Each of the Silicon Valley start-ups promoting a format for the digital video recording devices that soon could make personal television a reality has enlisted the help of a Japanese consumer electronics powerhouse. First, REPLAY NETWORKS, INC. of Mountain View, California licensed its technology to MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. for what the winner of the videocassette recorder design standard bills as hard disk recorders (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 358, July 1999, p. 6). Now, rival TIVO INC. has forged a capital and technology alliance with SONY CORP., the loser in the VCR format battle. Under it, SONY CORP. OF AMERICA will spend $27.5 million to acquire a 7.5 percent stake in the Sunnyvale, California company, which has announced plans for an initial public offering. At the same time, TiVo licensed its platform for devices that Sony is calling personal video recorders. However they are known, the devices are hard drive-equipped set-top boxes. Together with either the ReplayTV service or the TiVo Personal Television Service, they record television programming in progress, allowing consumers to pause and rewind. The devices also can be set to record programs automatically. For Sony in particular, the tie-up with TiVo is appealing because it provides a pipeline for getting Sony movies and Sony television programming into homes. The first Sony-branded PVRs that support TiVo Personal Television Service could be in stores as early as the spring of 2000 at prices around $500. That is the cost of similar devices for TiVo service subscribers that were just released by PHILIPS ELECTRONICS NV.
Deciding that it no longer could justify two California consumer electronics plants, PIONEER CORP. closed its facility in Chino, which had made large-screen television sets, including projection units, since 1988. Production of these products was shifted to PIONEER ELECTRONICS TECHNOLOGY, INC.'s Pomona factory. The stereo speakers that had been produced there since 1978 were outsourced to American and Japanese-affiliated companies to make room for the TV sets. The closure of PET's Chino plant cost 100 jobs.
The mass market in the United States for high-definition TVs has not developed as quickly as set manufacturers had hoped, in part due to the combination of high costs and limited programming but also because of technical drawbacks that reflect the lack of agreement on a single digital HDTV format. Nonetheless, Japanese suppliers continue to refine their technology. For instance, HITACHI AMERICA, LTD. introduced a 61-inch HDTV set at the high end of its three-tiered UltraVision Digital lineup. The wide-screen, 16 x 9 ratio 61HDX98B is a fully integrated unit. It receives signals from the four available broadcasting sources: all 18 ATSC local digital broadcasting formats, standard and high-definition satellite and today's NTSC analog format. High-definition broadcasts are displayed at the highest level possible, while other formats automatically are converted and displayed in enhanced form. However, Hitachi's 61-inch HDTV set still is on the expensive side with a suggested retail price of $8,000.
SHARP CORP., which ranks among the world's leading manufacturers of LCDs (liquid crystal displays), has released through one of its U.S. marketing units what is said to be the first 20- inch LCD monitor to offer video component inputs and PC compatibility. The SharpVision LC- 20VM2U LCD AVC Monitor was designed so that people could buy one product for all of their entertainment viewing requirements, including DVDs and PC graphics. It is just 1.9 inches deep and weighs only 15.4 pounds. The LC-20VM2U will be available in December at an estimated retail price of $6,000. Sharp's LCD video monitor line already includes a 15-inch model that lists at $1,900 and a 12.1-inch display that goes for about $1,500.
The same LCD technology found in SHARP CORP.'s video monitors is used in the company's home theater projection products. Those now include the full-featured but compact SharpVision XV- Z1U LCD front projector. Like the rest of the SharpVision LCD front projector line, the new model not only is engineered for multisystem video compatibility with analog formats but also is equipped with component video inputs to provide compatibility with current high-end DVD players. In addition, it has S-video and composite inputs for access to other digital sources. Weighing only 16 pounds, the XV-Z1U offers a picture ranging from 30 inches all the way up to 300 inches. These features are not inexpensive: the XV-Z1U is an estimated $4,000.
