A major shift in recording media from tape to disc is taking place in the camcorder market, with manufacturers rapidly expanding their DVD-compatible model lineups.

DVD camcorders record movies on 8-cm DVDs, which can be played directly on DVD players.

Companies that have had a relatively small market presence so far say the trend presents a prime opportunity to erode the dominance enjoyed by market leaders.

Major camera maker Canon Inc. has said it will release the firm’s first DVD camcorders in mid-September, with the 2.2-megapixel model likely to retail at around 125,000 yen.

“Canon is a latecomer in the DVD camcorder market, but we’ve taken advantage of that and are fully prepared for this launch,” said Koji Ashizawa, a senior official of Canon Sales Inc., the maker’s marketing unit.

The globally renowned camera company has had a relatively low profile in the camcorder market: Its domestic share stood at 4.9 percent in 2001, gradually increasing to about 15 percent. It is targeting a 25 percent share for the fall sales season.

Canon wants to ride the current DVD wave to achieve this, and will launch a sales promotional offensive with Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova as its figurehead.

For the past decade or so, the dominant recording medium for camcorders was mini-DV (digital video) tapes. DVD camcorders debuted in 2000 with Hitachi Ltd.’s release of what it touted as the world’s first DVD model.

“DVD camcorders are finally in a growth phase,” observed Hisashi Inoue, an official at Hitachi’s digital media division. “The medium shift will accelerate once it hits the 30 percent threshold.”

Industry figures show the market share of DVD camcorders stood at about 15 percent in 2004, and industry insiders generally agree the figure will clear the 30 percent threshold by the end of this year.

Earlier this month, the company released what it says is the world’s first multiformat DVD camcorder, which can record on the RAM, DVD-RW, and DVD-R formats.

“Some consumers couldn’t buy our camcorders because their DVD recorders were in a different format,” Inoue said. With the launch, the firm forecasts a 45 percent year-on-year rise in its worldwide camcorder sales to 614,000 units.

Market leader Sony Corp., meanwhile, is not preparing to relinquish its position so easily.

It is also capitalizing on the DVD trend, with new DVD camcorder models out this spring. One of them, the DCR-DVD 403, boasts 3.31 megapixels and 5.1-channel sound.

According to Sony officials, the spring models are currently the top sellers in the domestic market.

Both Sony and its rivals welcome the shift to DVD.

“Camcorder prices in the global market have been dropping by 20 percent annually,” explained Hiroyuki Sato, senior general manger of Sony’s personal video division, adding that mini-DV tape models that retailed at around 180,000 yen five to six years ago are now priced at less than 100,000 yen.

“We aim to slow this down by promoting nonlinear DVD camcorders,” he said, meaning that unlike tapes, the disc media does not require cumbersome fast-forwarding or rewinding and can skip to the images users want.

Sony estimates the worldwide camcorder market will expand to 18 million units in fiscal 2005 to next March, from 17.5 million a year earlier.

With DVD models and high-definition tape camcorders released in July, the company is determined to maintain its position as market leader, with global shipments of 7.5 million units, up by 150,000 from last year.

Victor Company of Japan (JVC), meanwhile, is trying to attract home video users with a different recording medium, introducing the world’s first removable hard disc drive camcorders last November.

The latest models of the Everio camcorders, released earlier this month, feature a built-in HDD. The 1.33-megapixel, 30-GB model is likely to retail at around 130,000 yen, according to JVC officials.

The company said one compelling advantage of HDD camcorders is their recording capacity — users do not have to carry spare blank tapes or DVDs.

The 30-GB HDD can record about 7 hours and 10 minutes of DVD-quality movies, the rough equivalent of 22 8-cm DVDs, JVC boasts.

“We aim to achieve 10 percent domestic market share with HDD camcorders this year,” said Ryuhei Nakazawa, general manager of JVC’s camcorder category. The company said it projects HDD camcorders will account for 22 percent of the overall domestic camcorder market by 2007.

Kazuharu Miura, an electronics analyst at Daiwa Research of Institute Ltd., said the latest change in recording media is a welcome trend for manufacturers.

It could give a jolt to the camcorder market, which had been in a lull after a consumer shift from analogue to digital tape camcorders in the latter half of the 1990s to 2000 ran its course, Miura said.

The market has pretty much matured in volume terms but is still expected to grow in value, because DVD models carry heftier price tags than tape models, he said.

Kazunobu Tomitaka, a store clerk at the Bic Camera store in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district, said nontape camcorders are enjoying growing popularity.

“People who want to watch and make copies on DVD recorders choose DVD models,” he said. “HDD models are also popular among those who care about size and connectivity with personal computers.”

Tomitaka added, however, that a majority of his customers still buy tape models out of concern for the availability of recording media.

“Tapes are sold at convenience stores, but blank 8-cm DVDs are not that widely available,” he said.

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