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The Shape of Things to Come : INTERACTIVE TECHNOLOGY, COMPUTER ANIMATION ARE BRINGING NEW DIMENSIONS TO HOME VIDEO

March 21, 1993|BOB YOUNG

Video used to be so wonderfully simple and straightforward. It consisted of a single component--a television--and program choices were limited to whatever the networks and local outlets tossed out.

Then the VCR burst into the mainstream and in an epochal leap, home entertainment changed forever. Hard to believe that was only a decade ago.

Now, we're about to begin Video Revolution II. Already, we're on the cusp of the next era, a new, improved world of wide-screen home cinema and interactive, hands-on programming, movies with characters and plots you can control; video games with real-life video action, even Virtual Reality programs that will immerse you within realistic, 3-D wraparound fantasy worlds.

The first wave of wide-screen TVs is about to hit U.S. shelves, bringing us an initial look at video's future form. Featuring screens that are a third wider than standard television, RCA's 34-inch ProScan CinemaScreen ($4,500) and Panasonic's 50-inch CineVision Projection TV ($5,500) are expected to lead the way in April, with other wide-screen models coming later from Philips, JVC and Sharp.

With the new wide-screen sets, currently available letterboxed films can be enlarged to fillthe entire screen and nudge the bars out of the picture. If a movie or program isn't letterboxed, vertical bars will squeeze the squarish image into the center of the screen. Or, you can push it over, van watch other programs at the same time.

That's just the tip of the microchip. The first generation of the new technology already is upon us and is expected to dramatically revamp the face of home entertainment within the next few years.

Imagine the possibilities.

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It's 1996 and there's nothing good on TV. A quick hit on the remote's "mosaic" button and your wide-screen, high-definition projection TV displays all 120 or so cable channels at once, but nothing jumps out and grabs you.

Still there's more than one form of video diversion at your fingertips. How about a lingering, interactive video trek through a world-class art gallery, accompanied by narration and music and informative text on each exhibit? Or a travel disc that lets you zero in on various spots around the globe, explore the Grand Canyon or the streets of Paris just as if you were there? This is no futuristic pipe dream. Such technology is already here, and coming later in '93 will be more advanced interactive discs that let you "walk" down streets and duck in shops and buildings in foreign cities and even "converse" with the natives via your remote control if you want to brush up on another language. Landmarks such as the Pyramids can be climbed on, sort of, and studied from any angle, any distance. Voluminous cross-referenced text and video on any related subject can be accessed instantly.

A look at the latest CD-Interactive news magazine offers more possibilities: a quick flick of the remote can call up your choice of in-depth video news features with myriad photos and audio captions, hundreds of pages of text that can be instantly accessed along with video sidebars, snippets of Billboard's Top 10 in stereo, clips of the latest film releases and highlights of the Rams' Super Bowl blowout win against the Oilers.

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Maybe you'd like to compose your own videos for R.E.M.'s new album. The first generation of this technology is already here, from Sega.

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A video game might be amusing, so you pick through your library of CD-video titles, games with real-life video and 3-D computer animation. It doesn't seem right to even call them video games. They smack of interactive cinema, programs that bear as much resemblance to Pac-man as "Star Wars" does to "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

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What if you're in the mood for a more intense sensory rush? Just strap on your Virtual Reality goggles, the ultimate in video realism. Suddenly, three-dimensional action engulfs you from all sides, realistic sound effects swirl through your head. Virtual Reality makes you feel as though you're hurtling through space or blasting past Michael Andretti in the Indy 500.

Amazingly enough, that kind of sensory experience is coming soon to a home near you in the form of Sega's Virtua Sega--a pair of VR goggles with stereo headphones that will bring 3-D, 360-degree video graphics and animation home in time for Christmas '93. Stereoscopic technology--until now available only to flight trainees in NASA and the military--makes it all possible. Virtua Sega, made for the Sega Genesis system, will be introduced with at least four as-yet untitled games featuring flying, driving, shooting and fantasy adventures.

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