Probably the most significant new video product showcased at the recent Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas was a Samsung VCR that's the first equipped with StarSight--the newest wrinkle in VCR programming.
With StarSight, viewers turn to a channel that shows a program guide on the screen. From there viewers can electronically select the shows they want to tape by pressing a button. When the show airs, it will be recorded. StarSight also notes tape-length requirements.
Unlike VCR Plus, the popular programming device, StarSight requires no numbers, no magazine or newspaper program guides and no lengthy setup. The guide, which is constantly updated, lists programs seven days in advance.
The first VCR equipped with StarSight, VR8905--the top-end Samsung stereo model--is due in May, priced at $549. The feature will also be available on the less-expensive VR5905, a four-head. non-stereo model coming in June. Other companies, such as Goldstar and Sony, will market StarSight VCRs this summer.
At the moment, StarSight is only available on high-end TVs. Zenith was the first to market a StarSight TV but Mitsubishi just introduced it as a feature on some expensive models.
According to Samsung's national marketing manager James Sanduski, StarSight adds about $100 to the cost of the VCR. Because of the expense, he added, the feature is not likely to filter down to the low-end models.
Aside from its price, StarSight does have two other drawbacks. First, the service costs $4 a month. Second, you can only tape seven days in advance. That's fine for most situations but could be a problem for vacationers.
Still, StarSight shapes up as a serious challenger to the established programmer, as well as potential competition for published program guides. But Sanduski was careful not to knock VCR Plus because Samsung still offers it on some of its VCRs. He did say, though, that the company plans to add StarSight to more models and decrease the number of VCR Plus machines.
Samsung is initiating another VCR first, "long-life" video heads--with the commercial tag Diamond Heads. Made of carbon laminate, Samsung's Sanduski said the research shows they last three times longer than conventional heads. The laminate protects the heads from dirt and allows them to wear slowly, maintaining high-quality picture much longer.
This shapes up as the most important advance in VCR head-cleaning since the automatic head-cleaner, which emerged as a high-end feature a few years ago but is now common on low-end models.
Dirty heads are one of the primary reasons for VCR servicing. If the laminate heads work as advertised, they'll save the consumer both money and aggravation. The long-life heads will be available this April on most of Samsung's four-head and all of its stereo models. Sanduski said this feature won't add anything to the VCR cost.
There was a definite buzz among Las Vegas conventioneers about the digital video disc (DVD), the new format due to be introduced next year.
Sony/Philips had demonstrations of its version of DVD--a 5-inch CD that can hold a 135-minute movie. Matched against videotape and laser disc, DVD looked very impressive, with excellent sound and highly detailed picture. It whipped videotape by a wide margin and nosed out the high-resolution laser disc.
The Sony/Philips machine would also play audio CDs and CD-ROMS. Though the executives wouldn't get specific about price, they said it would be in the mass-market range--probably in the $450-$500 range. The discs will be priced at about $20.
A lot has to happen before DVD--which is not recordable--is a hit with consumers. First of all, the format war has to be settled. Sony/Philips' DVD has to beat out another version being developed by Toshiba/Time Warner and reportedly due next year. The discs are not compatible. In other words, the Sony/Philips disc won't play on the Toshiba/Time Warner machine and vice versa.
With its high visibility at CES, Sony/Philips has aggressively taken a lead in this competition. So far, the Toshiba/Time Warner DVD has been under wraps.
The key, though, is the movie studios. Which DVD will they support? The one getting the most support will be the survivor in this high-stakes war.
What New on Video
"True Lies" (FoxVideo): Though his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) thinks he's a computer salesman and a typical husband, genial Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is really a secret agent for the U.S. government. Directed by James Cameron, the movie is an effective entertainment--part romantic comedy and part edge-of-your-seat thriller, boasting some dazzling action sequences.
"Foreign Student" (MCA/Universal): In the '50s in a Virginia college town, a French foreign exchange student (Marco Hofschneider) has an affair with a black teacher (Robin Givens). Basically, it's a coming-of-age movie with a racial angle. Director Eva Sereny's first movie is way too sentimental and not very satisfying.
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National Video Rentals
Rank Weeks Last on Week Chart 1"Speed" 1 8 2"Maverick" 2 5 3"When a Man Loves a Woman" 3 7 4"The Client" 6 2 5"Blown Away" 4 2 6"Guarding Tess" 5 10 7"I Love Trouble" 8 2 8"City Slickers II" 10 8 9"Beverly Hills Cop III" 7 7 10"Wyatt Earp" 9 7
National Video Sales
Rank Weeks Last on Week Chart 1"Speed" 1 8 2"Snow White" 2 11 3"Jurassic Park" 3 14 4"The Nightmare 4 15 Before Christmas" 5"The Land Before Time II" 16 2 6"The Flintstones" 5 9 7"Nirvana: Live ..." 8 8 8"Tombstone" 7 8 9"Playboy: 1995 9 7 Playmate Calendar" 10"Yanni: Live at 11 43 the Acropolis"
For week ending Jan. 7
Source: Billboard Publications Inc.