Toshiba begins worldwide hard-disk/DVD recorder sales

With sales of its combination hard disk and DVD video recorders growing fast at home, Toshiba is kicking off a string of international launches aimed at securing a 20 percent share of the worldwide market for such devices.

The company launched sales of its RD-XS32 recorder in the U.S. in April and is following with launches in Europe, Asia and Oceania in June, said Takahiro Uriu, deputy manager of DVD marketing and product planning at Toshiba in Tokyo.

DVD recorders are one of the fastest increasing sectors of Japan's domestic electronics market at present. Shipments in 2003 were just under 2 million units, a 215 percent increase on the previous year, and they continue to be strong this year, according to figures from the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA).

In the first three months of 2004 a total of 510,000 units have already been shipped, up 92 percent on the same period a year earlier, of which models with hard disk drives made up 366,000 units, said JEITA. The outlook remains positive in part because of the Olympic Games, which will be screened late in the evening and overnight in Japan.

In many countries outside of Japan the market is a little behind but there are signs of growth. A recently survey by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence found 13 percent of Americans questioned said they are planning to buy a DVD recorder within the next twelve months. Translated into sales that means between 4 million and 5 million units, according to the report.

One of the biggest concerns consumers have when buying such devices is ease of use, said the report.

Toshiba says it has also picked up on this and has designed an easy-navigation function into its first HDD/DVD recorder for overseas markets that is not available in its Japanese models yet. It's one of a handful of features that the company hopes will win it customers over its competitors.

"Some people say our functions are too much so we want to introduce the basic functions on one screen," said Uriu. With a press of a button on the remote control the menu appears and provides quick access to major functions such as TV viewing, viewing recorded programs, timer recording, and access to and copying of contents from a DV camcorder. Clips of recorded programs can also be watched in a window on the Easy Navi screen.

The RD-XS32 has a 80G-byte hard disk drive and, like a video cassette, the amount of video you can record depends on the recording quality setting. At the highest quality mode, which is 9.2M bps (bits per second), the drive will hold 17 hours while switching this down to the lowest quality mode, which is 1.4M bps, extends recording time to 103 hours, said Toshiba. There are 38 steps possible for video quality.

The optical drive supports DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-R discs. For daily use or short term storage of contents off the hard disk the company says DVD-RAM offers benefits over the other two formats, because it is designed to support random disk access, but is a more expensive way to archive content than using DVD-R.

Archiving from hard disk to DVD-R can be accomplished at up to 24X the speed of the original program. This function depends on the quality of the video being recorded but allows a one-hour TV show recorded at lowest quality to be burnt onto a DVD-R disc in under three minutes.

When it comes to recording programs Toshiba has included support for Gemstar (known as VCR Plus, Video Plus and Show View in various markets) including the higher level functionality that enables the recorder to control a set-top box so that it can change cable or satellite channels for recording. The company said it hopes to be able to add an EPG (electronic program guide) feature to future models however currently faces problems getting access to EPG data in various markets.

The recorder can also be connected to a DV camcorder and used to transfer the camcorder's contents onto its hard disk or a DVD disc. Chapters, either at scene breaks or preset intervals can be added automatically to make navigating the resulting video file easier, said Uriu.

Like video quality, audio quality can also be controlled and the RD-XS32 offers 3 settings. Two are compressed Dolby Digital and one is Linear PCM (pulse code modulation). This latter feature can be enabled at any video quality setting and that's an advantage over recorders from its competitors, said Uriu. If a consumer wants to record a music program to a DVD they can set, say, high quality audio and low quality video to get up to four hours of programming on one disc. Other manufacturers tie high-quality audio and video together meaning only an hour of programming can be stored on a DVD, he said.

The RD-XS32 is already on sale in the U.S. and costs US$599. It will go on sale in Europe during June for Euro 799 (US$960) or £549 (US$970) in the U.K. It will also be launched in June in Asia and Oceania. It was put on sale in Japan in December 2003 for ¥60,000 (US$525) and can be found as cheap as ¥51,000, according to comparison shopping site Kakaku.com.

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