Package turns your PC into a karaoke machine

HOME COMPUTING

August 02, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

Please answer the following questions honestly.

1. When you sing "Heartbreak Hotel" in the shower, do you really sound like Elvis?

2. When you're driving, do you roll up the windows and do your best Roy Orbison every time they play "Pretty Woman" on the radio?

3. When you hear "Unforgettable" and nobody's looking, do you hold up that imaginary microphone and croon to the audience?

If you answered "Yes" to any of the above, then you suffer from a common affliction: You want to sing with a band.

Don't be embarrassed by this condition. There are millions of us in the closet. And if you have a multimedia-equipped PC, help is now available -- a $100 package that will turn your state-of-the-art computer into a karaoke machine.

With PC Karaoke from Sirius Publishing of Scottsdale, Ariz., you no longer have to sneak into a saloon with a karaoke machine to get your Twist-and-Shout fix. You can do it in the privacy of your home or office. Or if you're an extrovert, invite your friends for a party and take turns embarrassing yourselves.

For those who may be karaoke-challenged, the word is a Japanese term for singing a popular song to the accompaniment of a specially recorded background that lets you be the star.

It's the modern version of the old Mitch Miller sing-along, or the older Music Minus One records that instrumentalists used to polish their solo riffs in the 1950s.

Karaoke bars are a staple of nightlife in Japan, where home karaoke machines -- which let you combine your voice with the taped background, blast it out to the world and record the finished product on a blank tape -- are also big sellers. Karaoke has been making its way into American bars, and many music stores and audio equipment dealers here carry the machines, which start at about $200.

So why do karaoke on a computer?

Actually, compared to the real thing, computer karaoke has one advantage and one disadvantage. The advantage is that the computer can display the words as you sing. Let's be honest: very few of us know all the lyrics to the songs we like, and it's embarrassing to have to start humming or da-de-da-ing in the middle of the tune. Expensive barroom karaoke machines often have synchronized video displays of lyrics. Home karaoke machines don't.

The disadvantage of computer karaoke is that it's hard to record your hit single, though not impossible. Even low-end, dedicated karaoke machines come with playback and recording decks. The question is whether you get a bigger kick out of performing or listening to yourself afterward.

Now the details. PC Karaoke requires an IBM-compatible computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive, sound board and Microsoft Windows software.

10 songs to choose from

The package includes a compact disk and a quality microphone with a cord long enough to let you roam around and play to the audience. The disk contains the karaoke software and 10 songs, which range from rock classics such as "Pretty Woman" and "Twist and Shout" to show tunes like "New York, New York" and ballads such as "Unforgettable" and "I Do It for You."

The microphone jack plugs into the mike port of your sound board. If you bought a complete multimedia kit, which connects the sound board directly to your CD-ROM, the music will play through the speakers or headphones attached to your sound board.

If you bought the sound board and CD-ROM separately, you may have to run a cable (available at Radio Shack or any audio store) from the headphone jack of the CD-ROM drive to the line input port of the sound board. The instructions aren't very clear about this. They should be.

When it runs, PC Karaoke displays the 10 songs as record album covers. At the start, there's some annoying silliness with videos featuring comic characters that will appeal to the MTV crowd, but once they're out of the way, all you have to do is use your mouse to point at the song you want and click the button.

The lyrics appear on the screen in large white type on a blue background, and each word or phrase is highlighted in yellow at just the right time (like Mitch Miller's old bouncing ball). This is how expensive video karaoke machines display their lyrics, but it took some slick programming on the PC to synchronize the text display to the music.

The arrangements, recorded by Sirius specifically for the program, are pleasant, easy to follow, and in most cases remarkably like the original hit recordings. You may not sound like Nat King Cole, but your band will sound just like his. The background vocals and harmonies are particularly well done.

The PC Karaoke program, written using Asymetrix Toolbook with an assist from Microsoft Video, may be the slowest piece of Windows software I've seen.

It's particularly awkward at manipulating the scanned photos that form the record album images. But once your song is playing, which is the important thing, it will run just as well on a slow 80386 machine as it will on the latest 486 speed demon.

How good you sound

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