card. It can be used with headphones and stores 66 minutes of broadcast quality music and 33 minutes of near CD quality music. It uses a special charger and communications connector which transfers music and files from a computer's USB port. It runs with Windows 98. Using a proprietary rechargeable lithium ion battery it promises up to 4 hours of playback time . Cost is in the $200 to $250 range. Product market introductions are scheduled for late Q1 and Q2 2000.
Minds@Work competes in the same digital market, at even lower prices than Creative Lab's Nomad Jukebox. They have developed the Digital Wallet with the choice of a 6 gig hard drive at only $399 or move up to 8 gigs at $549. It stores any type of digital data via the USB port. The size is reasonable at about 4" x 5" x 1". It is both PC and Mac compatible.
Samsung showed a new 43 inch HDTV and with its version of a MP3 player called "Yepp" that it's going to promote heavily in this competitive market.
Diamond Rio showed its MP3 player with a 340 MB IBM MicroDrive. It is about the same size as a regular Rio player and is a nice evolutionary improvement if you want to listen to a lot of music. However, the MicroDrive may shorten the battery life significantly, since this device runs on only two AA batteries. I believe Compact Flash media will hold a significant edge in play times since it has no moving parts.
Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox looks like a portable CD player. It isn't because the unit is an MP3 player on steroids. The unit is fully equipped with a 6 gig hard drive, USB connection with the ability to record 2,600 hours of speech or 150 CD's. I'll go with the CD option and save for the $600 acquisition cost.
Olympus demonstrated its cool looking Eye Trek glasses. In reality they are micro screens place close and directly in front of your eyes. It's like looking at projection television, up close and personal.
While the image quality is decent, I see scan lines but I'm very fussy about image quality. For viewing DVD programming in a wide range of environments at home, traveling as a passenger in a vehicle, a training simulation at work or games at play this might be the ticket for you. The price of admission is $899.
© 2000 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.