ELECTRONICS GALORE! Video gadgets all the rage at electronics show


LAS VEGAS -- Welcome to video heaven, where a couch potato with cash can indulge in some serious fantasies about how to outfit the living room with the latest high-tech gadgetry.

While the Consumer Electronics Show here has its share of dazzling audio and computer gadgetry, it's the video gear that really grabs the attention.

One of the hottest products is a new camcorder from Sharp that allows users to watch what they are shooting on a crystal-clear 4-inch color monitor, rather than through a grainy black-and-white view finder. The $1,900 unit also lets users play back what they've recorded on the screen so more than one person can watch immediately, rather than having to wait to plug the recording into a VCR.

The newest trend in television seems to be a wide-screen format, where the screen is shaped in a 16-to-9 ratio to mimic the shape of most movie screens. A conventional TV screen's ratio is 4-to-3.

Manufacturers say the wider format allows movies to be viewed at full width, rather than have the edges cut off, as currently happens. Prices range from $2,000 to $5,000 for the units, depending on screen size and features, and manufacturers include RCA, Panasonic, JVC, Goldstar and Sharp.

One of the most feature-laden is RCA's Cinema Screen model, which has two tuners to allow the viewer to watch two programs side by side. In addition, a viewer can watch one program, while monitoring three others stacked on top of each other on the right edge of the screen.

For those who want the programming available via satellite but don't have room for a large satellite dish, help is on the way. By 1994, RCA says it will be offering satellite broadcasts that can be received by a dish that's only 18 inches across.

The dish will be aimed at two Hughes satellites, which will be broadcasting 150 channels of sports, entertainment and movies. The satellites are due to be launched in late 1993, with the dish, decoder and remote control unit going on sale in 1994 for about $700.

Another more offbeat item is the $900 Virtual Vision goggles. Looking like a large pair of sunglasses, the device comes equipped with a small television receiver that is contained in a belt pack. The TV signal is sent to a small mirror in the goggles, andthe viewer can watch the mirror while simultaneously looking out through the goggles.

Virtual Vision officials say the system is ideal for uses like watching a football game live and viewing the instant replay through the goggles. The company claims the experience is like watching a big-screen TV from 15 feet away, but during a demonstration the display was grainy and colors were muted.

The unit is due on sale in April at Sharper Image and other upscale stores.

Some of the best action is on the fringe of the video realm. Nintendo of America unveiled a new chip that soups up video games, allowing game programmers to produce more realistic effects. The Super FX chip has initially been installed in a new 16-bit game called Star Fox, in which a the player swoops and rolls in his space ship through alien territory. The game will go on sale in March.

In demonstrations, Star Fox seemed a cut above many other games in response and graphics, and at $60, is in the ballpark with most other 16-bit Nintendo titles.

In the audio realm, a number of well-known radio manufacturers have signed on to support a digital technology that adds written messages to a radio broadcast. Called Radio Broadcast Data System, the technology allows radio stations to beam out additional data that will show up on the radio's lighted display panel.

The information could include the station's call letters, the type of music format it plays and the name of the song playing and artist, even where it could be purchased locally.

The radio can also scan for any particular format, including classical, jazz, rock, R&B; or even stations that have frequent traffic reports. About 50 stations nationwide are equipped to broadcast in the RBDS format, and none are in Northern California.

It costs a station between $2,500 and $4,000 to add RBDS capability. Radio makers such as Delco, Denon Kenwood and Sony plan to make high-end radios with RBDS circuitry. A Denon spokesman said a RBDS car radio with tape player and CD controller would run about $400.

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