Zenith Takes A Stand In The Videodisc Battle

Zenith Electronics Corp. delivered a boost to the Toshiba-Time Warner digital videodisc coalition with the announcement March 16 that the U.S.-based consumer electronics company will offer players for the double-sided, 10-gigabyte DVD format.

Technicolor also declared its entrance into the DVD arena as a manufacturer of optical discs, but said it would accommodate both Toshiba-Time Warner’s double-sided format and the rival single-sided format offered by Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics.

Technicolor’s non-position appears to be a political choice, since the company has film processing deals with both camps.

Zenith is the second-biggest maker of color TV sets after RCA, which also has endorsed the Toshiba-Time Warner format through its parent company, Thomson Consumer Electronics.

“This format fits in with our high-definition TV strategy,” Zenith chairman/CEO Jerry K. Pearlman told Variety. “We have eight years’ experience in dealing with video compression, so we know a whole lot about it.” Zenith’s HDTV sets are expected to hit the market in early 1997.

Carl Yankowski, president and COO of Sony Corp., told Variety that Zenith’s announcement was no setback. “As we continue to talk with companies, we’re hopeful they’ll see the benefit to the consumer of offering two formats and letting the marketplace decide.”

The DVD is a 5-inch compact optical disc capable of holding full-length movies with multichannel sound. It’s designed to be the successor to the videotape cassette.

The technical differences between the Toshiba-Time Warner DVD format and the high-density compact disc format (HDCD) offered by Sony-Philips are the topic of much debate. Industry experts agree, however, that if both formats come to market as expected next year, retailer resistance and consumer confusion could slow acceptance of the new medium.

Zenith’s Pearlman said the company would market a Zenith-branded player by mid-1996 at $499 retail. The company’s decision to go with the Toshiba-Time Warner format over the Sony- Philips format, he said, was based on four criteria.

“The software providers will put the 16×9 widescreen format on the disc. The disc is capable of carrying six-channel Dolby 3-2-1 audio, the same audio standard as HDTV. More studios are supporting this format and more is better. And this format offers higher capacity,” Pearlman said.

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