"This doesn't do anything for me. I'm more interested in people than in machines," said Margaret Nelson, watching disapprovingly as her husband poked around pushing buttons at the First Annual Washington Home Entertainment Show at the Sheraton Washington yesterday. "He's wanting to buy something and I'm not going to let him. Besides, my hearing is so good that all this noise is driving me crazy."
Inside, it's A Clockwork Circus:
A gaggle of three-piece-suiters goggle as Olivia Newton-John cavorts to "Physical" on a seven-foot projection screen. In the exhibition room, waves of white noise, babble and bleeping, bleating electronic cacophony wash over a pulsating, flickering womb of sound and light. More than 125 home-entertainment merchants brought their latest toys for adults for show and sale today and tomorrow, which can be seen and played with for a $5 admission fee ($3 for children under 12).
Things you can buy (if you have a few thousand extra burning a hole in your pocket): a home gymnasium, home computers. A Club Med vacation (if you prefer a real getaway to electronic escape). A beautifully restored 1946 Wurlitzer bubbler jukebox. A telephone disguised as a duck decoy (for the ultimate in prep). And of course, video games.
David Elliott's eyes followed the flashing spheres on the screen as he tersely explained the object of a video game. "You're supposed to kill all those flying things," said Elliott, 14, who was staying with his parents at the hotel and wandered downstairs to find himself lured by the siren song of the screens into electronic wonderland. "It's better than going down to the arcade. It's pretty lucky that I can play all these for free." He says he spends "a couple dollars a day" at his neighborhood arcade.
"This year they expect video games to be a $9 billion industry," said Dennis McNally, a sales rep for video game distributors Greater Atlantic Associates, while behind him people lined up to blast bright aliens to bits on Zaxxon and Space Duel. Also for free. "The in-home video games aren't hurting our sales. Everyone has a TV in their homes, but people still go to the movies. Video games are becoming the national pastime now. You're not with it anymore if you can't play Pac-Man," said McNally, who admitted to a mild addiction.
The show's centerpiece is the "Home Entertainment Center of the Future," a collection of wildly expensive audio and video equipment in what looks like the Jetsons' living room. The future seems to be plagued with the problems of the present, however. The electronic newspaper/information service was on the blink. The "rec room 2001" also featured a bulky $7,000 turntable which "reads the true roundness of records," and an 18-karat gold-plated tape deck for $6,000. "But it's available at $3,800 for the economy-minded audiophile," said Nakamichi demonstrator John Miller with a straight face. "Why a gold-plated tape deck? For the man who has everything, of course," Miller said.
Two lonely looking people sat at the Encyclopedia Britannica booth, an island for readers in a solid-state sea. "It's the masses that become addicted to this electronic stuff, not the leaders," observed encyclopedia salesman Art Hale.