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What is your opinion of the SED TVs or carbon nanotube TVs that some of your competitors want to bring to market?
Yamada: I'm not a fan of the technology. The problem, in my opinion, is that when they started in development, or when they started talking about it in public a couple of years ago, I don't think they expected the market to change so drastically in terms of the price, in terms of the screen size, in terms of the quality of plasma screens. Maybe three years ago they picked a target, and the target was plasma. But the target moved probably much more rapidly than they thought.
In terms of street price, a 42-inch high-definition plasma, not ED, cost about $3,000 (in) December. A year and a half ago, something like that cost over $8,000.
What other products will Panasonic emphasize in the U.S.?
Yamada: High definition is the direction Panasonic is heading. We are not marketing just plasma TVs. We are marketing home theater applications: DVD recorders, and later this year maybe Blu-ray players, and amplifiers and speakers. You can also combine HD TVs and digital cameras: You take a picture and put the SD (Secure Digital) card in a slot in the plasma. Now you enjoy the picture not from a print, but on the big-screen TV. You can show a slide presentation to your friends and family.
You even have IP security cameras. You can watch the house, the garage, the window in the backyard. You can add sensors to the camera. If someone comes in, you can get a picture in the corner of a plasma TV. It was not possible when we had analog type of technologies. Thanks to the digital technologies those things are possible now.
The issue is how are we going to communicate this to people. They don't know they can do that, so we have to do a much better job at reaching the consumer. People think that TV is TV. But today TV is not just a conventional TV. You will see it be part of telephone video communications, eventually.
Do you plan to emphasize videoconferencing? It's one of those ideas people love, but it hasn't gone mainstream.
Yamada: Not this year, but next year. People want it.
How about HD camcorders? Some models came out last year, but they are really expensive.
Yamada: We have one for not real consumers, but "prosumers." We just announced it last month. Next year, we are coming out with consumer ones. We are showing design mock-ups now. Around $1,000, that is kind of a hot spot (for consumer pricing for the new cameras), I think.
It seems like you're showing off a lot of cameras at CES.
Yamada: We started to put some emphasis on it in the second half of 2005. And this year, 2006, is the year of digital still cameras for Panasonic in the U.S. I think we are going to triple our business in them over 2005. Our main focus is on optical image stabilization. Even if you shake, the picture will be very, very clear. We also have some with aspect ratios of 16:9, like widescreen TVs.
Two years ago at CES, all of the American companies said they were planning on entering consumer electronics in a big way. But there's less activity now than there was then on their part, and you certainly don't see a huge Dell booth on the main floor here. Did they underestimate the difficulty of breaking into electronics?
Yamada: I certainly don't see them as a competitor at all. I don't know why they failed. Probably, well, let's go back to plasma. We focus on the quality of the picture. My background is as a computer guy. Before coming into the U.S. (in the '80s) I was in charge of the computer business for Panasonic. I know the mentality. It is very different. In TV we are always very serious about the quality of the TV, the colors. But in the computer industry frankly, they don't care. I didn't care. It shows moving pictures. That's all that matters.
On that note, do you ever think of trying to push into the U.S. consumer notebook market? Panasonic sells a lot of them in Japan.
Yamada: Here in the U.S., Panasonic focuses on government, police, telecom industry. We sell the Toughbook. They are very rugged. You can drop them.
In Japan, I put the priority on portability and long battery life. Here in the States, people don't pay the money for portability or light weight. They carry heavy notebooks. That is the difference of the markets.
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