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No. 357, June 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


A new source of movie DVD optical discs and music CDs should be up and running this fall. DVD disc manufacturer PANASONIC DISC SERVICES CORP. of Torrance, California has formed MATSUSHITA UNIVERSAL MEDIA SERVICES LLC OF AMERICA with UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, the world's largest music company with many well-known record labels and part of the SEAGRAM CO. entertainment empire. The joint venture, in which Panasonic Disc Services has a 60 percent stake, will install DVD production facilities at Universal Music Group's CD manufacturing plant in Pinckneyville, Illinois. Initially, the factory will turn out 600,000 DVD discs a month. Matsushita Universal Media Services will continue to make audio CDs for Universal Music Group. Simultaneously, MA-TSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. announced that DVD disc capacity at Panasonic Disc Services would be doubled by yearend to 5 million units a month to capitalize on the growth in this market. MEI and the Seagram group have several ties, primarily through the Japanese company's minority ownership of UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, INC.

The first DVD-Audio players could be available in the United States this fall. That is PANASONIC CONSUMER ELECTRONICS CO.'s target date for what it calls the recorded music format of the 21st century. Far more than CDs, DVD-Audio has the potential to deliver concert-hall fidelity to the listener while reducing background noise to imperceptible levels. Like DVD-Video, it is fully surround sound-compatible. DVD-Audio also uses a CD-sized disc. At its highest resolution, the format can store 74 minutes of music on a single side of a single-layer disc. The players, which will be sold under the Panasonic and Technics brands, can play DVD movies, music CDs and video CDs in addition to DVD-Audio discs.

In August, the first television sets with built-in DVD-Video players and videocassette recorders will appear on store shelves. They will be produced by AMERICAN KOTOBUKI ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES, INC. of Vancouver, Washington, initially at a rate of 2,000 units a month. The MATSUSHITA-KOTOBUKI ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES, LTD. subsidiary has made TV/VCR combinations since 1986. It has 35 percent of the U.S. market for this product.

PLASMACO INC., a Highland, New York developer of plasma display panel technologies that has been owned by MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. since early 1996, has commercialized the world's largest PDP. Measuring 60 inches diagonally and just 5 inches thick, the flat panel is compatible with high-definition TV broadcasting. MEI's largest PDP to date, a 50-inch unit, could be on the market this fall.

In a bold move to jump-start sales of HDTV sets, MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC CORP. will cover CBS CORP.'s entire cost of producing most of the CBS Television Network's prime-time entertainment programming for digital broadcast. The deal starts in the fall and runs through the 1999/2000 television season. Industry analysts estimate that the arrangement will cost MELCO $10 million-plus. CBS says that 14 of its owned and affiliated stations now broadcast some programming in the digital format. By November, more than 40 CBS stations should be providing HDTV content, covering well over half of the country. At the start of 1998, MELCO decided that its future in the American TV set market lay in large-screen, projection analog and digital sets.

Video game giant NINTENDO CO., LTD. and the huge Visteon Automotive Systems parts division of FORD MOTOR CO. have codeveloped a video entertainment system for the rear of any minivan built from 1994 to the present. The $1,500 Visteon Rear Seat Entertainment System combines a videocassette player and a Nintendo 64 game system with a high-resolution 6.4-inch LCD display so that children can watch movies or play video games during trips. A version for sport- utility vehicles is coming soon.

To ensure an adequate, diversified supply of titles for the forthcoming Sega Dreamcast video game machine (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 356, May 1999, p. 5), SEGA ENTERPRISES, LTD. acquired VISUAL CONCEPTS ENTERTAINMENT, INC. The San Rafael, California company is developing several titles for the new machine, including football, basketball and a character-based adventure game. Sega previously had a minority stake in the video game developer.

Under a cross-licensing agreement with MICROSOFT CORP., video game developer KOMANI CO., LTD. gained the right to adapt Microsoft games developed for the PC platform to run on console machines, including the Nintendo 64, the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Dreamcast. Likewise, Microsoft has the option to publish selected Konami titles for the PC platform. The new partners will announce specific product releases and availability later this year.

To support its drive into the non-PC display market, particularly for medical, industrial and instrument applications, MITSUBISHI ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC. named ARROW ELECTRONICS, INC. and BELL MICROPRODUCTS INC. to distribute its TFT LCD Angleview displays. Previously, ALL-AMERICAN SEMICONDUCTOR INC. was the sole distributor of the panels, which range in size from 8.4 inches to 17.3 inches. At the same time, Mitsubishi Electronics America introduced two Angleview products designed specifically for diagnostic equipment, factory automation and industrial control. Both provide a viewing angle of 120 degrees, 18-bit color depth and a digital interface. The new 12.1-inch Angleview panel allows a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels (SVGA). Its 10.4-inch cousin delivers a VGA resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. Both are sampling for $800 apiece.

For portable applications requiring miniature surface-mount-device packages, EPSON ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC. announced a subminiature crystal that it says is the smallest crystal package on the market today. Available in frequencies ranging from 20 MHz to 50 MHz, the FA238 series is priced at roughly $1.40 per part. The El Segundo, California subsidiary of SEIKO EPSON CORP. also released a 32.768-KHz small SMD oscillator that it is targeting for use as the clock input for microcontroller units. The SG3032JC, which operates at 1.8 volts to 2.6 volts, costs $1.50 each.

Although best known as the world's longtime top producer of semiconductor packaging, KYOCERA CORP. doubles as the largest producer of solar photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity directly from sunlight. Its position in the solar energy business will be strengthened as a result of an agreement to acquire GOLDEN GENESIS CO. for $39.6 million. The Golden, Colorado company, majority-owned by ACX TECHNOLOGIES INC., designs fully integrated solar electric generating systems and distributes them worldwide through more than 1,000 dealers. It has been Kyocera's major solar products distributor in North America since 1991. Last year, Golden Genesis had revenues of $43.3 million. Kyocera's solar-related sales in FY 1998 totaled around $142 million. By acquiring the American company, Kyocera will become a vertically integrated supplier of solar energy systems.

An exchange rate of ¥122=$1.00 was used in this report.aaaaaa

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