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HOME ENTERTAINMENT : No More Squinting With the Camcorder


Camcorders of the future will all feature a miniature color TV--a 3- or 4-inch LCD screen--in place of the standard eyepiece, according to many in the electronics industry. Instead of squinting through a tiny viewfinder, you use a small TV screen on the side of the camcorder to frame your shots and play back footage.

Sharp, which introduced the first of these camcorders in this country about two years ago, is the leader in the market. Low-end models start around $900, but prices are dropping. In the dominant 8mm mode, Sharp and Sony are major players while JVC and Minolta market the VHS-C models.

In Japan, according to Bob Scaglione, national sales and merchandising manager of Sharp's Viewcam, these camcorders will own half the market by the end of the year--even though they were introduced just 2 1/2 years ago.

"Sharp went from 0% share of the Japanese market to 25% in a little more than two years," he said.

Originally a high-end luxury, camcorders with the tiny TV monitors are on the verge of going mainstream in this country too.

"Last year about 8% of camcorders sold in the U.S. had the TV screens, and we expect that to go up to 15% this year," Scaglione reported. "By 1997, we expect that half the camcorders sold in the U.S. will have screens on them."

One of the key advantages of the camcorder with a TV screen is purely social.

"Many camcorder users feel that using camcorders with conventional viewfinders separates them from the event they're filming," Scaglione said. "But using a camcorder with a TV screen allows you to separate the camera from your face and be more a part of what you're recording. Other people can also look at the screen and see what you're shooting. It changes the whole experience."

But these camcorders have disadvantages too.

First, in bright sunlight, the TV screen can be hard to see, which may hamper outside shooting. Secondly, the camcorders aren't economical because the screens burn up battery power. And third, to hold the camera about a foot away from your body to look at the screen while shooting can be tiring.

What's the best of these new camcorders?

The Sharp Viewcam, say a sampling of experts. But Sony's models are gaining favor because they're equipped with both TV screens and the standard eyepiece--for those situations when sunlight makes the screen hard to see.


What's New on Video: "Dumb and Dumber" (New Line). While driving across country, headed for Colorado to return a suitcase full of money, two lovable dimwits (Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) get involved in all sorts of scrapes, including a kidnaping. Lots of slapstick and goofy, ultra-low-brow humor--including bathroom jokes. Unless they're real Carrey fans, most adults will find this hit movie way too silly.

"Murder in the First" (Warner). Grim, tragic tale, partly a courtroom drama, about the horrors of prison in the 1930s and 1940s. An Alcatraz inmate (Kevin Bacon), who's been thoroughly brutalized by the prison system, goes on trial for murdering another prisoner. But in court, his zealous young attorney (Christian Slater) puts Alcatraz on trial. Brilliantly acted by Bacon, with Gary Oldman co-starring as the sadistic warden.

"Little Women" (Columbia TriStar). While her husband is fighting in the Civil War, the mother (Susan Sarandon) of a poor New England family guides her four daughters through growing pains. Winona Ryder is terrific as feisty Jo. An excellent family movie about the strength of sisterly love, it's arguably the best of the four film versions of Louisa May Alcott's classic. Director Gillian Armstrong cleverly puts a '90s spin on this venerable material.

"Street Fighter" (MCA/Universal). A colonel (Jean-Claude Van Damme) tries to rescue hostages being held for ransom by a dictator (Raul Julia). Lots of action but weak character development and not much suspense. Based on a video game, it will be most appreciated by those who have played the game--or those looking for a glossy, mindless action flick. Warning to hard-core Van Damme fans who'll rent anything he makes: This may be his worst movie.

"Camilla" (Miramax). The oddball bonding of an elderly, high-spirited concert violinist (Jessica Tandy) and a young unhappily married composer (Bridget Fonda). Part of the movie is their adventure, driving from Georgia to Toronto. Tandy's character is fascinating but the plot doesn't do much with it. The captivating performance by Tandy is the only reason to see this movie, which is predictable and blandly written.


B-Movies: Triboro's "Lone Justice II," an old-fashioned good guys vs. bad guys Western starring Brad Johnson, isn't too bad--not too violent and suitable for family viewing. Johnson stars in another low-budget Western that came out recently, Warnervision's "Siringo," that's worth a look. He plays a U.S. marshal on the trail of an escaped convict. If you like Westerns, it's passable entertainment.

In FoxVideo's "Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog," a boy (Jesse Bradford) and his dog are stuck in the wilderness and struggle to survive. It's an OK adventure tale for kids--and not too violent. But Disney's "Squanto: A Warrior's Tale" is a dull family movie with a preposterous ending. It's about the adventures of a young Native American in the days when the Native Americans were battling the pilgrims.

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