Electronics Industry Prepares Many New Gizmos

By Jensen, Kris | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 19, 1995 | Go to article overview

Electronics Industry Prepares Many New Gizmos


Jensen, Kris, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Each year the people who create gizmos to entertain us and make our lives easier flock to the Winter Consumer Electronics Show.

The show, recently held in Las Vegas, is a circuitry circus, with everyone from mom and pop companies to industry giants gambling that we will be turned on by their wares.

Here are some of the products that netted a lot of attention: New software from Microsoft definitely will have a big impact on consumers because it will be packaged in so many computers plus being sold separately for $99 beginning March 31.

The software, called Bob, uses 12 cartoonlike characters _ such as a cat named Chaos, a dragon named Java and an invisible character with no name _ to guide people through its eight programs. Each character has its own personality and can even "learn" a user's likes or dislikes. In addition, each person has his or her own room in which they can launch a letter writer, calendar, checkbook, household manager, address book, e-mail, financial guide and GeoSafari game.

Critics say Bob is just too easy and that the cartoon characters are hokey. Microsoft says ease is the point, and that customers will love their quirky, cartoon guides. Digitization was the theme of the convention. You can't quite turn humans into digital signals and transmit them _ a la "Star Trek" _ but the effects of the digital trend were everywhere.

Electronics giant Thompson Consumer Electronics, which includes RCA, and computer firm Sun Microsystems have created Open TV. It uses computer technology from Sun to allow video on demand. TV viewers can fast forward, pause or reverse movies from the system. It also includes interactive advertising and sales. It's ready to go once a cable firm installs it.

RCA's Digital Satellite System mini-dish and set-top box, introduced a year ago, remains hot. The company announced it sold 600,000 of the satellite TV systems last year. Sony is planning its own for release in May.

AT T unveiled its Information Center TV set-top box, which will grab information via the telephone network. Zenith has announced it will include the AT T box in its TVs. The AT T box will cost $329 when it becomes available later this year.

For now, the digital movies for TV are in three formats. Sony and Philips showed Digital Video Disk, a 5-inch disc that looks like a CD and plays movies as well as sound. A competing system has been developed by Toshiba and Pioneer, and a third called Video CD by Technics, Sanyo and others. Most industry experts predict a unified product by 1996. The problem is most movies take two discs because current discs are limited to about 74 minutes.

One solution for now is devices such as the Panasonic/Technics SL-VM500, a five-CD video carousel changer due in June for about $500.

Two systems were competing with products that make using VCRs easier. Both offer similar services: the ability to put a TV grid on your screen so that with one click, you can tape a show for the week or regularly. They also keep the VCR clock on time.

StarSight, whose partners include Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, became available last year.

It has lined up several manufacturers to use the technology for TV and VCR production. Cost of the service is under $4 a month. Magnavox is introducing the StarSight CB 1500 receiver to retrofit the service to existing TVs for $149.95.

Video Guide debuts later this year, and is designed as a retrofit to existing TVs. It has a special universal remote that uses a thumb-controlled joystick to navigate. It also offers as extra services news reports and sports summaries of games. It uses the wireless network of BellSouth's Mobile Comm to deliver information.

The cost is $99, plus $4.99 or an additional $2.99 for the first service ordered and $1. …

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