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Latest Developments : An Electronics Show Looks Back, Ahead

June 10, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

The international Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago last week enabled the industry to show off its latest developments to buyers and the news media. This was where everyone involved with video, audio and related technologies got a preview of what will be available at stores in the next several months.

It was also a time when many took a midyear look at where the industry is and where it's been. The Electronics Industries Assn., which helps to coordinate the Consumer Electronics Show, made some 1987 estimates available, and here are some of the more interesting figures:

Videocassette recorders were already in 40% of U.S. homes by the end of 1986, according to the association. (Video Week's analysis of A. C. Nielsen figures produced an estimate that VCRs were in 48.7% of U.S. households by the end of last February. In Fairbanks, Alaska, the figure is 75%.)

This year's sales of VCRs are expected to be around 14.2 million units, compared to 13.2 last year. After dropping steadily in previous years, the average cost of a VCR has gone up $8 from 1986, to $407.

Six companies demonstrated a much-improved VHS format, Super-VHS, at the electronics show, and Sony showed off its improved Beta system, ED-Beta. Both new formats require the purchase of new equipment. Super-VHS also uses a higher-density tape than normal VHS, and ED-Beta employs a metal tape. Prototypes of Super-VHS cameras were also displayed at the show.

Super-VHS, in particular, would have an enormous impact on VCR sales if they are a success--and the buzz at the electronics show was that the sharper picture should be a hit with the public.

Digital VCRs, already available to the public but only a fractional presence on the marketplace so far, should also share a bigger slice of the pie by late this year, especially if manufacturers are able to combine digital decks' main attractions (largely improved special effects and picture-in-picture capability) with Super-VHS.

Compact disc players. One million of these audio wonders were sold in 1985. In 1986, the figure rose to 3 million. Sales of 4.2 million are predicted for this year. Average price is down $10 from 1986, to $200.

Beginning this fall, several companies will begin marketing CD-V players (CD-V stands for compact disc-video), which will have initial retail prices ranging between $800 and $1,200. These new machines will play regular compact discs and Laserdiscs, plus the new CD-Vs, which will come in three sizes: 5-inch (holding up to 20 minutes of audio and up to five minutes of video), 8-inch and 12-inch, and perhaps a fourth, a 3-inch configuration. Just how well these new decks and discs will catch on was one of the big debates at the Chicago show.

Stereo television. Televisions equipped with Multichannel Television Sound (MTS) accounted for 17% of color sets sold in 1986. That's expected to rise to 30% in 1987. In addition, many high-end VCRs come with MTS, which means that the number of homes able to receive broadcast stereo is quickly growing, which should encourage networks and stations to make more of their programs available in this format.

Camcorders. The association said that 1.17 million combination video camera-recorders were sold in '86, divided between VHS, VHS-C (compact) and 8mm formats. The figure is expected to jump to 1.75 million this year. According to Video Week, camcorder sales rose 103% between April, 1986 and April, 1987.

Other than Super-VHS prototypes, which won't debut in stores as soon as S-VHS recorders, there were few startling advances in the models on display in Chicago, though both 8mm and VHS-C prototypes showed much improvement in terms of control accessibility and shutter speed.

This is one area where prices haven't come down enough to attract many potential customers. If the costs do fall, expect to see camcorders everywhere when you go outdoors.

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