Panasonic DVD player a handful

Panasonic has taken the wraps off its latest portable DVD (digital versatile disc) player to reveal a compact model with a 9-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen.

The screen, the major feature of the new player, is just large enough to claim the title of largest on a portable player. Its nearest competition comes from Sharp Corp., which plans to launch a player with an 8.7-inch display in Japan on August 24. Other rivals, such as Pioneer Corp. and Sony Corp., have 7-inch screens on their machines. It is also considerably larger than the 5.8-inch displays that have graced Panasonic's portable DVD player line-up since the company launched its first model, the first in the world, in early 1998.

The player has another 'world's first' feature: it is the first to be able to play back DVD-RAM rewritable DVD optical discs. Most players are not compatible with DVD-RAM because the discs are enclosed in cartridges, requiring special drive mechanisms. Matsushita is backing the format and is also selling a DVD-RAM video recorder for domestic use.

In addition to DVD-RAM, the player is also compatible with DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and several CD-based formats, including Video CD. The device can also play DVD-R discs, although Matsushita only guarantees this feature will work with discs recorded on its own DMR-E20 recorder. It may work with discs recorded on machines made by other manufacturers but, because the format is new and the first machines are just coming on the market, the company is not claiming full compatibility.

Other features include a built-in TV tuner, an internal rechargeable battery that provides enough power for 2.5 hours of DVD playback, and support for DTS (Digital Theater Sound) and Dolby Digital. The device weighs 999 grams.

Panasonic plans to put the player on sale in Japan on Sept. 1 and in the fourth quarter in overseas markets. The player is expected to retail for around 110,000 yen (US$880), said Kazumi Tamamoto, a spokeswoman for the company. Monthly production has been set at 3,000 units.

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