With the much-hyped Sega Dreamcast video game console going on sale in the United States in early September (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 356, May 1999, p. 5), SONY COMPUTER, INC. announced the details and the launch schedule for the follow-on to the PlayStation, the best-selling video game console in this country. The PlayStation2 will debut in North America in the fall of 2000 following its March 2000 release in Japan. Sony Computer boasts that the PlayStation2 will create a new world of computer entertainment since, in addition to its game-playing capabilities, it will support the audio CD and the DVD-Video formats. Like the Dreamcast, the unit will incorporate a 128-bit architecture. It will have 32 MB of Direct Rambus DRAM main memory, plus 4 MB of video RAM. U.S. pricing has not been decided. In Japan on launch, the PlayStation2 will have a suggested price of about $370.
Two formerly wholly owned MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. factories in Kentucky have been merged into the company's principal North American subsidiary in an effort to boost efficiency and better serve customers' needs. The rechristened MATSUSHITA HOME APPLIANCE CO. (formerly Matsushita Home Appliance Corp. of America) of Danville got its start as a MEI company through a 1990 acquisition. It employs 1,700 people who produce vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens for sale under the Panasonic name as well as other brands. The renamed MA-TSUSHITA ELECTRIC MOTOR CO. (previously Matsushita Electric Motor Corp. of America) in Berea opened in the fall of 1996. Its 200 employees produce electric motors for vacuum cleaners, automotive antilock braking systems and power windows.
Over the next four years or so, TOPPAN PRINTING CO., LTD. could invest as much as $92.6 million in a state-of-the-art printed circuit board factory in Poway, California. Operations are scheduled to start in the summer of 2000 following a July groundbreaking. TOPPAN ELECTRONICS, INC. makes PCBs at a plant in nearby San Diego that it acquired in 1988. However, strong orders from major American electronic equipment original equipment manufacturers and their suppliers are straining capacity at the 500-employee plant. The Poway facility, which could make such products as multilayer and high-density circuit boards, will lift Toppan Electronics' capacity by 50 percent in 2003.
YASKAWA ELECTRIC CORP. is looking for a site in Silicon Valley that will enable it to combine the employees and the work of its current semiconductor office in Santa Clara, California with its new Yaskawa USA Development Center. This technology and business development unit is scheduled to begin operations in November. It will be staffed initially by some 20 Yas-kawa Electric workers transferred from Japan, although the company hopes to hire an equal number of Americans. Their immediate mandate is to develop next-generation servo motors, controllers and inverters for factory automation open systems and networks. Yaskawa Electric makes computer numerical controls at a Northbrook, Illinois plant opened in 1990. It also owns robotics manufacturer MOTOMAN, INC. of Dayton, Ohio (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 352, January 1999, p. 6).
Japan's top maker of visual and audible signaling devices a category that includes signal towers, cube towers, rotating warning lights, voice synthesizers and audible alarms has set its sights on doing more business in the United States. PATLITE CORP.'s Torrance, California marketing subsidiary is spearheading the drive. For starters, it is opening a branch office in Rolling Meadows, Illinois in November to extend sales coverage to the Midwest and the South from the West Coast. More money also will be earmarked for marketing, including advertising. At the same time, Osaka-based Patlite is taking steps to streamline its U.S. product delivery system. The company's visual indicators and audible alarms are designed for any automated assembly line setting. Most of its business today comes from semiconductor makers.
TOKIN CORP., a midsize manufacturer of electronic materials, devices and systems, has big plans for its San Jose, California marketing subsidiary. The Sendai prefecture company has identified five product areas where it believes that North American sales can be built into annual businesses of $18.5 million each within 2000. They are: cellular phone antennas; optical isolators for high-speed, long-distance, large-capacity optical communications transmissions; solid-chip noise suppressors for computer equipment; contactless integrated circuit cards for building security and management control; and sensors for automotive applications. Tokin says that it will consider onshore production if all its sales targets are achieved.
An exchange rate of ¥108=$1.00 was used in this report.