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Video Log : The Format Battle Rages On, but Death of Beta Expected

June 06, 1986|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — The new format battling VHS and Beta for a share of the home video market--8mm--has a new rival. This one, VHS-C, may prove to be 8mm's biggest threat. VHS-C, a version of VHS, officially declared war on 8mm during the just concluded Consumer Electronics Show here.

So far, 8mm mainly a factor in the home-movie market, has been attracting buyers because its camcorder (camera-recorder) is small. That's possible because the 8mm cassette is about the size of an audio cassette. In Chicago JVC introduced an improved VHS-C camcorder--the GR-C7, which weighs only three pounds and is as small as an 8mm camcorder. At the JVC exhibit, which was constantly crowded, people were trying out demonstration units. An informal survey indicated that most were very impressed with the GR-C7.

The VHS-C cassette is the standard 1/2-inch VHS width but its shell is about the size of an 8mm cassette. The VHS-C cassette now offers one-hour playback time, an improvement over the 20-minute play back time of previous VHS-C machines. An adapter is used to playback the VHS-C cassette on a standard VHS machine.

The news from Japan is that some manufacturers that were ready to jump into the 8mm market reportedly have decided to make VHS-C units instead. Sony, the leading 8mm company, began its counterattack in Chicago with a eight-page pamphlet explaining why its camcorder is superior to the JVC unit.

ODDS 'N' ENDS: At the Disney exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show, two young women dressed like Alice were passing out brochures on "Alice in Wonderland," the feature-length cartoon that was recently reduced to $29.95. One of the Disney reps said that in August, probably at the Video Software Dealers Assn. convention, the company would announce the cassette debut of another feature-length cartoon. The release date, most likely, would be just before the Christmas shopping season.

VCR owners who are dedicated to the Beta format had better stock up on Beta machines while they can. According to Video Marketing's "Home Video Marketplace," a study featuring projections about software and hardware, Beta will be dead by the end of the decade. This year, the study reports, only 8% of VCRs shipped to U.S. dealers will be Beta, down from last year's 14%. The prediction is that the percentage will plummet to 3% next year and to zero in 1988.

X-RATED PANEL: A panel discussion at the electronics show featuring experts in the adult home-video business was ominous for retailers. The main point was that video store owners who sell and rent X-rated videos may be arrested and have their stock seized.

Before the home video boom, adult films--mostly 8mm--were sold in adult book stores only. But now many video stores have adult sections that are easily accessible to any customers.

What's a retailer to do? Don't flaunt adult videos, film maker Ron Sullivan advised. Put them in a separate section accessible only to interested adults. Gary Messinger of North American Video said big city video stores owners probably have less to be concerned about than small-town retailers.

Messinger grimly concluded that retailers in certain areas who carry adult videos must seriously face the possibility of arrest. "Save money for a good lawyer," he advised.

TRANSLATOR: Samsung's revolutionary VCR was a big hit at the trade show. This machine plays either VHS or 8mm cassettes. Its most attractive--and controversial--feature is its capability to copy a VHS cassette onto 8mm or vice versa. Of course, this disturbs, among many others, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which is opposed to illegal duplication of cassettes.

The machine on display at the Samsung exhibit, which attracted much media attention, was just a prototype. Don Kobes, Samsung's national advertising manager, said the company would announce manufacturing and marketing plans in August.

"This machine is intended for people with 8mm video cameras," Kobes said. "They can make the movies on their 8mm cameras and then copy them onto VHS. They don't have to buy a special 8mm playback unit."

How about the claims from video companies that the Translator would be primarily used to duplicate prerecorded tapes?

"There are few prerecorded 8mm tapes around now," he replied. "So there's not much to copy from 8mm to VHS. And who would want to copy VHS, which is the dominant format, onto 8mm?" If this machine is ever sold in this country, it would speed the development of an anti-pirating device for 8mm cassettes.

Kobes said the Translator, which would retail for less than $1,000, could be on the market by the end of the year. But in the trade newsletter Video Week, a Motion Picture Association of America spokesman insisted: "It's our understanding that this machine will never be marketed."

NEW AND COMING MOVIES: Two Lou Gossett movies, "Iron Eagle" and "Enemy Mine," will make their cassette debuts on CBS-Fox on July 29. "Murphy's Romance," featuring the performance that earned James Garner a best-actor Oscar nomination, will be out next month on RCA/Columbia.

This week's major releases are "The Jagged Edge" (RCA/Columbia, $79.95), the thriller starring Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close, and "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" (Thorn/EMI/HBO, $79.95), featuring Fred Ward.

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