Panasonic Bows High-End Blu-Ray System

Panasonic is taking a luxurious approach to the new Blu-ray high-definition optical disc format.

In a press event Thursday at its Secaucus, N.J., headquarters, Panasonic demonstrated a complete 1080-line progressive HD home-theater system based on the Blu-ray format including a Blu-ray player, audio/video receiver, surround-sound speaker system and a 65-inch 1080P plasma display, all of which will be available in September. The total price tag for the complete system, which Panasonic demonstrated with a collection of Blu-ray titles from 20th Century Fox, tops $15,000, including the DMP-BD10 player for $1299, the SA-XR700 receiver for $999, the SB-TP1000 speaker system for $2995, and the TH-65PX600 display for $10,000.

John Iacovellio, Panasonic senior VP of products and marketing, says that "consumers are baffled" by the technical complexity of buying and installing high-definition products, a challenge that Panasonic hopes to overcome by offering an integrated solution. For example, one of the system's features, called EZ-Sync, automatically configures all the components for Blu-ray movie playback with a single touch of a button.

"Panasonic is making a meaningful transition from standalone products to whole home entertainment solutions," says Iacoviello.

Andrew Nelkin, VP of Panasonic's display group, notes that that there is "a lot of demystification that needs to take place" when it comes to consumers truly understanding and enjoying HDTV products. In that vein, consumers who buy a Panasonic 1080p plasma display will get a "concierge service" with customer-service representatives who will personally respond to technical questions.

"We want to make buying a plasma from Panasonic analogous to buying a Mercedes-Benz from a car dealer," says Nelkin.

Panasonic has also worked with cable operators like Comcast to make the high-def experience easier for consumers. At the CES show in January, it showed how OCAP-compliant consumer electronics products, such as HDTV sets or DVDs, can be controlled from the same remote used to direct a cable set-top. Panasonic also recently filed comments with the FCC in support of Comcast's petition for a waiver on the FCC's July 1, 2007, deadline to integrate removable CableCARD conditional access technology in all of its digital set-tops.

Dr. Paul Liao, Chief Technology Officer for Panasonic, says the company is supporting Comcast's position because it would like to see Comcast continue to reclaim analog bandwidth by rolling out more low-cost digital set-tops to enable digital simulcast service. That efforts means more bandwidth for HDTV programming, which in the long run is good for HDTV set-makers like Panasonic, he says.