Equipped with the latest affordable electronic entertainment toys, we can now rent any one of about 50.000 movie titles for $2 or $3 a night The full color images flash onto our life-sized video screen, and we get the effect of Jedi spaceships zooming through the caverns of our own private living rooms – with the full force of Surround Sound.
With such impressive emotional |ourneys available at home, we can say goodbye to babysitters and noisy movie houses. Home entertainment is definitely the pastime of the 80’s. It’s comfortable, convenient, econom-ical and almost as sophisticated as anything we will see or hear on the 25-foot silver screen downtown. About all it takes to have a good home entertainment center is a valid charge card and a notion of what you would like your system to do. But there’s a hitch. Shopping for all the components amid a jungle of options, incompatibilities, models and millimeters can be as hazardous as searching for a new relationship. A few do-it-yourself survival strategies may make your hunting a little more enjoyable.
How and when you go about shopping for entertainment gear depends on what type of home entertainer you are. If you are a person who worries about what other people think of you, then having the right “system” is nearly as important as having the right physique, clean breath and the right car, We’ll call you the Toy Collector. On the other hand, if you’re just chasing away a little Saturday night boredom, your main objective is to be Instantly Gratified. At the extreme end of the spectrum are the true audio/videophiles better known as the Tweaks. Regardless of which type you are, the first rule in any jungle is to distinguish the good from the bad and the ugly.
There is considerable confusion in the electronic marketplace about formats, systems and components. Quite simply, a home entertainment “system” can be anything from a clock radio lor the Instantly Gratified type to something as complex as a complete “optronic” home including devices that do everything from track burglars to answer the front door Since most of us are Toy Collectors, we’ll begin there. The average Collector’s home entertainment system probably sells lor $5,000 $10,000 and may have a room exclusively devoted to multi-media entertainment. The collection of gear throughout the house may include any or all of these: a large screen video proiector, monitor/receiver tor every room, several VCR’s and audio cassette recorders, one to three speakers, turntable, audio compact disc player, videodisc player, pre-amplifier and power amplifier, a number of remote control gadgets, several pocket TV’s, several head sets, and at least one camcorder system. combining both camera/recorder and playback unit in a one or two-piece package
But don’t worry if your list of gear comes up short by comparison. The upcoming season will give you a good excuse to bring home a few new electronic trophies of your own.
Perhaps the biggest questions facing the consumer this year will be: How important are tape formats and which one do I buy? What are the hottest new accessories, cameras, recorders? What are the latest movies, records, cassettes and discs?
The most important buy of the year, if you don’t already have one. will be a VCR Forty percent of Americans already own one. There are currently six different formats or kinds of videocassette recorders, plus several new laser disc formats (explored later).
The six tape formats are: VHS Beta
VHS-C Super Beta
The reason there are so many different species of players is because of an old corporate tribal war between Sony Corporation and JVC, Sony developed the Beta VCR, using its own way of recording and playing back the video signal, while JVC developed VHS with an entirely different method of its own. Today there are perhaps 50 VHS player manufacturers or labelers, including Hitachi. Matsushita, Quasar and Panasonic, and about eight or ten manufacturers or labelers of the Beta player, You cannot play a VHS tape in a Beta recorder Likewise, you can’t play an 8mm tape on anything but an 8mm player. VHS-C is a shrunken version of regular VHS cassettes It was originally developed for use in camera-recorder combinations. Now, however, with playing time extended from 20 minutes to one hour, the format is a rival to 8mm, which we will discuss shortly. The baby VHS-C format will play in a normal VHS player by sliding the smaller tape into an adaptor cartridge that fits inside the regular VHS player.
VHS and Beta are based on similar technology, but the tape speed vanes and the recording signal is laid down on the tape differently. The Beta format offers 5 hours of playing, while VHS offers eight. Until recently. Beta had the edge on quality and offered built-in stereo sound that had not been available on the rival format. But like two kings of the jungle vying lor supremacy, JVC retorted with an even better tape format known as VHS-HQ (for high quality) and is expected to offer players with built-in hi-fi within a year. Beta returned the blow by coming out with Super Beta, a format which produces a sharper video picture than regular Beta. VHS-HQ and Super Beta really aren’t formats, they’re |ust souped up grades of tape and don’t require another type of player You can play HQ on your same VHS, and Super Beta on your same Beta player. Whether these so-called high grade tapes are significantly better is somewhat questionable. But for the Toy Collector and the Tweak, Beta is still the “Super Unleaded” format of the electronic terrain.
Eight millimeter is a miniature video tape. It’s about the size of a regular audio cassette tape, and it plays in a miniature 8mm video recorder. About 127 manufacturers have presumably agreed that this will be the new standard for both video cassette records and for the new light weight video cameras some of which come with their own built-in video playback decks. But the real significance of 8mm is more than its diminutive size.
