The VCR boom is over. In fact, sales of VHS VCRs are expected to drop by 1.5 million units this year. Electronics firms are looking for new products geared to the home video market that might excite customers.The TV/VCR combination unit, for instance, just might become a hot item in a consumer electronics market hungry for unusual products. These machines attracted a lot of attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
What started as a small speciality market a few years ago has grown considerably, explained Stan Hametz, vice president of the VHS division of Panasonic, one of the major players in the market. A sign that this is a growing, healthy market is the steady influx of manufacturers. The list includes Samsung, Goldstar, Sony and Emerson.
The combination units are available in small portable form or full size for home use. The full-size units, which dominate the market, have anywhere from 10- to 20-inch screens and range in price from roughly $450 to $800.
Is it cheaper to buy the combinations than a separate TV and VCR?
"Not really," said Goldstar's group product manager Bennett Norell. "Only if you're buying a relatively cheap TV and a cheap VCR. The combinations cost more."
Samsung's marketing manager Steve Nickerson described the target group for the combination units.
"They appeal to people who are into convenience and space-saving," he said. "There aren't any extra wires hanging around, which really appeals to some people. It also appeals to people who simply don't want to bother hooking up a TV to a VCR- and those who don't know how to hook up a VCR to a TV."
Other customers for the full-size units are upscale types who already have one VCR. "These people are looking for their second or third VCR," Panasonic's Hametz said. "Something a little different would appeal to them. Also these people aren't worried about price."
Families with children are also a target for the TV/VCR combination market. "It's great for children's rooms," Samsung's Nickerson said. "There are no wires for kids to fool around with, and it's easy to operate."
Until recently, the TV/VCR combination was a high-tech item equipped with decidedly low-tech specifications. The VCRs provided the bare-bones basics. None of the units offered stereo sound, and all that the VCRs had were just two heads. (With four heads, the special effects, such as slow-motion, are higher quality.) Also none of the units were equipped with separate tuners, which allow you to record one program while watching another.
"The VCRs in the combination units were kept very basic to keep the price down," explained Panasonic's Hametz.
"Two-head VCRs are obviously cheaper than four-head VCRs. Also, the TV screens of these units have been the smaller screens. But now the screens are getting bigger." In the next few years, these units will become more sophisticated, with Panasonic leading the way. Panasonic has just introduced a 27-inch model boasting a four-head VCR, as well as stereo sound.In the spring, the company is putting out a four-head, 27-inch combination unit in the Super VHS format. This summer, Panasonic is introducing a 20-inch unit that plays three different VHS formats used around the world.
These improvements will also increase the price of the units, which is bad news for consumers. One of Panasonic's new 27-inch models sells for $1,399.
But there's also a bright side. Samsung's Nickerson noted, "With all these new companies coming into the market, the competition may drive prices down very quickly."