High-tech gadgets, games have 'em buzzing in aisles

January 20, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

There ought to be a sign at the entrance of the Winter Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas: "Suspend your disbelief at the door."

While 90 percent of the high-tech products unveiled in mock-up or vaguely functioning versions at this huge January trade show will reach market, many won't make announced release dates or target prices, and some will cut out promised features.

Cynics call the most far-fetched unveilings "vaporware" -- mere wisps of an idea about as graspable as a cubic foot of hot air.

This year's show, which ended Sunday, had its share of odd and blue-sky visions -- from an ultrasonic siren called "Pet Lover," which always hums in your car to gently scare animals out of the way, to a set of three beeper/message watches you can dole out to the kids and then use to call them home (within a 1 1/2 -mile range of the base station). Both of these novelties were shown in non-functioning shells by novice companies, so don't hold your breath.

The most visionary and exciting new product was a super video game/home communications terminal called 3DO, even though demonstrations of the system were limited to computer simulations. The real product won't be out until fall, at a $700 list price. Promising amazingly smooth, vivid and three-dimensional graphics and video emulations, plus digital interfacing with cable and telephone systems, the 3DO "interactive multiplayer" is built around 32-bit processors 50 times more powerful than existing 16-bit game systems.

Developed by Electronic Arts (a leading software house) and the same people who designed the Commodore Amiga computer, 3DO also has the added clout of several electronics, communication and entertainment giants -- Time/Warner, Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., MCA and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Electronic Arts' open-door licensing policies and free design aids have already encouraged 70 software houses to develop programs for the system. Hardware will be marketed first under the Panasonic and AT&T brands.

Another slick multimedia system was unveiled by Pioneer. Dubbed LaserActive, it's a building block system that starts with a $750 combi-laser player, then grows with the addition of plug-in modules ($375 each) to produce higher level interactive entertainment on 5- and 12-inch discs.

One of the modules also plays Sega Genesis CD games, a second handles NEC TurboGrafx CD programs, and the third is customized for karaoke software.

With "virtual reality" a big-buzz notion nowadays, the lines were long to try on the goggles at the Virtual Vision booth. What you see when looking through these wrap-around sunglasses is a grainy LCD color-TV image seemingly floating in the space of your real world. The trick is made possible by image-reflecting "heads-up" technology first developed for aviation and automobile use.

Equipped with earphones and a separate video tuner box that clips to your belt, Virtual Vision's personal TV projector might be used to monitor a camcorder recording session, to view programs on airplanes or in bed, or for surgeons to wear in operating rooms (to keep one eye monitoring machines). The projected price is $900 with availability in April.

Also hitting closer to the mark (though they have nothing concrete to show yet) should be the "Virtual Sega" helmet intended to throw wearers into the action of Sega Genesis video games.

A company spokeswoman said consumers could have it by next Christmas, for about $200.

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