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Video World Is Changing for the Better

July 25, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

A mere four years ago, becoming a member of the video brigade meant buying a VCR that didn't do much more than record and play back tapes. The big decisions were format (Beta or VHS?) and remote control (wireless or the kind with a cord attached?). Now things are much more complicated--and rewarding.

Just about all the new VCRs, even the cheapest (and prices have gone down, down, down), have wireless remote control. VHS is by far the dominant format (though its competition has been joined by 8mm--and Super-VHS is just around the corner). And these new machines commonly come with such special effects as viewable fast-forward (search), slow motion and freeze-frame.

The high-end models offer digital special effects, stereo hi-fi sound, stereo-TV decoding and more. And then there are all the gadgets you can connect to the VCR to frivolously or seriously enhance video enjoyment. The array of recently developed products is confusing--and expensive. But packed with potential.

Some highlights:

Digital-effects VCRs: "Digital" VCRs and TVs don't digitally generate a picture--that's still a while off. But they do provide jitter-free slow motion and freeze-frame. Some models also deliver a few of the tricks you'd otherwise have to buy a special-effects generator to get, like polarization (see below).

Special-effect generators: You don't like the colors in your tape of "Nightmare on Elm Street"? Want to make Freddy look ridiculous? Color him purple--or anything else with an SEG. Or want to make the movie even scarier? Give it a negative-print-like look with your SEG's polarization function. These once-unaffordable generators now generally run around $300 to $600.

Big screens: Projection-style TVs are much-improved these days (you don't always have to be positioned right in the middle to see the image), with back-projection models now more popular than the old-fashioned and harder-to-find-room-for front-projection kind. And in the last year, regular tube-employing sets have grown larger than ever--up to 35 inches diagonally.

Stereo hi-fi, surround-sound and sound processors: Along with the big picture--or even the small one--comes the big sound. Many of the new stereo-decoding TVs come with stereo, much-improved speakers. High-end VCRs also have stereo-decoding abilities as well as hi-fi sound of near-compact-disc quality. You can also attach your stereo VCR or TV to separate speakers. And adding one of the surround-sound decoders or sound processors will make the sound possess theater-like scope and reverberation.

Multipliers: If you want to send your VCR's signal to several TVs around the house, there are amplifying devices that make this possible. The best-known one is cleverly called the Rabbit.

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