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NEW YORK-Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co. was in town recently to offer what has been dubbed the first public broadcast of high-definition television in New York City.

Digital programming in 1080i, the highest resolution, was displayed from noon to 8pm at the South Street Seaport courtesy of WCBS-TV. The signal was beamed from atop the Empire State Building, picked up by a standard antenna, decoded by a set-top box, and displayed on a 56-inch widescreen TV.

At the event, Panasonic showcased a host of digital TV products, including an HDTV projection monitor, SDTV Plasma display panel, and Tau series 34-inch HDTV monitor. Tau products currently ship only in Japan.

A host of Panasonic officials was on hand to praise HDTV as well as offer insight into company strategy and research.

"The key to growth in the consumer electronics industry is a steady flow of innovative products," said Stan Hametz, senior vice president of merchandising. "The introduction of HDTV will contribute to the satisfaction and enjoyment of the consumer, as well as the well-being of the manufacturers and dealers."

"The general public reaction has been one of amazement," said Bill Mannion, general manager of the television and network systems division, adding that sports and landscapes have been the most effective HDTV programming in arousing consumer interest.

The early HDTV consumer will be a TV aficionado who has prior knowledge of the format and is likely to be a sports enthusiast, Mannion said.

"Hundreds" of Panasonic's 56-inch set, which went on sale in August priced at $5,999.95, have so far been sold, Mannion said, adding that "production is rising to meet demand."

The set upgrades NTSC's 480i picture to 480p and displays images in the standard 4x3 size as well as 16x9, the format in which HDTV pictures are commonly displayed. (NTSC is today's analog standard.) Mannion described the set as "the ultimate NTSC set with high-definition capability."

Mannion said he believes 480p will become the "sweet spot" in terms of price and performance. Direct-view digital sets that display 480p are priced on par with analog direct-view sets, unlike the big-screen sets that provide 1080i, which are priced significantly higher than their analog brethren.

He offered DTV market projections: About 30,000 digital-ready sets will ship in the product's first 12 months (it launches next month); by 2001, penetration will surpass the 1 million market; and by 2005, 8 million digital TVs will have been sold.

Panasonic will support its digital TV products, all of which work in conjunction with a set-top box, with the most aggressive advertising campaign in the history of the company's TV products group.

The campaign will include TV commercials running from mid November through mid January in all the top HDTV broadcast markets. The TV ads will run during prime-time programming, including news and talk shows.

Panasonic will offer a wide variety of point-of-sale material, including a large-size lighted display and a digital VCR that will allow retailers to show off their digital sets even where there is no digital signal. The digital VCR is priced at $999 and should be available for retail sale in January 1999.

To further build consumer awareness, Panasonic is expanding its Web site, tripling DTV content. The site will include a list of retailers that sell digital TV products.

As for other digital products in Panasonic's stable, the set-top box will be available for retail sale late this month or early next month, with a suggested retail price of $1,700. The price of the set-top box should drop rapidly, as it is made of silicone.

The set-top box will tune and decode all 18 formats, as well as cable if cable suppliers opt to relay the signal via a procedure known as a "pass-through."

Panasonic deliberately employed a set-top-box strategy. "It will work with any TV," Mannion said. "It is easy on the consumer" in that it provides them with flexibility.

Also next year, the company will offer an SDTV set that will provide a 4x3 image in 480p resolution. It will carry a suggested retail price neck-and-neck with the price of an analog set.

The Tau series will reach the U.S. in 1999 in the form of a flatscreen direct-view plasma TV that will ship in the first quarter at a price below $5,000. Tau will be a focus at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show to be held in January in Las Vegas.
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Author:Lieber, Ed
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 19, 1998

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