VIDEO NEWS (EN, Jan. 1993)

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What's new in the fast-changing video industry.

by DAVID LACHENBRUCH

More video CD's. New video CD-ROM's keep turning up at a dizzying pace-certainly dizzying to consumers who now can be expected to stay away until the dust settles. First there was Commodore's CDTV, originally fielded as a consumer-oriented TV attachment. That was followed by Philips' CD-I, a strictly consumer system.

Next came VIS, the Video Interactive System backed by Tandy Corporation (Radio Shack) and Zenith Electronics (Electronics Now, December 1992). This month, I am able to report on three more CD systems that include a consumer, an industrial, and consumer /industrial hybrids. The systems all have one thing in common: They're mutually incompatible! Sony's multimedia player.

Sony has finally come out with its widely heralded CD-ROM player, which formerly went under the working title of "Bookman." Sony identifies its software as MMCD, for "Multimedia CD ROM." Like most of the other systems, it uses five-inch compact discs as its storage medium. MMCD supports the CD-ROM XA (extended architecture) format, so its discs can also be played on personal computers that have been adapted with XA drives.

But MMCD is primarily designed to play through TV monitors or to be used as a stand-alone portable system. The first Sony player has a 4.5-inch monochrome LCD screen and is easily hand-held, so it may be used to access data on the go, or for consulting CD-ROM service manuals while repairing equipment, for example. When plugged into a color monitor or TV, it displays a color picture. Each five-inch disc can hold more they 600 megabytes of data. Fifty discs were available at launch, priced from $35 to $150. One of the most impressive features of the XA architecture is its ability to interleave audio and video data on disc resulting in accurate synchronization.

Like most other systems, MMCD doesn't yet achieve full motion video, but it can show partial-screen movement at 15 frames per second. One of the major advantages of the Sony system is its ease of adapting existing CD-ROM programs to its format. That's the same advantage claimed for the VIS system, but the two systems can't be considered compatible. The disadvantage of MMCD so far is its high cost--$1000, including two discs for the portable player.

DVI full-motion video. Digital Video Interactive, usually known as DVI, the favorite of many people in the industry, could show up soon as a consumer system. This system is being pushed by Intel, although it was developed by RCA's Sarnoff Labs in the 1980's. Denon America, the U.S. subsidiary of Nippon Columbia, which is the official licenser of the system for Japan, is showing the first consumer applications of DVI. One of DVI's big advantages is its ability to show full-motion video now-not later. But Denon says it won't release a DVI consumer product until it can show video equal to laserdisc quality-a challenge that none if its competitors have accepted, much less met. Insiders report that under some conditions Denon has been able to bring DVI to laser-disc quality. Denon currently is working on a variable-rate compression system: A high rate of compression is used during scenes with rapid motion, and a lower rate for more static scenes.

Analog /digital LD-ROM. Laserdisc quality is generally accepted as the standard goal for video-so why not a laserdisc ROM? That's the reasoning of laserdisc exponent Pioneer. That company, which owns many laserdisc patents and is the leading supplier of discs and players on the world market, has introduced its "LD-ROM" system to the industrial and commercial markets, to which it provides custom-made software. That system uses what looks like a conventional 12-inch laserdisc with up to an hour of full-motion analog video, combined with 540 megabytes of digital signal memory. The result is excellent interactivity combined with sharp full-motion video pictures on a highly interactive disc. Currently, says Pioneer, there are no plans to introduce LD-ROM to the consumer market. But Pioneer also says it's working on compression technology that will "dramatically increase the amount of information" that can be stored on a CD or laser-disc. Another system in he works, maybe? New camcorder configuration. Just as there are many variations in film cameras, Sharp believes that there's room for different kinds of video camcorders.

So Sharp pioneered the Twin-cam, the only dual-lens camcorder currently available. Now the same company is introducing an even bolder innovation-–View-cam. The first model, introduced in Japan and due here in February, employs the Hi8 format, but others are expected in standard 8mm size. In place of a tiny viewfinder, View-cam has a 4-inch color LCD mounted beside the camera portion of the camcorder that is able to swivel 180° vertically.

The user can hold the instrument at waist level and look down into the viewer, or shoot over the heads of the crowd by looking up into the viewer. The viewing screen can be twisted so that the operator can get into the picture while viewing the LCD; the supplied remote control cable operates the camera.

-R-E


Also see: Q&A

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