STAR OF THE SHOW\Entertainment gets high-quality spin from DVD.
Less than six weeks after its basic specifications were announced, the DVD - widely touted as the next-generation medium for home entertainment - emerged as the star of the Winter Consumer Electronics Show.
A DVD - the acronym for a digital video disc or a digital virtual disc - can hold 4.7 gigabytes per single side, about eight times the capacity of the CD-ROM it closely resembles.
That's enough room for a 133-minute film in ultra-high-resolution video, playable either on a wide-screen or standard-format TV monitor, with multiple-language soundtracks using the new, high-end Dolby AC-3 surround-sound standard.
Simply put, it's a giant step up the quality ladder. In Sony's booth, the soundtrack for "Speed" rivaled the theatrical version. Philips' snippets of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" had the crispness and clarity of an oil painting.
Sony and Philips were among several of the format's nine creators that came to the Consumer Electronics Show with prototypes of DVD players they intend to market by year's end. Some also will be launching DV-ROM drives for computers.
DVD specifications, still being finalized, were announced in December after negotiations among nine companies that had been working on competing formats. The companies are JVC, Hitachi, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Philips, Pioneer, Sony, Thomson Consumer Electronics and Toshiba.
Thomson is expected to reach the market first, with possibly the cheapest hardware. The company said it will have RCA brand players in stores this summer for $499, with GE and higher-end ProScan machines coming soon thereafter.
Toshiba expects to ship two DVD models around Labor Day. The basic machine will have a suggested retail price of $599; the upgrade model will have a few extra display and playback features for $100 more.
Philips plans to ship players, under both its Philips and subsidiary Magnavox labels, late this year. Executives declined to pinpoint prices, saying only they would sell for $500 to $800. Pioneer and Sony also expect to ship players in the second half of the year.
Along with the hardware launch, Sony Pictures Entertainment will release 50 films from its library on DVD, with 100 more to come soon. The discs will be manufactured at a new DVD encoding facility in Culver City.
Time Warner, which is entering into cross-promotion deals with Thomson, will be releasing DVD versions of its films. The Consumer Electronics Show publication, Twice CES Daily, reported that Twentieth Century Fox and MCA are also gearing up to release their films on DVD.
While DVD was the hottest topic, the show as usual served as springboard for a wide range of electronic gizmos, some of which are already in stores. Others won't be available at retail for months. Some highlights:
IBM's Palm Top PC110: Not much bigger than a paperback novel and weighing only about 1.4 ounces (without hard drive), this 486SX-33MHz Windows 95 PC can be accessorized with its own docking station and a mini-digital camera that plugs into its PCMCIA slot. Right now it's only available in Japan, where the cramped keyboard isn't as much of a drawback as it is here. IBM also displayed a credit card-size ChipCard that can record data off your PC via a PCMCIA interface and then play it back, or perform simple computing functions on its own.
Spatializer's HTMS 2510 Stereo Surround Sound System: Woodland Hills-based Spatializer is best known for developing technology that emulates multispeaker 3D sound - the kind you need six speakers for in many home theater setups - using two ordinary speakers. Until now, the company has only licensed the technology for use in other firms' hardware and software. The HTMS - for Home Theater Made Easy - marks Spatializer's entry into the consumer market. Just plug in your audio output - TV, stereo or PC - and speakers. Winner of an Innovations '96 Award honoring the best new products at CES, the HTMS2510 will be available this spring at a suggested retail price of $249.95.
Perceptions Systems Inc.'s ZoN game controller: Look ma - no wires This Santa Clarita-based company's device allows players to manipulate games through hand, arm or body motion. Available this spring for a suggested retail price of $99 or less.
Voice Powered Technology International's Daisy: Best known for its voice-powered TV controller/VCR programmer, this Sherman Oaks company has developed a voice-activated diary and organizer aimed at girls aged 3 to 13. Packaged with a loose-leaf notebook, Daisy will be out this fall for a suggested retail price of $79.95. Voice Powered Technology also has signed an agreement with the paging company MobileComm to market a combination pager and voice-powered organizer.
Casio's QV30 digital camera: Due in April, the successor to the QV10 features a sharp, 2.5-inch active matrix liquid crystal display; a two-position lens (46mm and 105mm) and macro function for close-ups; storage for 96 images that can be viewed and deleted in the camera; and video, printer and PC connectivity - all in a package the size of a standard point-and-shoot camera and weighing less than a pound. (Cheaper digital cameras weigh much more and don't offer nearly as many features.) Available early April for $999.
ITT Night Vision: Technology developed for the military comes to the masses with a line of night vision viewers that allow you to see in the dark. It's not cheap, though - the most inexpensive, monocular model costs $799.
Philips Media's "Gearheads" and GTE Entertainment's "Time Lapse": Two cool games at a show that has lost its preeminence in electronic gaming to Los Angeles' E3. "Gearheads" is a two-player game in which you try to send an army of windup toys from one side of the screen to the other while preventing your opponent (real or computerized) from doing the same. "Time Lapse," which should be out for Christmas, is a beautifully rendered "Myst"-like adventure featuring journeys into ancient civilizations.
Photo (1--Color) Robert Minkhorst, chief executive officer of Philips Consumer Electronics Co., displays a new digital video disc. (2-3--Color) Digital video discs will be able to play movies such as "Speed" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in high resolution and with theater-quality sound.