What are the hottest of the hot new audio and video products being introduced in Japan this fall?
Spectators at the recent Japan Electronics Show were most excited by a proliferation of television sets with built-in hard copy printers that make instant prints from TV images and other video sources.
Now when you want to copy down an important phone number and address off the screen, you just press a button on your TV's remote control and out flies the info on a piece of paper, 70 seconds later.
The sexy notion of a flat screen TV you can hang on your wall is creeping closer to fruition. Sharp and Hitachi unveiled 10- to 14-inch flat screen liquid crystal displays (LCDs) at the Tokyo show. Turning these prototypes into salable items for home and portable use won't happen overnight, though. A Hitachi source said his 10-inch set might have to sell for as much as $3,600, if production yields for LCDs don't improve remarkably.
Much ado was made at the show of Matsushita's prototype voice-activated VCR. It audibly asks what channel you want to tape, you shout back the number. Then it asks the day and on/off times for the selected program, and you respond in kind.
Voice recognition technology currently carries a very stiff price tag because of the heavy-duty computer chips required to process different speech patterns. Moreover, programming a voice-activated VCR is still an 8-step process, not much faster than steering a VCR the old-fashioned way.
Compact Disc-Interactive, a new twist on the 5-inch compact disc, made its debut at the show from a number of manufacturers -- Philips, Sony, Pioneer, Sanyo, Matsushita, JVC, Fujitsu Ten, Sharp and Yamaha. Playing back through both audio and video gear, CD-I enhances standard CD digital sound with color moving and still pictures (or text) accessible through interactive controls. The format seems ideal for creating multi-media reference discs -- say, an atlas, or an encyclopedia of wildlife. It'd also be a natural format for an entertainer's biography, so you can read about Sinatra, look at his movies and hear him sing; and for games.
The cutest manifestation of CD-I at the Japan Fair was a hand-held player with a 4-inch LCD screen from Sony, presented as "digital music with pictures" and "picture book with sound." It was being promised for domestic sale in the fall of 1991.
CD-I technology is similar, but not identical to optical disc-based audio/video systems being refined by Commodore and Intel. And because it can deliver full motion video, CD-I is considered a grade above the CD-ROM information storage systems already available from computer companies.
Compact Disc Interactive could make its U.S. debut at the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, though a summer CES introduction seems more likely.