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Drooling over the extensive line of upcoming DVD players from Panasonic has become something of a CES ritual. For several years now, the company has consistently set standards for value at every sub-$1000 price point, adding the latest performance features onto its internally-developed ‘chroma bug-free’ MPEG decoder. This year’s minimal showcase, however, signaled a clear sea change in the company’s focus from performance to price in the face of fierce competition from sub-$100 players manufactured in China and Korea.

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We are shrinking our DVD product line,” confirmed Panasonic DVD National Marketing Manager Alberto Reggiani. The $99 DVD-S35 shown here is a single-disk player stripped to the bare essentials – no Faroudja DCDi (an early cost-cutting casualty), no DVD-Audio, no internal scaling of non-anamorphic content. For $129, you can step up to the DVD-S55 (not displayed at the show), which restores DVD-Audio, Digital Re-Master (digital audio up-sampling), and an adjustment to tailor video output for different monitor types. All players in the lineup will play DVD Video, DVD-RAM, CD, CD-R/RW, JPEG, MP3, and Windows Media Audio; step-up models will also support HighMAT, a joint Panasonic-Microsoft technology for sharing digital media between PCs and consumer electronic products.

At this time, Panasonic has no replacement on deck for its wildly popular RP-82 player, which has already sold out its entire production run (there will be no more). The top of the line player will be this $149 DVD-F85 (the only other full-sized stand-alone player shown at CES), which is essentially a 5-disc changer version of the DVD-S55. Like the DVD-S55, the RP-82 has a bare-bones sibling, the $125 DVD-F65 changer – and that, in total, is the 2003 Panasonic player line for now. Reggiani claims that additional player and DVD recorder models are in the planning stages with features to be determined by spring, but the company’s change in direction is clear. That isolated holdover from the glory days, the RP91, will hover like Banquo’s ghost until March, when it will cease production.

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Unfortunately, Panasonic was not alone in scaling its DVD players down to fighting weight for an increasingly price-conscious market. Over in the Pioneer booth, the prices quoted by reps were significantly below even those listed in the company’s press releases. Not a promising trend for finding quality for under $1,000 – look to see increasing stratification in price between bottom-end players and those with higher performance features. []



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Latest additons 7th February 2003:

Panamax Power Conditioning
Xplore Solutions A/V Control
EAD Theatermaster Studio
Focal-JMLab Utopia Loudspeakers
McCormack DVD-Audio/SACD Player
Martin Logan Clarity & Scripti
Artistic Audio & Red Rose Audio
IMF Audio Musica Model 25
Philips, Pioneer & Sharp DVD-R/RW
Opus Distributed Audio
Audio Aero Prestige A/V Player
Philips DVDR80 DVD+RW Recorder
Lexicon Home Theater Products
DVD Entertainment Group Dinner
Universal Remote Control MX-3000
Xantech System Control Products
McIntosh MVP851 DVD-Audio Player
Von Schweikert VR-S/1 Subwoofer
Von Schweikert VR-1 & VR-4SE
Zu Druid 2 & Gallo Acoustics
2003 Panasonic DVD-Video Players
Universal DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Arcam Home Theater Products
Stillpoints Isolation Products
Panasonic e-Wear & LCD Monitor
SACD Press Conference
Clark Synthesis Gold TST329
Guitammer BKA1000-4 Amplifier
Dynaudio Contour Loudspeakers

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Show report last updated: 7th February 2003 ~ 190 original images on-line.


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