The dream merchants pulled out all the stops at last weekend’s 1995 Winter Consumer Electronics Show, unveiling scores of products that will make your life more entertaining and productive. Here’s an introductory guide to the New Tech of ‘95, spelling out what the babble really means.
To differentiate from the dim performance of yesteryear’s rearprojection televisions, today’s bright, crisp versions from Sony, Pioneer, Mitsubishi and Hitachi go by the vague description “Big Screen TV.” None can beat the staggering, 80-inch image looming on Thomson’s ProScan PS80690 ($8,499), literally large-as-life and almost as realistic. Its insert picturein-picture is as big as the full-screen image on a 35-inch set. Luckily ProScan breaks into two pieces, to squeeze through the front door.
While the majors like Sony and Philips have been reluctant to sell you an affordble machine to record your own compact discs, computer products maker Creative Labs has now unveiled the first CDRecordable system that’s priced for consumers. Attached to your PC and running off a Windows operating program, the CD-R disc drive can make perfect clones of digital discs and tapes, as well as non-protected computer programs and CD-Photo discs. Available next month, it carries a $2,000 price tag. Blank 74-minute discs (four included), will sell for $25 each. Be forewarned: Once you’ve recorded on a CD-R, the material is there forever. But you can program the disc to skip seamlessly over unwanted passages. If the product proves a hit, the price could drop to $1,000 in a year, and $500 in two years.
Dolby Surround AC-3
The newest in sound is a sixchannel, digital Dolby Surround AC-3 process that perfectly fixes sound locations around your home theater, to replicate the moving experience found in top theaters. You’ll bring DSAC-3 home first with compatible 12-inch laser discs and players from Pioneer, and receivers from the likes of Denon, Pioneer and Yamaha.
Digital Still Camera
Casio’s QV-10 Digital Still Camera is neat. Up to 96 color still images can be electronically captured on its semiconductor memory and viewed on a tiny backmounted LCD color screen. You can readily download the images to a personal computer, video still printer, TV or VCR. As small and easy to use as a point-and-shoot film camera, the QV-10 will sell later this year for $700. More expensive DSCs are also coming from Chinon and Fuji.
Another cool way to capture video still images is with Play Incorporated’s “Snappy,” an image grabber/processor that links any video source (like a camera or VCR) with a computer. Available next month for $200, this excellent performer comes from the same gang of wizards that gave us the Video Toaster.
Philips, Matsushita and 3DO are now promoting a video CD format that carries 74 minutes of VHS quality video programming on a disc the size of a CD. But hold off for the next generation of compact video disc coming in just a year. Utilizing a finer focused red laser and a higher data-compression scheme, the new Digital Video Disc format backed by Sony and Philips holds 135 minutes of broadcast-quality video and multi-channel sound on one side of a 12-centimeter disc. Sony head Michael Schulhof suggests DVD will “do for the movie business what the CD did for the music industry.”
Toshiba and its American ally Time-Warner are pushing another, incompatible 12cm video CD that can record 135 minutes worth of programming on each of two sides. Several Hollywood studios reportedly favor that system, which wasn’t available for inspection at the Vegas show. The mighty Universal Studios and its electronics-giant parent company Matsushita have yet to cast their vote.
Electronic Navigation System
You’ll never be lost for long in your automobile, if it’s equipped with an Electronic Navigation System, already a big hit in Japan and arriving here this year priced at $3,000. Once you’ve announced your current location and destination, Kenwood’s voice-activated system responds with verbal clues where to turn. A more complex system from Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony and others locates your current position on a dash-mounted color LCD screen map with help from the U.S. Navy’s GPS (global positioning system) satellites. Both systems grab data off a CD-ROM disc, and make your travels easier with info about the closest restaurants, hotels, ATM machines, gas stations and historic points of interest.
Small Home Office
The hottest Small Home Office product at CES was Canon’s MultiPass 1000, a documentprocessing system that integrates the six most frequently used office products - PC fax, stand-alone plain paper fax machine, printer, scanner, copier and telephone - in one compact, $1,600 package. Also perfect for cramped quarters is Toshiba’s Integrated Multimedia Monitor, a 20-inch TV that doubles as a multimedia computer monitor ($999, available in April.) For those who send a lot of paging messages, the niftiest thing going is Motorola’s Wordsender ($249), a first-of-itskind telephone and keyboard device that lets you send text and numeric messages over phone lines without calling an operator. A hip way to keep track of contacts is with Panasonic’s Electronic Business Card Reader ($400), which literally reads business cards and stores/ recalls the info by name, title, company name, address, phone number, fax number or memo. A 4-inch LCD screen and “QWERTY” style keyboard makes accessing the information easy.
Sanyo showed a prototype TV screen that can produce 3-D effects without the need for glasses - but you have to position yourself “just so” in front for the proper effect. It could see early applications in arcade game systems. Chinon introduced its DeepSee package ($299) - a quad-speed CD-ROM disc drive and LCD shutter glasses that produce realistic 3-D effects from special computer programs showing on a VGA monitor. Some 25 titles are in development. And Nintendo unveiled Virtual Boy, a $200 tabletop game cartridge system with a stereoscopic scope (and stereo sound) for playing 3-D boxing, pinball and auto racing games ($40-$50 each.) Like Game Boy, the image is monochromatic - in this case red etched on a black field - but still quite exciting to behold.