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Major consumer electronics makers are rolling out the latest batch of flat-panel TVs for the all-important yearend shopping season.

The companies are hoping to cash in as more and more consumers replace their bulky cathode-ray tube sets.

Sony Corp. on Thursday unveiled new models of its Wega TV series. The units will hit store shelves in October and November.

The new sets include plasma-display panel (PDP) and liquid crystal display models ranging in size from 28 inches to 61 inches. They will all feature Sony’s original Wega Engine for digital pictures.

The 61-inch PDP, one of the industry’s largest, carries a hefty price tag of 2.5 million yen.

Industry observers say the large screens and slim bodies are making flat-panel sets popular despite their high cost.

Sony, whose Trinitron TVs have dominated the CRT market, is a relative latecomer to the flat-panel market. It is now under pressure to establish a market foothold comparable to that of its conventional TVs.

Sony said it will launch a massive promotional campaign at the yearend in the hope of capturing the No. 1 spot in the domestic flat-panel market. It is hoping to at least grab a 30 percent share.

The flat-panel market is one of the few current drivers of growth in the consumer electronics sector.

According to the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association, domestic demand for PDP and LCD televisions will expand nearly fourfold to 4.65 million units by 2007.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. meanwhile said it hopes to capture a 30 percent global market share in 2005, when it hopes to sell 4 million flat-panel TVs worldwide.

Last week, the company announced that it will introduce its new Viera flat-panel TV series in September, with the new 50-inch model priced at 1.1 million yen.

“The global flat-panel TV market has been expanding faster than we expected, led by the domestic market,” Fumio Ohtsubo, Matsushita’s managing director and chief of audio visual business, told a news conference last week.

The company described the flat-panel boom as the fourth product wave in the country’s half-century TV history, following monochrome in 1950s, color in the ’70s and big screen in the ’90s.

Matsushita estimates that flat-panels will capture a 10 percent share of the global TV market by 2005 in terms of volume, when a total 138 million units are expected to be sold. On a value basis, flat-panels will represent 30 percent of the market.

In 2002, when 130 million units were sold worldwide, flat-panel TVs accounted for 1.4 percent in terms of volume and 10 percent in terms of value, according to the company.

A common feature among this year’s new flat-panel models is a built-in tuner for terrestrial digital broadcasting, a service that will be launched in Japan in December.

Hitachi Ltd. and Sanyo Electric Co. said earlier this month that they will release PDP and LCD TVs featuring built-in tuners for terrestrial digital broadcasting.

Sharp Corp., which leads the LCD market with its Aquos TVs, already markets sets equipped with the tuners.

Terrestrial digital broadcasting will commence in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya in December and in the rest of Japan by the end of 2006.

Viewers cannot view the new broadcasts using tuners for analogue broadcasting, which is scheduled to be terminated in 2011.

Electronics makers hope that replacement demand triggered by the shift will further bolster sales of flat-panel TVs.

“Terrestrial broadcasting will start in December, and consumers’ expectations (for new products) are increasing,” said Tsutomu Niimura, president of Sony’s Home Network Co.

Electronics shipments Kyodo News Domestic shipments of consumer electronic equipment in July grew 3.1 percent from a year earlier to 171.6 billion yen for the second consecutive month of increase, an industry body said Thursday.

The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association attributed the rise to the strength of audiovisual equipment, which posted a 3.1 percent gain in shipments to 97.1 billion yen, marking the first increase in three months.

Liquid crystal display TVs continued to record robust shipments, posting a 57.5 percent leap in volume to 119,000 units. Shipments of plasma-panel TVs rose 7.3 percent to 16,000 units and DVD player shipments increased 18.4 percent to 379,000 units.

Shipments of car-related equipment rose for the 11th straight month, growing 9 percent gain to 55.6 billion yen, led by car navigation systems, which surged 35.4 percent to 305,000 units.