Every year, as summer sales for consumer-electronics products drag a little, manufacturers and retailers wonder which products will be the trend-setters in the upcoming holiday season. According to a report just released by <A HREF="http://www.idc.com">International Data Corporation</A> (IDC), the hot niche for 1999 will be a new product category: digital video recorders (DVRs) from companies like <A HREF="http://www.replaytv.com">RePlay Networks</A> and <A HREF="http://www.tivo.com">TiVo</A>.
A plasma display's compact physical size, perfectly flat screen, and pixel-sharp picture answer many prayers for home-theater enthusiasts. There are a few downsides, however, including a lack of true blacks and prices equal to a new small car. But one of the biggest drawbacks so far is far too few pixels to properly present an HDTV image. To solve this problem, several manufacturers are creating larger displays with higher resolutions.
Last week, <A HREF="http://www.directv.com">DirecTV</A>, a subsidiary of <A HREF="http://www.hughes.com">Hughes Electronics</A>, announced that its direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) television service acquired 110,000 new customers in May. This figure is a record for that month, the company reports, and a 57% increase in net customer acquisition over May 1998. An additional 145,000 customers---who previously subscribed only to programming from US Satellite Broadcasting---were gained last month by DirecTV when Hughes completed its merger with USSB on May 20.
Last month, at HI-FI '99 in Chicago, Telarc's Bob Woods dismissed fears of a format war between the Super Audio Compact Disc---a format developed and promoted by Sony/Philips---and DVD-Audio. "Someone will make a universal player," he promised.
News Corporation's <A HREF="http://www.fox.com/">Fox Network</A> and the <A HREF="http://www.nab.org/">National Association of Broadcasters</A> have gone their separate ways. Fox made the announcement on June 8 in protest over the Association's refusal to lobby against legal limits on the number of television stations one company can own. The limit is now defined by Federal law as a total number of stations that reach no more than 35% of the more than 100 million homes in the US. Three weeks earlier, <A HREF="http://www.nbc.com/">NBC</A>, a unit of General Electric, had threatened similar action over the NAB's refusal to change its policy.
Last week, <A HREF="http://www.panasonic.com">Panasonic</A> announced that it will market hard-disk video recorders with <A HREF="http://www.replaytv.com">ReplayTV</A> technology under the Panasonic brand. The company expects to be one of the first outside Replay Networks, Inc. to market hard-disk recorders with ReplayTV, which allows television viewers to record shows "on the fly" directly onto a built-in hard disk.
Plasma displays have taken a big leap toward affordability. On June 10, <A HREF="http://www.plasmavision.com/">Fujitsu General America Inc.</A> announced a major reduction in the price of its Plasmavision 42 at the InfoComm International '99 confab in Orlando, Florida. The new price of $6995 is a 30% drop from the former suggested retail of almost $10,000---and half the price of the 42's predecessor, which was introduced at CES in 1997.
According to the <A HREF="http://vsda.org/">Video Software Dealers Association</A>'s weekly VidTrac reporting service, <I>Saving Private Ryan</I> has debuted as the top-renting video ever. In its first six days of release, the report says, <I>Saving Private Ryan</I> has been rented by more consumers than any other film in the same opening-week time period.
W<I>arren Beatty, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Oliver Platt, Paul Sorvino, Jack Warren, Isaiah Washington. Directed by Warren Beatty. Aspect ratio: 1:85:1. Dolby Digital. 108 minutes. 1998. 20th Century Fox 4110398. Rated R. $34.98.</I>
Most Net-connected movie fans have heard of downloading films. They have sampled AVI files and found the results less than satisfying. The digital video is jerky, out of focus, and suffers from terrible pixelation effects---all caused by slow microprocessors and low frame rates. The present typical state of the art isn't high enough for most folks to take Internet video seriously.