Japanese electronics makers are waging battles in various digital home appliance sectors, aware that those who claim initial victories will likely remain dominant.
Manufacturers such as Sharp Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. showed off their latest technologies earlier this month at Ceatec Japan 2004, one of the biggest digital consumer electronics exhibitions in Asia. The event was held in Chiba through Oct. 9.
Matsushita, which developed the Blu-ray disc standard for next-generation DVD players with Sony Corp. and other companies, has been engaged in an intense battle against a consortium led by Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp. that has produced another format, dubbed HD DVD.
According to Matsushita, a Blu-ray disc is capable of recording 50 gigabytes of data, about 10 times the level of existing DVDs. Matsushita and Sony have already launched DVD recorders compatible with Blu-ray discs, with Sharp scheduled to market a similar product before the end of the year.
“Our biggest sales point is the capacity of recording more data” than conventional devices, a senior Matsushita official boasted during Ceatec Japan 2004.
A Toshiba senior official emphasized that HD DVDs will be cheaper than the products of its rival because the Toshiba-NEC camp can use production facilities used to make existing DVDs, which have a similar parts structure to HD-DVDs.
Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps use round discs measuring 12 cm in diameter; they are not interchangeable due to differences in recording and playing systems.
The battle is reminiscent of the war waged in the mid-1980s between Sony and Victor Co. of Japan over videocassette recorders. Sony, which developed the Betamax model, lost out to JVC’s Video Home System model.
Winners of the next-generation DVD format war will have the opportunity to make their products global standards. Thus, manufacturers have been keenly soliciting influential software makers to adopt their standard.
On Oct. 4, the Blu-ray camp said that U.S. movie distributor Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., which distributed “Titanic,” “Star Wars” and other blockbusters, would adopt its format. A group of investors led by Sony is meanwhile set to acquire Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 2005.
For the HD DVD camp, Kadokawa Pictures Inc. and Avex Group Holdings Inc., which promotes popular singer Ayumi Hamasaki, have announced their adoption of the format. The consortium has been soliciting other content providers, such as American media giant Time Warner Inc. and Universal Pictures.
Aside from the battle over DVD formats, manufacturers have also been fighting for an edge in the market for next-generation TV displays.
During Ceatec Japan 2004, Sharp unveiled the world’s largest liquid crystal display television, featuring a 65-inch screen. Sharp wants to commercialize the new TV in fiscal 2005.
The company plans to launch an offensive targeting developers of plasma display TVs, as well as rival LCD TV maker Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea.
Large-screen LCD TVs are said to be more difficult to develop than large-screen plasma display TVs.
At Ceatec Japan 2004, Matsushita primarily showcased its plasma display TV featuring a 65-inch screen, the largest in the industry. Matsushita President Kunio Nakamura saw Sharp’s rival product and said, “It is better to have competition.”
Canon Inc. and Toshiba have jointly developed a new advanced flat panel, dubbed a surface-conduction electron-emitter display, or SED, with the aim of mass producing the new TV beginning in August 2005. The two companies championed the product’s advantages over LCD and plasma display TVs, claiming that SED’s colors are brighter and that the product uses less electricity.
Tadahiko Abe, chief researcher at Fujitsu Research Institute, pointed out that in the VCR battle, the VHS camp won because it managed to capture a dominant share at an early stage.
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