ANOTHER NEW PC Curtis Mathes promises 'fun'


DALLAS -- Curtis Mathes television sets always have been more expensive "but darn well worth it." But its computers may be another story.

The Texas brand of home entertainment products is about to enter the digital age, with a line of personal computers to be launched at the end of 1991.

Starting late in an intensely competitive business, the Curtis Mathes computers will try to be less expensive than other brands. But they also will try to be "darn well worth it," blending computer displays and television pictures on the same screen, in some cases.

"There are many changes of a technical nature going on, blurring the lines between what's home entertainment, and what's a computer," said Horace Kelton, executive vice president of Curtis Mathes Corp., based in Athens, Texas.

Putting the Curtis Mathes brand on computers wasn't the company's own idea. A trio of Texas computer entrepreneurs decided to borrow a page from the playbook of Packard Bell Electronics Inc., which resurrected an old brand associated with radios and built itself into a prominent seller of so-called clone computers.

The trio includes Mike Henochowicz, a 30-year-old whiz in personal computing retailing. His first venture was Soft Warehouse Inc., the discount computer superstore chain that now does $600 million in annual sales as CompUSA Inc. The others are Tom Neumann, 44, and Jim Humphrey, 48, who met Mr. Henochowicz when they were hawking the Arima brand of foreign-made personal computers to CompUSA.

They are equal partners in a start-up called Stratos Technologies Corp., which will do business as Curtis Mathes Computers. Their idea is to use a well-known brand name, innovative packaging, low pricing and unusual features that are "consumer-friendly," rather than focusing on megabytes and megahertz to sell the joys of computing.

"We're going to make it fun again," vows Mr. Henochowicz.

The prime example are systems that will include a special card to perform the functions of a television receiver and tuner. Such cards will allow computer users to watch television on their screens, not just the letter or spreadsheet they are working on.

In one $1,400 system, the television picture could be alternated with a screen displaying the text or numbers generated by a computer program. Users could switch back and forth.

In a somewhat more costly system, the picture would be inset in a window of the screen, like the picture-in-picture feature of many televisions today.

"The minute something comes on CNN that you want to see, you hit one key and you fill the screen," said Mr. Neumann.

The systems will come bundled with a wide variety of software, including games. The programs and operating system will be pre-installed on a hard-disk drive, so the user just has to turn on the computer to use it.

To grab attention, boxes aim to stop shoppers in their tracks. The full-color packaging will be crowded with "somewhat sensual" and appealing tropical fruits. Its logo is a graphic representation of an apple, with slices in various colors of the rainbow, Mr. Neumann said.

"Once you see our packaging, you're not going to think of Apple Computer."

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