Panasonic's 'post-PC' wares do double duty

The audio and video players support Panasonic-backed storage formats such as Secure Digital and DVD. At the center of Panasonic's digital home is the wired TV, not a PC.

"Thanks to digital networking, new post-PC devices such as Internet-ready TVs and digital handsets will become the primary gateways for entry into cyberspace," says Don Iwatani, chair of Panasonic America.

In keeping with this vision, Panasonic is developing Internet televisions with a home networking gateway. The Internet TVs are scheduled to ship in the Northern summer, and will be priced at $US549 for a 27-inch set and $US849 for a 32-inch set. They will come with Web service from EarthLink and radio from Kerbango, as well as a two-tuner Picture in Picture so you can simultaneously watch TV and surf the Web, company representatives say.

Also built in will be a 56-kbps modem and an Ethernet connection for easy broadband hookup, says Andy Takani, president and chief operating officer of Panasonic consumer electronics.

Panasonic is also demonstrating a prototype cable television with a digital cable set-top box inside.

This prototype TV supports Open Cable and will have a slot where you put a PC Card-like device from the local cable company, says Paul Liao, president of Panasonic Technology. The TV itself will handle cable, DVD, VCR, and games, instead of one or more set-top boxes, Liao says.

Although the Panasonic Open Cable TV won't be available until the Open Cable specification is final, Panasonic already has televisions that bundle VCRs and DVD players into the unit, Takani says.

Stamp-sized storage

A relatively new format for removable memory, Secure Digital offers the benefits of a small size and built-in security. Besides Panasonic's support, the format has picked up endorsement from Palm, which is demonstrating an upcoming personal digital assistant that supports SD memory cards.

At the forefront of Panasonic's upcoming SD audio and video products are the Panasonic e-Wear SD Audio Players, the first portable digital audio players to support the SD format.

Scheduled to ship this year priced at $US399.95, the players include a 64MB SD memory card and come in two styles: the wearable SV-SD75, which you can wear around your neck or arm, and the headphone, SV-SD05. Both play MP3 files, as well as Advanced Audio Coding files, a format that also has digital rights management protection.

Another digital storage format featured in new Panasonic products is DVD. Panasonic is showing new DVD audio players, including a portable DVD video player that comes with high-fidelity speakers.

Last fall, Panasonic released one of the first recordable DVD players, the $US4000 DMR-E10 DVD Recorder, which uses DVD-RAM. The company has also announced a DVD-RAM video camera that records video on small DVD-RAM discs.

The camera uses a 3-inch DVD disk for up to 2 hours of recording, depending on the mode, Liao says.

The format conundrum

Like SD, which enters a market filled with a plethora of competing removable media standards, recordable DVD is a confusing and expensive format battlefield. Besides supporting DVD-RAM, Pioneer unveiled a recordable DVD-RW player last fall, and that's not the only other format trying to win DVD dominance.

Meanwhile, DVD-RAM discs won't even play on current Panasonic DVD players, Liao says. In the coming months, Panasonic expects to ship the DVD RP91 player, a standard DVD player that plays both DVD and DVD-RAM discs.

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