Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. on Monday released the latest in its Diga series of DVD recorders, hoping to consolidate its position as the nation’s No. 1 shareholder in the rapidly expanding market.

The Diga E200h is the latest version of Matsushita’s most strategically important product.

In April, Japan’s largest home appliance maker began selling five kinds of Diga series DVD recorders in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. The DVD recorders in the Diga lineup include models with longer recording hours and others that feature both DVD and VHS recording functions.

The Diga E200h, retailing at about 170,000 yen, can record up to 212 hours of content and features electric TV program guidance and a function enabling owners to set recording parameters with their mobile phones. An earlier version, the Diga E100h, went on sale in August.

“We have developed our lineup of DVD recorders to meet various needs of our customers,” said Masahisa Sakaguchi, a general manager of Matsushita’s corporate marketing division for its Panasonic brand.

Matsushita said Diga DVD recorders made up about 53 percent of the nation’s DVD recorder market in April and May. The company estimates that the world’s DVD recorder market will grow to 2.2 million units in 2003, up from about 830,000 units in 2002.

“We are upgrading production facilities all over the world to produce 1 million DVD recorders a month by the end of 2004,” he said.

Matsushita has allocated the bulk of its advertising budget this year to the Diga series.

Matsushita launched its first DVD recorder in 2000 for 250,000 yen. In 2001, it released a new model that sold for 135,000 yen.

“Considering the price reduction, 2001 was a turning point for our DVD recorders,” Sakaguchi said.

In 2002, Matsushita began selling the nation’s first DVD recorder that allowed users to watch part of a TV program they had just recorded even while the appliance continued to record the remainder of the program.

The same year, it released a DVD recorder priced at 93,000 yen — the nation’s first sub-100,000 yen DVD recorder, Sakaguchi said.

The series of improvements in the lineup of DVD recorders is largely due to an acceleration in the decision-making process inside Matsushita following the establishment of a Panasonic marketing division in April 2001, Sakaguchi said.

Matsushita often used to waste time coordinating such departments as sales, planning and production for a new product, he said. The new division can now lead such departments, he said.

“Now we are quickly making a decision for new products,” he said.

The Diga E200h is the last release in the Diga series, at least for 2003. Matsushita is still planning its next move in the DVD recorder business, Sakaguchi said.

The company does not plan to develop a DVD recorder capable of handling both DVD-RAM and DVD-RW standards, he said. DVD recorders are categorized under two competing standards: Matsushita, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. sell recorders that operate under the DVD-RAM standard, while Pioneer Corp., Sharp Corp. and Sony Corp. offer DVD-RW recorders. Toshiba sells a DVD recorder adaptable to either standard.

“We will carefully watch the moves of the DVD recorder market this autumn and the Christmas season,” Sakaguchi said.

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