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James Leavey's Corner
Home Sweet Home?

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by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland


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James Leavey
Most of us still enjoy a night out at the cinema, theatre, concert hall or jazz club, but if the next wave of high-tech home entertainment succeeds, those days are numbered.

There are already hundreds of satellite and cable channels that can be viewed on widescreen stereo surround-sound TVs, and the latest hi-fi music equipment is capable of turning any room in your home into a soundalike Carnegie Hall or Hollywood Bowl.

But do we really want it"And with the growing proliferation of fragmented choice in music, television, downloaded videos, virtual reality headsets and interactive CDs and PCs, when will we find the time to enjoy the fruits of the current multi media revolution"

"A lot of people already have sophisticated home entertainment systems," explained the friendly, interactive spokesperson for Philips Electronics of the Netherlands, a world leader in manufacturing television sets and, under the Polygram label, music publishing."The real issue is making it recordable, such as by CDR (CD Recordable).

"Manufacturers have become enablers, providing you with a choice of what to view or listen to.At the end of the day it's the software, whether it's in the form of recorded or live music, video or downloaded first release movie, that will cost the money.It all comes down to whether you actually want this service or not, and if you're willing to pay extra for it."

According to BT's resident futurologist, Ian Pearson, by the year 2005, large high-resolution flat screen TV screens up to one metre wide across will hang on your walls (there's no sign of them, yet) and by 2012, conventional 3D-TV, with no need for the clumsy red and green lenses cardboard spectacles, will become the norm.

"You could use the same screen as a TV, a virtual fish tank or a communicator," says Pearson."Or you may decide to take a virtual holiday in the Bahamas with screens acting as windows reflecting the view you'd see there instead of the grotty apartment blocks across the way."

Screens could also be used to create a Star Trek-style holodeck."All you need are large screens with 3D displays completely covering the walls, ceiling and floor and a floor on rollers giving an infinitely large space.But 2025 is the very earliest you can expect widescreen holographic TV."

Meanwhile, while you're waiting for the dust of competition between rival technocrats and systems around the world to die down, let's look at some of the leading edge home entertainment technology currently on offer.

JVC's AV-32WP2 is their latest top of the range 32 inch widescreen television which incorporates some of the most advanced technology available, including 'twin picture', enabling couch potatoes to view two pictures on one screen at the same time.This is ideal for the Jekyll and Hyde viewer and is useful in solving marital arguments over who watches what and when on the main TV of your home.(In the UK, the recommend retail price is about £2,000.)

JVC recently launched their GR-DVX and GR-DVX2 camcorders following the phenomenal success of the GR-DV1, which are not only the world's smallest and lightest, but easier to use with one-touch stand-by and automatic shooting. Digital technology combined with 'auto flash function' guarantees near broadcast quality in both film and photography and in any conditions, handy for those us who yearn to become the next Steven Spielberg.Or maybe you just want to star in your own creation.

For the impatient, the GR-DVX2's high resolution LCD colour monitor gives you immediate access to your film - with the snapshot function you can check your holiday photos before you take them.(UK R.R.P. is about £1800).

For those of you who are still computer shy and prefer traditional video-based editing, the JVC GR-DVX CyberCam is not much bigger than a Sony Walkman and (UK r.r.p. about £1600) comes equipped with an analogue docking system allowing quick and simple transfer to video direct from the camera.The monitor can be rotated 270 degrees for high-angle shooting in crowds (ie parties!), low-angle shots and self-portraits.If it could only say how wonderful I looked I'd marry one tomorrow.

Philips have unveiled a new DVD-Video player than can play DVD-Video discs, video CDs and audio CDs, together with spectacular movie theatre sound and picture quality in the comfort of your own home.All you need to provide is the drinks and popcorn.

Last year, Toshiba introduced what they claimed was the world's first Dolby digital surround range of televisions.The two sets (28MW7DB and 22MW7DB) won Home Entertainment magazine's 1997 Innovation of the Year award.

For over 70 years, the international audio visual manufacturer, Bang & Olufsen, has designed products of distinction for the home.They are not only a pleasure to use but are also beautifully crafted to meet the needs of the times.Recently, they introduced the BeoLab 4000 active loudspeaker, providing powerful sound in an elegant, compact cabinet.

Distinctively different from the usual angular black boxes that occupy rooms of many homes, B&O's almond-shaped, streamlined design is just 32 cm high, making it easy to position in any domestic environment, and comes in three contemporary colors - silver, black and green.It is also extremely versatile and can function as a main loudspeaker in a Bang & Olufsen music system, as both a front and rear loudspeaker in a Dolby Surround set-up and in a BeoLink system, as a main loudspeaker with a non-Bang & Olufsen system, and even as a PC loudspeaker.

The company has also just started manufacturing the BeoCenter AV5, a compact unit that combines a 25 inch TV with a new superflat tube, radio, CD player and loudspeakers, and comes with 59 radio and 79 TV station programme memory.

Talking about flat display televisions designed for the global market brings me to Sony, who in summer 1997 announced the introduction to Europe of possibly the biggest technological innovation in televisions this century - the FD Trinitron, or flat Cathode Ray Tube television.The sets, KV-28FD1 and KV-32FD1 (why can't they just call them Jack and Julie") will be manufactured in Germany to a UK design that will be adopted for FD Trinitron sets worldwide.

According to Sony, with the convergence of technologies and multimedia applications, these first Flat Display Trinitron sets will also incorporate, for the first time, several other features which will reflect the current Multi Media Digital Age, such as direct connection of a PC without the need for an additional set-top box.

With the advent of Digital television and all the extra channels that will be on offer, television programme magazine guides are becoming too big to handle.Let's face it, some of us with countless cable and satellite channels are now spending more time deciding what to watch than actually watching it.

With this in mind, the world's television industry has developed an intelligent, electronic programme guide (EPG) that will allow quick and easy access to the programme listings of the plethora of extra channels that are about to hit our screens.The EPG, sometimes known as NextView, provides details of programme type, date or time to determine your viewing schedule - regardless of channel.It's a sort of interactive Yellow Pages for the TV addict which lets your telly do the walking.

I have to admit that given the choice of wading through TV guides the size of a telephone directory makes me want to curl up with a good book instead.

While I'm on the subject, people who criticise Teletext for its old fashioned, large blocky graphics should remember that the reason they are so large is because we sit a lot further away from the TV than the PC.So the idea of combining TV with your PC, wonderful in theory anyway, may be too technically difficult to realise.If you want to prove this for yourself, print one page of text or graphics from your PC,scotchtape it to your television screen and sit back in your usual chair and try to read it.I rest my case.

For those of us who will shortly be walled up inside their home for daring to enjoy tobacco, the sort of good news is that with all this technology we'll have plenty to keep us entertained.The trouble is the only time we'll get to share a smoke with our friends is on the Internet.

A sad, lonely future beckons.

Copyright James Leavey, 1999.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Author.

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