Digital TV: So close yet so far
Philips, one of the world's top consumer product manufacturers, invited members of the press from 16 countries in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa to Pulau Penang, Malaysia, from May 3 to May 5 to get a glimpse of the company's vision and its latest products. The Jakarta Post's Robert Soelistyo filed this report.
PENANG, Malaysia (JP): While enjoying a digital TV show is now quite common in many European countries and America, this is not the case in many parts of Asia, especially Southeast Asia.
In its efforts to bring Digital TV to the entire world, Philips Consumer Electronics (PCE) has been introducing products derived from the convergence of digital technologies.
This convergence in the fields of audio, video, communications and information technology accounts for a whole range of new products: DVD-Video players, digital television receivers, Internet TV, personal Video Recorders, Home Theater, CD- Recordable products and Universal Serial Bus (USB) equipment.
Some of these products, such as the digital and personal TVs, did well in the European and U.S. markets but are slow in appearing locally, because they need the support of service providers/broadcasters to transmit the signals to the units, said Christian Sudibyo, Philips' Singapore-based television marketing manager for the Asia Pacific.
"Sometime ago we heard Philips would help the (Indonesian) state-run TVRI renovate and develop its system with digital technology," Darsin of Philips Electronics Indonesia said. "But as of now, we don't know anything about the progress of this report."
To enjoy full advantage of the latest television technology it is suggested consumers purchase flat, large TV screens almost one meter in diagonal, fully earning them the name "home cinema".
The wide-screen TV allows viewers to watch movies at home as they were originally shown in cinemas. Just like at the cinema, watching movies on wide-screen TVs makes viewers feel more involved, and lets them see the movie "as the director intended".
"And because the viewers eyes see in 'wide-screen', watching wide-screen television feels more natural," Christian added.
This new generation flat-screen TVs delivers better quality in both picture and sound. Although plasma technology is still in its infancy, the black tones are real and yet detailed, and the whites are brighter than ever before.
The sharpness has been increased dramatically compared with previous plasma models, and the overall size of the set, with all its electronics, has shrunk in line with consumer expectation.
Plasma television technology is still new and evolving. Each year sees new plasma screens with improvements over previous models, as well as cuts in their prices, Christian explained. "We put the price globally at between US$11,000 and $12,000 per set."
The forthcoming 42PW9952 model is one of the very first fourth generation plasma TV. It is so new that some bugs still need to be ironed out before it is launched in October 1999. This in itself is a unique feature, as Philips does not normally review early preproduction Home Entertainment models.
Essentially, the new set is self-contained if it is used in VGA computer with stereo sound capacity. However, home cinema users need an additional AV amp-sized box that contains all the electronics required to convert composite, RGB and S-Video signals into VGA. "All of this, and the standard TV remote control, are included in the price," Christian promised.
VGA is short for Video Graphics Array, which roughly means "pixel ordering". The computer standard defined by IBM is 640 x 480 pixels.
Plasma screens are dependent on donation, so to speak, meaning they need assistance. They can only reproduce video images by using technological tricks.
The horizontal resolution of plasma TVs (usually stated in lines, although "line pairs" would be more accurate) does, however, correspond to S-VHS or DVD levels. With over 800 pixels across (horizontal resolution is determined by vertical pixels, two can create the transition from light to dark, i.e. constitute a pair) it reaches a level of 400 lines or five MegaHerz
Philips expects the sale of consumer electronic (CE) products in the Asia Pacific to account for a quarter of its annual CE revenue in three to four years, Frans van Houten said.
The executive vice president of Philips Consumer Electronics in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa), Van Houten said although the Asia Pacific accounted for about 15 percent of Philips' global CE sales last year, growth in the region had been at 20 percent per year compared with global growth of 5 percent. Presently, the region accounts for between 30 percent and 40 percent of PCE's product volume.
"Undoubtedly, within three to four years the Asia Pacific will be contributing 25 percent of global sales," he said at the Philips regional media conference here.
Van Houten said sales in Malaysia grew about 30 percent last year "and we expect to further expand our business in Malaysia".
Philips (M) Sdn Bhd expects 11 percent growth in sales in CE this year, said Philips Malaysia CE director Hashim Adnan.
He said Philips had a 9 percent share of the local CE market and was the leader in the DVD market with a 36 percent share, as well as being third in the local TV market with an 11 percent to 12 percent share.
Van Houten said Philips traditionally allocated some 7 percent of its turnover to research and development.
"Technology changes rapidly and the development cycle is fast, and we run multiple product developments at the same time," he said.
Philips will invest $70 million (between 5 percent and 6 percent of turnover) in building its brand equity in the region over the year, Van Houten added.
During the conference, Philips showcased a whole range of high-tech products scheduled to be launched this year or next year, including personal TVs, digital TV, newly redesigned mobile phones and DVD players.
DVD + RW
The Holland-based electronics company showcases the two-way compatibility of DVD+RW technology with existing DVD Video and DVD-ROM drives. Unlike other DVD video recording formats, DVD+RW meets the requirements of compatibility with existing DVD Video players and DVD-ROM drives. A disc created on a DVD+RW video recorder can be played back on existing DVD Videos or DVD-ROM drives, and the recorder will also play back prerecorded DVD video and DVD-ROM discs.
"We are building on the success of the DVD format. The Philips DVD+RW video recorder is designed to be compatible with the installed base of 30 million DVD Video players and DVD-ROM drives, and this number is expected to grow rapidly in the coming year," Frank Pauli, vice president of Philips Disc System, told journalists here.
"In addition, our DVD+RW video recorder will provide consumers the ability to record two to four hours of high-quality video, as well as editing functionality. We believe that the recording and editing functionality is what consumers want, and that two-way compatibility is what is expected," he said.
The introduction of the first DVD+RW video recorder is scheduled for the end of this year. The product is designed as a natural extension of the successful DVD format, and the first in a family of Philips DVD+RW based products. DVD+RW media does not require a cartridge. With DVD+RW, the editing of video recording is easy; with the remote control, a user can simply remove any unwanted scenes or create a selection of highlights.
Philips is entering the MP3 player market with one of the most compact and stylishly designed solid state audio devices to date -- Rush! Bundled with RealNetworks' Realjukebox software, Philips' Rush! provides everything needed to acquire, play, manage and transport a personal library of digital music.
Rush! provides access to Internet-delivered music in a neat seven-by-seven centimeter device that is just 1.7cms thick -- small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. And as Rush! has hardly any mechanical parts, it weighs next to nothing -- just 50 grams.
Rush! has been designed to give consumers access to the vast array of audio material available on the Internet. The device plays back compressed digital MP3 files downloaded from the Internet via a PC and stored on Flash Memory cards. A standard 32MB Smart-Media card -- as supplied with Rush! -- can store up to one hour of near CD-quality music, and can be endlessly erased, overwritten and reindexed. Furthermore, Rush! will playback compressed MP3 songs downloaded from CDs.
Rush! is simple to use, and being totally digital, offers users many functional benefits, including a unique "bookmark" function and the digital equalization of audio output to optimize performance quality. For further convenience and ease of use, Rush! has an extended Long Play mode, providing up to 12 hours of playback from two AAA batteries.