The 8mm format is what manufac-turers refer to as true digital audio, You can call it “true digital” provided all you are including in the menag-ene is tape (As we shall see, the audio compact disc is also a digital recording format). In the traditional old tape formats, audio and video signals are laid down as wave lines on the tape, and are read when the tape passes over a head which physically traces the path of the signal (almost like an EKG machine in the doctor’s office, and sometimes with equally scary results). The digital format, however, cuts the sound into ones and zeros that can be read rapidly and accurately by computer processing What this means for the consumer is a significant improvement in sound and picture quality, But the real breakthrough is that the tiny format will enable you to combine your audio cassette recorder and your video cassette recorder into one single unit capable of playing either a two-hour movie or up to 24-hours of stereo music. (The 8mm tape has six separate recording tracks, each of which is four hours long). Pioneer and Sony have existing units on the market Blank 8mm tapes sell for about $10 each vs $4 each for regular VCR tape (but 8mm has six times the playing potential), Thus far, the number of movies released on 8mm is less than 100. But big movie distributors are gearing up to bring out more titles. Sony now has about 15 titles on 8mm through Paramount. Kodak has 41 titles through Embassy and RCA has 21 titles through Columbia, released this fall.
One word of caution The 8mm video/ audio tape format should not be confused with Super 8 movies or 8mm film. What we are talking about here is digital audio/video tape.
But tape is no longer the only game in the jungle. There are also several kinds of laser or optical discs, prin-cipally audio compact discs or CD’s that resemble silver-plated 45 records, and video discs, sometimes referred to by Pioneer’s trade name, LaserVision.
The way music is recorded on the audio CD is different from the way video is recorded on videodisc, but both use a highly-focused beam of laser light (an optical technology to read billions of bits of information encoded below the disc’s clear surface). The audio CD player delivers the truest possible sound reproduction possible without hiss or noise That will make it one of the hottest gifts of the season, no matter what type of home entertainer is on your holiday list. Dealers and audiophiles both concur that the CD is superior to any other format yet developed, with 8mm running a close second Sales figures show that CD enthusiasts are not deterred by the fact that you cannot record onto the audio disc. (You can, however, record from the crystal clear CD source onto your tape machine, and it’s legal as long as you don’t rent out the recording to another party).
Sound Warehouse has seen a 400% increase in CD sales since last year While that represents only a 15% share of total prerecorded music sales, President Terry Worrell says “CD’s may, at some point a tew years from now overtake LP’s in sales, much as cassettes replaced eight-track, CD’s are more durable You can change tracks in seconds and the sound quality is better,’’ he said.
The switch to CD’s is most evident in the high-end consumer market Hillcrest High Fidelity reports that 78% of its prerecorded music sales are now in CD’s, up an incredible 400% in one year.
Dallas’ first Compact Disc specialty store, Compact Disc Center of Dallas, offers about 4,000 CD titles for sale, along with other novel services like a $5 swap club.
“The CD boom has given an exciting lift to the entire recording industry,” says owner Ted Vinson. “We have seen a tremendous surge in classical and jazz titles.
Video discs, once thought to be a waning medium, are gaining momentum in the U.S. This past summer. Pioneer introduced to the U.S. its exciting new CLD 909 CD/LV player, a combination audio compact disc and video disc player that sells for less than $900. The 909 features high resolution video and digital sound, all in one package. Yamaha will soon market a similar product, and Teac and Morantz/Japan also have combination disc players.
The two old arguments against videodiscs, that they aren’t recordable and that there aren’t enough movie titles available may become moot points. True, you cannot record on the videodisc at the present time But if you’re after quality picture and sound, longevity, no wear and more flexibility in how you access your music and video selections, then recordability isn’t a priority, particularly since you can record a movie from your disc player to your VCR tape. The only thing you can’t do is record a program which is broadcast over the air into your home. “So, why not rent movies for your VCR and buy videodiscs for your permanent collection,” suggests Al Moskau, Southern Zone Vice President of Pioneer’s Home Electronics Division. The argument about title availability has been taken to heart by Pioneer. Its newest catalogue contains approximately 1,500 movie titles available on videodisc, and they’re adding 50 new releases a month to their inventory.
Most videodisc titles can be ordered from the small specialty stores, but you may have to wait several weeks for your order because disc-pressing facilities are backed up with audio disc orders, a situation that most dealers say will ease by Christmas this year.
It’s the closest thing to being there. Surround sound uses digital proc-essing to delay parts of the audio signal to your ears so that you experience the full depth and breadth of sound as it is in real life Originally created for the movie theater, surround sourd is now possible for your living room through Dolby surround decoding devices, or through devices that simulate the effect. Akai, Technics, Yamaha, Shure and Infinity are now manufacturing Dolby surround decoders that can be hooked to your present VCR or TV. A number of new audio/video receivers also feature built-in surround sound decoders.
There are two kinds of projection TV’s – rear projection, and the more expensive front-projection set Rear projection sets offer about the same quality as expensive direct-view TV sets. while front-projection sets offer still higher quality. Rear projection sets can be watched in normal lighting Front projection sets work best in a darkened room, because they more nearly act like a projector Mitsubishi rear and front projection TV’s have been a popular brand, now being rivaled by Pioneer’s new SDP-40 monitor, which delivers unbelievably crisp, clear images on a 40″ rear prejection screen.
