Matsushita Hi-def DVD Recorders

Score one for Matsushita Electric Industrial Company. On July 1, Panasonic's parent organization became the first manufacturer to deliver a large-capacity high-definition DVD recorder—just in time for the Athens Olympic Games next month.

At a press conference in Tokyo, Matsushita demonstrated a recorder capable of recording 50 gigabytes of data on a dual-layer 5" optical disc, more than ten times the 4.7GB capacity of standard DVDs. Using "Blu-ray" technology—one of two competing high-density formats, the recorder is claimed capable of capturing up to four-and-one-half hours of high-definition television programming on a single disc. In April 2003, Sony debuted the world's first Blu-ray disc recorder, a machine capable of encoding a single-layer Blu-ray disc with 23GB of data, or approximately two hours of high-def video.

Blu-ray is backed by a powerful consortium of technology companies. In addition to Matsushita and Sony, its supporters include including Samsung, Philips, and Hewlett-Packard.

Pre-release demand is such that Matsushita's initial 2000 units/month production schedule may prove insufficient, according to the company's home electronics executive Etsuji Shuda. Equipped with tuners to receive digital broadcasts from satellites and terrestrial transmitters, the recorder will go on sale in Japan on July 31 at a suggested retail of approximately ¥300,000 ($2769 USD). Sony's machine sells for ¥472,500 ($4361 USD), and comes with a tuner for digital satellite broadcasting.

Matsushita hasn't announced plans to market a similar machine in North America. Toshiba and NEC Corporation are pushing their jointly developed "HD DVD" system. Toshiba should have a consumer version of the HD DVD disc recorder on the market sometime next year.

Matsushita is also doing well with its standard-definition "DIGA" series DVD recorders, with strong demand in Japan, Europe, and the US. The company expects a surge in sales prior to the Olympics, and a 20% increase in profits for fiscal 2005, Mr. Shuda told reporters.