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A Good Word for Voice Programmer

June 04, 1993|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the VCR programmer race, VCR Plus is the leader. But the VCR Voice Programmer is making inroads.

Since its introduction last October, sales of the VCR Voice Programmer have been increasing every month, according to Michael Bissonnette, founder and chief executive officer of Canoga Park-based Voice Powered Technology Inc.

The first step with the VCR Voice Programmer, a voice-activated remote-control unit, is adjusting it to respond to the sound of your voice. Then you just speak into the unit, giving it channel, day and time commands--or instructions for functions such as rewinding--and the machine does the rest.

VCR Plus, which works by punching in a simple set of numbers to set the recorder, is now incorporated in many VCR models, and now Bissonnette says that the Voice Programmer will be sold with the top-of-the-line Philips VCRs by the end of the year. The company is in negotiations to make a similar deal with other VCR manufacturers, he said.

As to whether the VCR Voice Programmer eventually will be available in lower-priced units, Bissonnette said, "I don't know yet."

Meanwhile, the company has taken steps to address the big drawback to the unit--difficulty in programming it to respond to the owner's voice, an irony considering that it's geared to appeal to people who think programming a VCR is too complicated. It now comes with a tape explaining how to use it.

Once it's working, the Voice Programmer is easier to use than VCR Plus and can also be programmed to be a universal remote, meaning you can combine the functions of your other remotes and use just one unit. The VCR Plus is limited to VCR programming. Its big advantage, though, is that it's much cheaper--about $60, compared to $169 for the Voice Programmer, which is available only by mail order, (800) 788-0800.

Gang Violence

A grisly, unnerving documentary, "L.A. Gang Violence," has been released by Encino-based Falcon Home Video. The 82-minute video, priced at $80 and geared to the rental market, is done in the style of "Cops" but goes several steps further.

Interspersed among anti-gang commentary from various officials is footage showing the extremely bloody aftermath of gang-related shootings. "Cops" shows flashes of maimed bodies; this video lingers on them.

"We want to show the reality of gang violence, what you can't see on TV," explained James Russo, Falcon's sales and marketing director. "If kids see the reality of it, maybe they'll think twice before getting involved in it."

The company would like the video to be shown in schools and hopes that parents see it, too. "If they see what can happen to their kids, maybe they'll try to get them out of gangs and educate them to be more careful about avoiding gang violence," Russo said.

Falcon has been having trouble placing this documentary in movie-oriented video stores, but Russo said the company has shipped 4,500 units so far, not bad for a small company marketing a video outside the usual distribution network.

What's New on Video:

"Howards End" (Columbia TriStar, no set price). Set in the early 1900s in England, this adaptation of E. M. Forster's novel, about a clash of classes, is elegant, literate entertainment. The pace is slow but there are many intriguing subplots that create a simmering tension. The focal points are two sisters (Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter), a stern widower (Anthony Hopkins) and a lovely rural house known as Howards End. Thompson's best actress Oscar was well deserved.

"Zorba the Greek" (FoxVideo, 1964, $20). A stuffy British writer (Alan Bates) exits his ivory tower after life-savoring lessons from a robust Greek peasant (Anthony Quinn). An excellent, uplifting drama featuring one of Quinn's best performances and Lila Kedrova's vivid portrayal of a prostitute, which won her a best supporting actress Oscar.

"Madame Rosa" (Hen's Tooth, 1977, $60). This French drama, which won the best foreign language film Oscar, features a towering performance by Simone Signoret as an aging prostitute who cares for the children of other streetwalkers. Often meandering and overly sentimental, but you're so riveted by Signoret you tend not to notice the flaws.

"Silent Victim" (Columbia TriStar, $90). An unhappy, pregnant wife (Michelle Greene, formerly of "L.A. Law") drowns her sorrows in drugs, killing the fetus. Is inadvertent abortion during a suicide attempt illegal? Interesting issue smothered by poor writing and bad acting.

Upcoming:

Just announced: The thriller "The Vanishing," with Jeff Bridges, is due Aug. 11. "Swing Kids" is coming out Aug. 4.

Also: "Forever Young" (Wednesday); "Body of Evidence," "Damage" and "The Lover" (June 16); "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Jennifer 8" (June 23); "A Few Good Men," "Leap of Faith" and "Matinee" (June 30); "Unforgiven" and "The Crying Game" (July 7); "The Bodyguard," "Lorenzo's Oil" and "Teenage Mutant Turtles III" (July 14); "Malcolm X," "1492: Conquest of Paradise," "Passion Fish," "Amos and Andrew" and "Love Field" (July 21); "Home Alone 2" (July 27); "Scent of a Woman" (July 28); "Aladdin" (Oct. 1).

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