Say goodby to the stereotype of the passive, transfixed couch potato. Interactive video in mainstream multimedia formats is quickly putting the viewer in command of a diverse array of entertainment, education, how-to and game programs.

"More and more, computers are transforming from high-tech tools to sophisticated entertainment players that can be easily integrated into your TV and stereo system," says Stan Cornyn, president of Warner New Media, a major force in interactive software. "Keyboards are becoming nonexistent and computers are becoming small enough to fit inside small decks," he says.

Until recently, cutting-edge interactive video required the help of a PC and an outboard CD-ROM drive--or a costly industrial laser-disc player. By hacking away at the PC's keyboard, serious videophiles have been able to instantly access video, text, graphics, animation and CD sound on 5-inch CD-ROM titles, such as Voyager's "Louvre" Volumes 1-3 ($100 each) and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" ($40), the first computer-compatible feature film on CD-ROM.

But all that's about to change with the arrival of laser-based interactive video systems, LaserActive and 3DO, which take CD-ROM capabilities a step further. They will offer a range of real-life, full-motion 3-D images and interactive movies as well as "edutainment" programs, such as video encyclopedias, on a single disc. They will be played on a single deck and controlled by a simple remote. Both LaserActive and 3DO will offer players in the $700 to $800 range; the discs will average $35-$50--not bad for first-generation technology.

LaserActive, developed by Pioneer in cooperation with Sega Enterprises and NEC Home Electronics, is set to hit the United States in late summer, about the same time as 3DO. It will feature a combination laser disc/compact disc player with three modules that will control an entirely new breed of discs, called LD-ROM2 and Mega-LD, as well as future CD-interactive programs and CD-ROM titles.

Aside from the new interactive programs, LaserActive will handle movies, concerts and karaoke on full-size laser discs, along with regular old audio CDs CD+Graphics and advanced Sega CD-ROM video games--some of which use actual, digitized film footage from "Batman Returns" and "Hook." Sega's CD-Rom "Mix: Interactive Music Video Games" offers a series that lets players produce their own music videos using songs, videos, concert footage and exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of a number of groups including Kriss Kross and INXS. Anything that's playable on Sega's new CD system ($300) will be compatible with LaserActive.

However, a fierce battle for market domination is expected between LaserActive and 3DO, two wholly incompatible systems. Backed by Japanese electronics giant Matsushita Time Warner and AT&T;, 3DO promises to be a formidable competitor.

The question is, which formats will survive? The future of video, no doubt, will be interactive, but who will be leading the charge?

It's highly unlikely that LaserActive and 3DO will prosper along with the older CD-I, CDTV and CD-ROM configurations. Someone will almost emerge as a clear front-runner, with the others going the way of RCA's Selectavision, a video-disc stylus format that died a slow death in the early '80s, killed off by the technologically superior laser-disc format.

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