Camcorders, which combine video tape cameras and recording units in one small hand-held package,
have also pined the format war. Sony touts its Handycam as the world’s smallest and lightest camcorder, weighing all of 3 pounds including battery, while JVC promotes its only slightly larger VHS camcorder as the best. A number of other manufacturers have pined the camcorder fray, including Olympus, Kodak, Kyocera, Canon and Aiwa, all with 8 mm camcorder models. A companion to Sony’s Handycam camera/recorder is the Video 8 8mm playback deck, also about 3 lbs. The unit plugs directly into your color TV for instant home movie replay
One of the most exciting things about your electronic safari this year may be shopping for accessories. Here are a few picked from thousands of new arrivals:
THE RABBIT-Connects all your TVs to a central switching control. Enables you to switch any TV screen in the house to any source from right where you are. for under $200
END REMOTE CLUTTER-If your remote control units are multiplying, consider a central remote, like General Electric’s Control Central It copies and remembers control codes from your present remote devices into its single brain. The nice thing about it is that it works with a variety of component brands.
SING ALONG TV-They call it Karoake It’s sing-along TV. Your set provides the instrumentals, the scenes and the lyrics You add the voice It’s Japan’s version of the old bouncing ball One brand, Ronsonic’s Sing Along Mini Karoake, connects to a loud speaker or tape recorder for public amusement
TINY TV- Casio TV-2,000 uses the latest LCD technology to produce Tiny TV, a 2 6″ screen with 5.5 hours of battery-powered viewing. Color model, about $349; black and white 2″ screen, $99.
CAR CD-Sony CD 10, a jukebox-like CD player for your car. It its in your trunk, holds 10 discs at a time and is remote controlled.
Armed with a good idea of what you
are hunting tor, there are two ways to approach your shopping journey The Instantly Gratified crowd is generally looking tor speed, price and the latest releases. If this is you, you’ll probably enjoy shopping a superstore like Federated or Highland lor your hardware, and Sound Warehouse tor your pre-recorded music. A good many Toy Collectors also like the wide open selection ottered by the big retailers.
“Our sales people are prepared to spend the time to make our customers comfortable with the latest technology, but we’re also proud of our three-minute sale,” said Sam Crowley, vice president of the South Central division of Federated Electronic Superstores “If you know what you want, our people are trained to listen, respond and see that you get what you came tor as quickly as possible,” he concluded.
For the Tweaks, shopping is an engrossing experience that may take all afternoon.
“Our customers don’t want to stand in line behind the guy who is buying a $199 recorder,” said George Efthimiou, owner of Custom Video. They want answers about leading edge technology. We take the time to give them intelligent, accurate solutions,” he says.
Hillcrest Hi-Fi’s Gene Halaburt explains the specialty store approach. “We don’t sell sealed cartons here. Every piece of audio and video equipment is carefully tested by our technical department before it is displayed or installed Our selection is limited because we have already culled the market in the customer’s behalf Most of the brands we carry are not popularly advertised “
Interestingly, the best audio equipment is manufactured in America, not Japan. Two of the best are Macintosh and Klipsch. Good old American names like Fisher, Scott and Morantz are actually Japanese manufacturers, according to Halaburt. Two of the best speaker importers are Kef in England, and Bang & Olufsen in Denmark.
“You don’t have to be an engineer to buy quality equipment A quality sound system can be bought for as little as $1,500 or as much as $7,000. I would advise the customer to find an experienced, dependable dealer who is willing to demonstrate the system before your buy. Then trust your own ears,” says Halaburt.
No doubt about it, Dallas has gone movie mad The rivalry between rental and sales heats up as super-stores offer more titles and more nights for fewer dollars and major studios of-fer discount sale prices on hot products for those who want to build permanent libraries.
Blockbuster Video stores offer customers a selection of 9,000 titles in 30 different categories.
Sound Warehouse, a Dallas-based chain, also plans on making big tracks in the movie rental business with its new rental-only satellite stores. “Home entertainment is not a fad.” says president Terry Worrell. “It’s one of the best entertainment values to come around in a long time.”
On the sales side, movie studios will exercise more control over what’s available in the movie market. Digging in to hold the line on video rentals and encourage more sales, movie studios are dropping prices on some products with inherent repeat viewing quality. EMI/HBO has lowered the price of some of its major feature films from $79.95 to $29.95 while also lowering prices in other video categories to the $19.95 to $39.95 range.
Even so, the rental business is likely to flourish for a long time. Blockbuster is adding an estimated 200 new titles a month to its collection, and stores like Videoworks are likewise boosting inventories.
“We figure it would take a member 25 years to view everything in the store,” said Blockbuster Video Chairman David P. Cook.
No matter how densely populated the entertainment world becomes, one thing is for sure. Most of us are going to thoroughly enjoy the process of being ensnared.