Electronics Firms Push New Products, Designs


THE world's electronics makers are out to end the recession.

That means tearing the average Joe away from his stereo, TV, or microwave long enough to convince him that last year's models are no longer sufficiently versatile, fast, or easy to use.

Here's the logic: Since you won't be taking this recession year's vacation in expensive Hawaii or Europe, don't you owe it to yourself to upgrade both entertainment and work items to make staying home that much more easy or enjoyable?

* If you can't visit grandma in Grand Rapids, let her see the kids on the new Videophone 2500, suggests AT&T (about $1,500).

* Why not augment your trip to the ballpark with every statistic in the history of baseball in your palm-sized Baseball Encyclopedia? (Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc. - $129.95).

* Why not blow up your rental movie of "Tango and Cash" from 12 inches to 40 with a new, breadloaf-sized Fujix Handy Projector? asks Fuji Film Company (16-ounce model P-40-U costs about $799).

* Make your mobile cellular calls without hands, including the ability to check and delete electronic phone messages with the new AT&T voice-activated dialer (about $200).

Both American and foreign purveyors of progress-via-electronics hawked all of the above at the 1992 Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which ended here last Sunday. Some items have been available since fall and others won't be seen in stores until spring or beyond.

But thousands of innovations on everything from compact disc players to fax machines, stereo headphones to car alarms were laid out for more than 70,000 attendees representing manufacturers, buyers, and media from around the world.

For both audio and video, the word "digital" continues to be a buzzword for the 1990s. So is "multimedia," with myriad ways of combining VCRs, TV monitors, CD players, computer, and video games. A revolutionary "interactive" reorganization of play, work, and learning is upon us, manufacturers say.

In a keynote address, John Sculley, chief executive officer of Apple Computer Inc., spoke of the opportunity for America to revitalize its role in the global information economy by grabbing such opportunities in miniaturized digital technology - "devices that will enable people to look up information, easily find [and] ... communicate with others who have similar devices, download messages, and basically organize the routine parts of your life."

And with legislation for the disabled on the horizon, hosts of large-dial, Braille-, breath-, and squeeze-activated machines are poised for release.

"We're coming off a slow year saved by Christmas," says Carl Joos, an exhibitor for Kinyo Co. Inc., echoing an oft-heard description of what Frank Myers, the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) chairman, called "the worst economic slump of the past 10 years." Mr. Joos, who has been exhibiting here every year since 1980, says: "Accounts, sales, and projections are increasing because everyone knows this [recession] will have to turn."

Last year was a bad one statistically for consumer electronics - 1 percent growth compared to a steady 3 to 5 percent over previous years. But industry officials here said that double-digit losses in other industries competing for disposable income - car and appliance sales - show demand for electronics is still growing steadily. And this year's CES had more exhibitors and attendees than any previous one in its 25-year history.

Since growth of the electronics industry relies on the constant development of new products, issues of recording and manufacturing standards, signal scrambling, and royalties are paramount. The EIA took the lead this year in calling for cable TV system operators to stop scrambling basic service signals in ways that force customers to rent or buy converter boxes to receive the signals.

"People buy monitors and VCRs with such features as remote control, or picture-within-picture, only to see them rendered unusable," says Cynthia Upton, vice president of the EIA's Consumer Electronics Group. "We are supporting legislation to require cable TV operators to provide unscrambled basic signals."

The issue of music royalties has been holding up both the introduction of digital audio tape machines and digital compact cassettes. The latter were introduced here by last year by Philips Consumer Electronics and joined by several other companies last week.

The Audio Home Recording Act of 1991 was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in November. The law, which tacks modest royalties for artists onto the sale of digital recording units and blank tapes, is expected to be approved on the Senate floor in February and win House approval by spring.

Beyond mere gadgetry, there were also lots of high-end innovations inaugurated at Winter CES: a compact disc recorder (by Marantz for about $7,000), and a laser disc recorder (Pioneer, about $40,000).

Here are a few other items that generated excitement:

* Sharp TwinCam the world's only twin-lens 8mm camcorder combines a built-in 62-degree wide-angle lens providing a picture-within-a-picture with an instant 12X zoom in a palm-sized unit.

* The Philips Imagination Machine combines CD-quality audio with video, text, and graphic animation.

* AT&T Portable Cellular Telephone 3730 can send and receive electronic mail and faxes as well as dial into databases with a cellular interface that connects to Safari Notebook Computers.

* Murata 700 fax, phone, copier, and answering machine - 5.5 pounds ($339).

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