Panasonic chief says connectivity is key

Panasonic chief says connectivity is key

Panasonic's top executive showed off a bag of technology tricks at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Thursday, including a new networking technology that could soon be used to shuttle data around the home or office at a nifty 170M bps (bits per second).

The technology uses an adapter that plugs into a wall outlet and converts data into a format that can be carried over standard powerlines. It should be fast enough to send multiple streams of high-definition video to every room in the home, something not possible today, Panasonic officials said.

Called HD-PLC (high definition-ready high-speed power line communication), the technology has been proposed to the HomePlug Power Alliance, an industry consortium, for adoption as part of its technology standard. If it does adopt it, Panasonic plans to begin selling products to customers in the second half of this year, the company said.

It was one of several technologies highlighted by Fumio Ohtsubo, president of Panasonic AVC Networks, in a speech at the start of CES. The ability to network consumer devices together -- and to do so in a way that doesn't require wading through instruction manuals -- will be key to the electronics industry in the future, he said.

"From now on, our industry's products must communicate with each other. They can provide more value by connecting to each other than they provide alone. That's how we now approach everything that we do" at Panasonic, he said.

The goal is to let people shoot video, take pictures and download music and then play back that content on any device, at work, at home or even in the car. The vision, which Panasonic calls "Lifestream," draws heavily on Secure Digital storage cards, which a Panasonic official here said will reach 4G bytes by 2006, enough for more than two hours of DVD-quality video.

In contrast to the speech given by Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp.'s chairman and chief software architect, Ohtsubo's presentation made no use of PCs. Consumers can take SD cards from their cameras, MP3 players or camcorders and plug them directly into a DVD player or television to play back their files. The company is showing off flat-screen televisions that include SD Card slots.

"There's no need for booting up a PC or any other source device," Reid Sullivan, vice president of Panasonic's Entertainment Group, said during Ohtsubo's speech.

Ohtsubo surprised the audience by starting his presentation with a shower of water that poured like rain from the roof of the Hilton Theater into a large bowl before him. The idea was to show how electronics products can become as ubiquitous and affordable as water. In fact, he noted, some are already cheaper.

Ohtsubo said he was at a supermarket recently where calculators the size of credit cards were on sale for US$0.99. Two aisles over, bottles of Evian water were selling for US$2. "Electronics is cheaper than water," he said, beaming happily.

The company also showed a prototype of a sleek, black high-definition camcorder not much larger than a pack of playing cards that will let consumers record top-quality video when it goes on sale by 2006. "This technology will revolutionize the camcorder market," he asserted.

Officials here also showed a digital video camera the size of a credit-card and a futuristic television remote control that looks like a silver pen. It works in conjunction with a new interface for televisions -- a rotating, graphical carousel -- that is supposed to make it easier for people to select upcoming programs they want to record. No release date for the products was given.

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