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Digital Cassette Becomes the Talk of the Town

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first full-fledged exhibit of the digital compact cassette player (DCC) was the talk of the just-concluded Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The big selling point of this unit, principally developed by Philips Electronics N.V., is that it plays both a digital cassette and conventional cassettes. However, it only records digitally.

It will debut around September, with Marantz, Technics, Tandy/Radio Shack also marketing models.

The price, higher than original estimates, will be $700 for a home deck. The unit will also be available as a portable and for cars. Blank 90-minute tapes, which BASF and Memorex exhibited at the show, will sell for $7 to $9.

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The big advantage of DCC over the other digital tape format, digital audio tape (DAT), is software support: DAT still doesn’t have any, while about 500 record titles will be available when the DCC decks are marketed--giving DCC much more consumer appeal.

Record labels agreed to put their material on DCC because of an agreement that calls for a software and hardware tax that would go to artists and writers. Prerecorded tapes will be priced in the $12 to $16 range--about the same as CDs.

Exceptionally sharp ears might be able to tell the difference between the digital formats, but in an informal test using pop music, DCC, DAT and CD sounded about the same: crystal-clear and distortion-free. On classical music, though, purists sensitive to highs would likely choose DAT.

Purists also may not like the way DCC records--by filtering out, with special circuitry, what it judges as inaudible. Though most people wouldn’t be aware of anything missing, purists intrinsically resent such editing.

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Other facts about DCC decks:

* The machine, which looks like the average single-play CD player, has only one well, playing both kinds of cassette, which are about the same size.

* DCC tapes can’t be played on non-DCC decks.

* When using DCC decks, access to specific cuts is quicker than with conventional cassette decks but not as fast as on a CD player.

* On DCC decks, you can’t record on analog tapes.

* The decks are equipped with copy-protection technology that prevents duplicating any DCC copy.

OTHER NEW AUDIO-VIDEO MACHINES: Causing nearly as much stir at the convention was the wide-screen TV, a 34-inch tube unit with a width-height ratio of 16:9. Its rectangular shape is similar to theater-screen size--different from the squarish TV screen shape, which cuts out some of the picture around the edges.

The result is that you can watch letter-boxed (with theater-screen width-height ratio) laserdiscs and videos without those black bands at the top and bottom of the screen. Thomson Consumer Electronics, RCA’s parent company, will market wide-screen TVs at the end of the year. There’s no estimated price but they’re already being sold outside the United States for about $6,000.

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The problem is that there’s little on TV or in the video and laserdisc markets to accommodate such a screen, and when watching regular TV shows or video tapes made for a square screen, there are blank strips on each side of this screen--which most viewers presumably would find annoying.

Also on display:

* Sanyo Fisher’s PCD7. A portable CD player featuring anti-skip technology that eliminates the biggest problem with portable players--skipping when you move the machine around. Sony’s Mini Disc (MD), a new CD format due late this year or next, has the same kind of technology. The PCD7 is due in April at $500.

* Go Video displayed a dual-well VCR prototype that allows copying 8mm tapes onto VHS cassettes. This unit would be popular among 8mm camcorder owners who would rather have their tapes on VHS format. The machine will hit the market next year.

UPCOMING ON VIDEO: Two animated features that should easily dominate the spring kidvid market are on the way. Buena Vista Home Video has announced the video debut of “101 Dalmatians,” on April 10 at $25. Its $145 million box-office take makes it the highest-grossing animated feature.

MCA/Universal is releasing “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West,” on March 19 at $25. It did disappointing business over the holiday season, partly because it was overshadowed by Disney’s big hit, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Other release dates: “The Rocketeer” (Feb. 6), “Regarding Henry” (Feb. 6), “Boyz N the Hood” (March 11) and “Dead Again” (March 12).

WHAT’S NEW ON VIDEO: Director-writer-actor Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” (MCA/Universal, no price) explores an interracial romance between a black New York architect (Wesley Snipes) and his white secretary (Annabella Sciorra), and its effect on their families and friends.

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“Point Break” (FoxVideo, $95). The plot of this rambling action movie, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was labeled preposterous by many critics. A box-office hit, it concerns undercover cops (Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey) chasing bank-robbing surfers, lead by a slick beach mystic (Patrick Swayze).


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