| Philips Electronics |
Philips had an impressive display at this year’s show with a large stage and 2-story office complex. However, even with all that space the Pronto only got a small corner by the main stage. A huge silver mock-up remote dominated over two functional units, one in traditional blue/gray (with a working light sensor), the other in European silver (without a sensor). Philips has plans to bring limited quantities of the silver version to the US for sale, though I have no ETA on when this will actually occur. Off to the side and displayed on the monitor installed in the gargantuan remote was a laptop running ProntoEdit and showing various editing screens.
Philips does indeed plan to continue developing the Pronto remote, with a brand new entry to be released later this year. They hope to have it ready enough to display at CEDIA Expo 2000, which is held at the beginning of September. I would expect it in the retail channel shortly afterwards. Though exact features are still being worked out, the new Pronto will have a color screen and a suggested retail price of $799. Various ideas for possible RF support are being considered – either the traditional RF-based control of IR equipment through a base station, control of specific RF devices such as X-10, or even control of actual RF equipment such as satellite receivers and certain stereo systems. Whether all or even some of this is even technically possible has yet to be determined, but if they manage to work in that last RF capability the Pronto will be the only remote with that feature in the marketplace. They would also like to see true high-frequency infrared learning, much like the current RC2000 MkII (which can learn up to 1.125MHz, compared to the Pronto’s 56kHz – even through the Pronto can still transmit a 1.125MHz signal if it has the hex code).
Memory & Ports
Philips indicated that more memory is a certainty, however it doesn’t look like they will be adding the capability for user upgrades. Still, I will be pushing for "twice as much memory as you think the remote should have"… and even then I’m sure someone will figure out how to fill it all. Do you have a mega-disc DVD or CD player? How would full-color scanned cover artwork for each one sound? That’ll take a lot of memory. With more memory comes the resulting complication of larger file sizes to transfer to and from the remote. Though it doesn’t look like they’ve thought this far yet, I suggested a USB implementation over the current serial port. Philips acknowledged that the Pronto is already pushing the serial port specification to it’s limit, and as Philips is a huge USB supporter in other areas this enhancement is a distinct – and probably necessary – likelihood.
Also of concern is the speed of the new remote. Since adding color requires a complete redesign on a hardware level (the Pronto’s current Motorola Dragonball processor can only handle 4-shade monochrome), it’s important to ensure the remote will be as fast as costs allow, even when handling more complex screens. Most users who will be purchasing an $800 remote will want the same speedy IR code handling of the current model, but with even faster panel changes. Since a speedy CPU and bright color screen will suck battery power quickly, Philips will likely include a desktop charger in the base package.
One item I stressed as very important to the Pronto line as a whole is to maintain some sort of CCF compatibility between the color and monochrome models. This item is high on their "must-do" list.
The new model will be identical in physical size as the current one, with the same diameter screen. Though the case will of course change somewhat, Philips wants to maintain the same form factor and basic styling. One interesting note is that a metal housing – indeed a titanium case – is being planned. As mentioned, detailed specifications are still pretty much up in the air. I made various suggestions such as more hard buttons (four along the bottom), better sealing against liquid spills and resilience against shocks, and plan on making more as development progresses. Philips wants to make this new model the best remote control out there, bar none. Will they succeed? We’ll find out this fall!
New Dolby Digital Receivers
In other news, Philips announced two new receivers with Dolby Digital decoding – the FR975 and FR965, both available in May 2000. The $399 FR975 DTS & Dolby Digital receiver features digital stereo downmix for recording a Dolby Digital or DTS multi-channel soundtracks onto a digital source, Natural Surround which creates "phantom" speakers in between existing speakers to fill gaps in the sound, plus a menu-based user interface. It produces 500 watts of total power and features 12 audio inputs, two digital coaxial and two optical inputs, a digital coaxial output, four video inputs and two video outputs, five S-Video connectors, screw speaker terminals and a front A/V game input. The $299 FR965 includes Dolby Digital and Pro Logic decoding, 300 total watts of power, 10 audio and three video inputs and two video outputs as well as two digital coaxial and one optical inputs and one coaxial output.
New Mini Systems
Philips also announced various other electronics items at the show. A new family of mini-systems with wOOx speaker technology was unveiled, all of which feature a 3-CD carousel, digital tuner, 7-band spectrum analyzer, alarm clock with sleep timer, dual cassette deck and CD-RW compatibility. The $399 FW-P88 offers Dolby Pro Logic decoding with 2 x 120w front speaker output, 2 x 20w rear speaker power and a 40w center channel speaker. The $299 FW-C85 steps down to 2 x 110w stereo output while the FW-C80 offers 120 watts total power for $229.
The new 42PF9952 FlatTV plasma display is a mere 4.5 inches thick with a 160 degree viewing angle, allowing the picture to be seen clearly and with a consistent quality and brightness from virtually anywhere in the room. The $9990 widescreen display (available for $10,990 with the 42FTR9952 e-box tuner) comes in a variety of distinctive frame color finishes and a full-function remote control. The display will be available in January 2000.
New DVD Players
Three new DVD players will be announced this year. The DVD711 and DVD950 both feature new styling, dual-lasers for CD and DVD compatibility and an exclusive parental-approval system. They also feature a special digital filtering system for superior quality zoom, 3-speed forward and reverse and a 5-disc resume memory. The DVD711 will be available this spring for $249, while the DVD950 with built-in Dolby Digital decoder and virtual 3D surround will retail for $349. Also announced was the DVD781 five-disc carousel player will be available in the summer of 2000 for a suggested list price of $349.