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Panasonic hits play on combo device

The consumer-electronics maker starts selling its SV-AV10 combination audio-video device in the United States.

Panasonic pressed play on Thursday for the launch of its 4-in-1 combination audio-video device.

The consumer-electronics maker started selling its SV-AV10 in the United States for $450. The gadget combines a camcorder, digital camera, digital audio player and a voice recorder into a single device. The unit had already been shipping in Japan.

The SV-AV10 comes with a 2-inch liquid crystal display that flips out like those on most camcorders, making it easier to view what is being recorded. The device can play back MPEG-4 video and display digital still images as well as play MP3 files.

Weighing in at less than 3.5 ounces, not including the battery, the gadget is roughly the size of a small stack of business cards. It comes with a removable 64MB Secure Digital card, which can store up to 30 minutes of video, 880 digital still images or one hour's worth of audio, according to the company. The device comes with a rechargeable battery and a charger.

The SV-AV10 is the latest addition to Panasonic's e-wear line of portable consumer-electronics devices, which so far has included a digital audio player and a printer designed to support other e-wear gadgets.

The addition of digital audio playback capabilities to consumer-electronics devices is in vogue, according to analyst Susan Kevorkian, who covers digital audio players for research firm IDC.

"We're seeing digital audio playback being added to numerous devices, such as CD players and eventually DVRs," Kevorkian said. "It's definitely a trend, as digital audio players proliferate and become a mass market device, companies are looking to differentiate their products by adding audio playback."

A recent IDC report estimated that shipments of devices that combine digital audio playback with another feature were higher than shipments of audio-only devices. Shipments in 2001 for combined devices in the United States reached 5 million, while shipments for audio players were around 4.7 million units.

Kevorkian added that the SV-AV10 was primarily a digital camcorder that adds digital audio playback.

Chris Chute who covers digital imaging for IDC said that it made sense for Panasonic to add audio playback to a digital camcorder. Camcorder manufacturers, he said, were feeling the price pressure of analog camcorders, which are much less expensive than the digital variety.

"Camcorder companies are staving off the erosion of the digital business by lowering prices and adding new features to digital models," Chute said.

The adding of digital audio playback features follows the addition of DVD playback capabilities to other devices.

Nearly 13 million DVD players were sold in the United States in 2001--an increase of 49.5 percent compared with the previous year. Sales are expected to grow another 25 percent in 2002, according to new figures from the Consumer Electronics Association.

Sales of decoder chips, which are used in devices that play DVD discs, such as PCs and standalone machines, reached 29.6 million in 2001--a 60 percent increase compared with the previous year--according to Jon Peddie Research.

The cost of DVD players fell more than $200 within two years of their introduction in 1997, at which point they were going for nearly $500, according to Peddie. And the price slide hasn't stopped. Although the Consumer Electronics Association says the average price of a DVD player was $193 last year, consumers can now find players for less than $100.

Manufacturers are responding to the price erosion by building new entertainment technologies around the basic DVD player.

Panasonic representatives did not immediately return calls seeking further details on the device. Panasonic is a division of Matsushita Electric of America, which is a North American subsidiary of Matsushita Electric of Japan.