Industry News Roundup

Digital TV is hot. Factory-to-dealer sales of DTV products jumped by 36% over the same period in 2002, with a total of 196,113 units shipped, according to figures released in late March by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The monetary value also rose, but by a lesser amount, 16%, due to declining prices. The CEA defines DTV products as "integrated sets and monitors displaying active vertical scanning lines of at least 480p and, in the case of integrated sets, receiving and decoding ATSC terrestrial digital transmissions." By the end of 2002, approximately 5 million DTV products had been sold, for a total of $8.6 billion. The trade group predicts that the DTV market will exceed $15 billion by the end of 2003.

"These sales figures tell a compelling story about the rapid growth of this technology and the increasing numbers of consumers who are watching and enjoying digital television every day," CEA President Gary Shapiro told attendees at the HDTV Update meeting in Tampa, FL.

Among the most popular DTV products are flat-panel televisions, both LCD screens and plasma display panels (PDPs), despite their relatively high prices compared to CRTs. The CEA reports that more than 185,000 flat panels were sold in 2002—approximately 100,000 plasma displays and 85,000 LCDs. There is some convergence between the two technologies, with LCD getting larger by the month and plasmas becoming available in smaller sizes. Korean manufacturer Sampo recently broke the $7000 price barrier for a 50" high-def plasma unit; Chinese electronics firm Apex Digital has two low-priced two 42" PDPs, one a high-def model at $3999 and the other an "extended definition" unit at $3499. Some industry spokesmen warn against the entry of lower-performing products at lower prices, but others think anything that fuels the flat-panel frenzy is a good thing.

Companies whose brand names are equated with quality include Philips, Sony, Samsung, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, and Sharp, a company heavily invested in LCD as the video technology of the future. Sharp LCD TV sales and marketing manager Tony Favia predicts sales of 200,000 LCD units for the fiscal year ending March 31. The company's LCD growth is getting stoked by yet another round of price cuts for its Aquos LCD TV line, announced in late March and effective May 1. Upper tier 16:9 models like the 37" LC-37HV4U and the 30" LC-30HV4U will be slashed from $8000 and $5000 to $7500 and $4500, respectively. Price reductions will be possible thanks to lowered production costs from Sharp's plant in Rosarito, Mexico. In approximately one year, Sharp will begin producing 60" LCD televisions at a new plant in Kameyama, Japan.

This week's Hollywood nightmare: The next generation of inexpensive DVD players could support the DivX video codec from DivX Networks, according to an announcement from Cirrus Logic Inc. DivX is an MPEG-4 compatible video compression technology claimed to offer DVD-quality at 7 to 10 times greater compression than MPEG-2. Full-length films encoded as MPEG-4 files can fit on a CD or be sent over broadband connections. DivX has approximately 75 million users worldwide.

Cirrus Logic has licensed DivX technology for inclusion in "its high end and single-board DVD processor families," according to Electronic Engineering Times. Cirrus Logic vice president Terry Ritchie said adding DivX capability to its DVD chips would help Cirrus "provide more horsepower in DVD ICs and create a new class of DVD product." Owners of DivX-capable DVD players could copy DivX-based content in their computers to recordable CDs and play them on their DVD machines.