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Panasonic unveils Blu-ray Disc/DVD video recorder

Panasonic unveils Blu-ray Disc/DVD video recorder

Matsushita Electric Industrial will launch a Blu-ray Disc recorder compatible with new dual-layer discs and existing recordable DVD formats at the end of July, the company said Wednesday.

The Panasonic DMR-E700BD can record 4.5 hours of digital satellite high-definition television (HDTV) when used with 50G-byte dual-layer Blu-ray Disc Rewritable format discs, said Etsuji Shuda, director of Panasonic's AVC Networks home AV business unit, at a Tokyo news conference.

This extends to 6 hours for digital terrestrial HDTV and 9 hours for standard definition digital satellite TV. Analog television can be recorded for between 10.5 hours and 63 hours depending on the quality mode selected.

Single-layer Blu-ray Disc Rewritable discs with a capacity of 25G bytes are also supported and offer half the recording time, while DVD-RAM and DVD-R discs can be used to record analog television. Panasonic plans to launch both single-layer and dual-layer Blu-ray discs to coincide with the recorder's launch on July 31.

Blu-ray Disc is one of two formats emerging as a potential replacement for DVD-Video. Consumer electronics companies are looking at new formats because DVD's recording capacity, which is generally either 4.7G bytes or 9.4G bytes, is only enough to store around one hour of HDTV. The other format is called HD-DVD and has yet to be commercialized.

Both formats rely on blue lasers to enable the storage of more data on a disc the same diameter as a CD or DVD. Because blue light has a shorter wavelength than the red light used in DVDs, the spot the laser makes on the recording surface is smaller. This means each bit of data needs less space and so more can be crammed onto a disc.

The new recorder will cost around ¥300,000 (AUD$9,900), the 50G-byte LM-BRM50 disc will cost ¥7,500 (AUD$100) and the 25G-byte LM-BRM25 disc will cost ¥3,500 (AUD$46), Matsushita said.

Despite the high cost of the player, Matsushita is hopeful it will find customers thanks to Japan's summer bonus season and the upcoming Olympic Games.

Japanese companies typically pay employees bonuses in the middle and at the end of the year. The bonuses are often worth more than a month's salary and their payment sees many companies, particularly consumer electronics, automobile and travel companies, vying for business from clients with money to burn.

Consumer electronics companies are also especially hopeful this year because of the upcoming Olympic Games. Previously such major sporting events have provided a driver for large-screen televisions and video technology and the same is hoped for this year as Japanese public television NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) is planning to air around 250 hours of high-definition television coverage from Athens.

"There is a 6-hour time difference between Japan and Greece," said Shuda. "Most live broadcasts will be in the night so people will enjoy the Olympics by recording them."

The vast majority of recorders are not capable of high-definition recording so most owners of HDTV compatible televisions will not be able to enjoy the images at full resolution. Matsushita's Blu-ray recorder is aimed at this audience because it is able to record in high definition.

Matsushita said with the new recorder and its existing line-up of DVD recorders it is hoping to capture a 50 percent share of the Japanese market for optical disc video recorders this year, up from 40 percent last year. It wouldn't provide any sales forecasts for the Blu-ray recorder, but said it plans to manufacture 2,000 units per month from now onwards.

In launching the player, Matsushita becomes the second company to commercialize a Blu-ray Disc recorder. Sony Corp., one of the main drivers of the format, launched a recorder in April last year. The BDZ-S77 went on sale for ¥450,000 (AUD$5,970) and currently costs around ¥330,000 (AUD$438). Sony has not announced any sales figures for the machine.

The discs used by Matsushita in its new machine are different to those used by Sony. The Sony recorder uses single-layer discs with a 23G-byte capacity encased in a cartridge, while Matsushita's discs, in addition to being a different capacity, are in an open cartridge that the company says will become the standard for Blu-ray Disc.

As a result of the differences there are some compatibility issues. While the Sony 23G-byte discs can be played back and used for recording in the Matsushita machine, using Matsushita discs with the Sony recorder presents some problems.

Sony said its machine is incompatible with the new Matsushita discs. A Matsushita spokesman said playback of the 25G-byte discs in the Sony machine is possible although it takes about 90 seconds to recognize the disc. The 50G-byte discs cannot be used.

Matsushita said it has no plans to launch the DMR-E700BD outside of Japan. Plans for overseas versions will depend on the development of the HDTV market in the respective countries, said Shuda.

Other companies are also planning recorders and have shown prototype models. At the CES show in Las Vegas in January South Korea's LG Electronics said it plans to launch a Blu-ray recorder with built-in hard-disk drive in the U.S. market later this year.


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