Coming soon: A printer for your TV

Seiko Epson, Canon are developing printers that can be connected to digital TV sets

Japanese printer makers Seiko Epson and Canon hope the increasing popularity of digital TV broadcasting and home networks will earn their printers a new place in your home: the living room.

The companies, which are the second and third-ranked ink-jet printer makers in the world, are both developing printers that can be connected to digital TV sets, they said this week. The printers will work with data broadcasting services that could offer users coupons related to TV commercials or program-related information such as recipes or travel destination formatted for printing on regular sheets of paper.

"Digital TV printing is something you might hear a lot about soon," said Seiichi Hirano, chief executive of Epson's imaging products division, at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday. "People want to take information from anywhere they can and we think digital TV is an excellent way to achieve this."

Such a service was launched in Japan last year but the lack of a standard for connecting TVs and printers meant it could only be used with certain models of Panasonic TV and a single printer from the company. The service offered games, puzzles and news formatted for printing, but it closed at the end of September this year.

A bigger opportunity exists around a standardized service that works with different makes of TV and printer, and that's what the two printer makers are now looking towards.

A soon-to-be-launched revision to the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) specification for linking gadgets together will be expanded to include printers. That should mean compatibility between TVs and printers from various manufacturers. The services will requires the support of content providers. Hirano said Epson is talking with interested parties but wouldn't offer specific details.

For Epson and Canon, consumer adoption of such a services could mean higher sales, of both printers and the potentially more lucrative ink-refill cartridges.

"Epson believes the role of printers will expand even more as new printing contents become available. Epson is aiming to promote a new printing culture as TV moves from analog to digital," said Hirano. "We believe the opportunity for digital TV printing is unlimited."

Canon estimates that almost 5 million printers that connect to TVs will be sold by 2011.

"I think that's a good number, they are expecting users to print more and more," said Tomoko Mitani, a principal analyst at research company Gartner in Tokyo.

"In the near future, home appliances will be connected to the Internet and the TV will be at the center of the digital home," according to Mitani. "So Canon and Epson's decision to enter the TV printer market gives them one choice to broaden usage of ink-jet printers."

Canon estimates its first digital TV printer should hit the Japanese market sometime in late 2006 and be priced around ¥50,000, said Richard Berger, a spokesman for the company in Tokyo. Sales of the devices overseas will depend on the availability and popularity of digital TV data services.

Around 85 million ink-jet printers were shipped in 2004, according to figures from IDC.

Epson had a 19 percent share of worldwide ink-jet printer shipments in the first half of this year, according to IDC. That ranked it behind market leader Hewlett-Packard, which had 44 percent, and ahead of third-place Canon, which had 18 percent, according to the market research company.

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