Industry Roundup

High-density DVDs—which would almost double the capacity of today's standard 4.7Gbyte discs—could become commonplace with the advent of dual-layer DVD burners. Such devices are being introduced by several manufacturers and should begin to arrive at retailers in May.

DVD+RW ("Plus R") burners from companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Philips and Sony should be able to exploit the potential of two-layer recordable blanks with 8.5GB data capacity. All three companies announced such intentions at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Sony's DRU-700A ($230) and DRX-700UL ($300) should arrive by early summer. At the same time, so should dual-layer blank media from Verbatim. Toshiba, Panasonic, and other supporters of the "Dash DVD" and DVD-RAM formats haven't made dual-layer announcements. Dual-layer drives will be backward-compatible with single layer discs.

3M debuts LCD projectors: Business equipment manufacturer 3M will make a leap into the consumer market this summer with the introduction of a series of LCD front projectors created by Italian design firm Pininfarina Extra. The plan is to get a foothold in the burgeoning home theater market, according to an announcement made in New York. The S10 series will be 3M's first home-theater model, an EDTV-level LCD projector to be sold through office supply outlets, warehouse clubs, and national retail chains. The new projectors should offer an unprecedented level of "attractiveness and functionality" at accessible price points, according to 3M marketing director Ronald Scott. The $1300 S10 will offer SVGA (800-by-600 pixel) resolution and a native 16:9 aspect ratio. The step-up Bravo X50 will sell for $3,000 and offer XGA (1024-by-768 pixel) resolution.

Flat-panel price implosion? As an increasing number of manufacturers begin to flood the market with flat-panel displays, prices should begin to drop—perhaps beginning this summer, according to some industry analysts. Profit margins on individual pieces may start to erode, but that should be offset by improved sales volume. The long-term trend is toward commodity pricing, a syndrome that has long hampered profitability for retailers, to the benefit of consumers. Plants are gearing up in China and Taiwan, whose lower-priced products will begin to hit the shelves later this year. Flat-panel prices, especially on LCD screens, should begin to drop by mid-summer, according to analysis published in March.

Online retailers and computer sellers will also be hyping flat-panels at ever-decreasing prices. "There is no question there is going to be major price compression," said Harvey Electronics president Franklin Karp. "My best selling 50" plasma TV that is $10,000 today will probably be $7000 by Christmas."

As with all new technology, it pays to take a "wait and see" attitude. Products inevitably become cheaper and more reliable. "The competitive nature of our business drives the price down just because everyone has it," said Tweeter Group merchandising manager Frank Roshinski.