CD video is on its way -- if it doesn't lose its way first. An assortment of video, record and stereo companies have joined forces to launch a new line of compact discs and CD players that play video as well as music. The products themselves are a confusing hybrid of old and new, useful and trivial, and when dealers got their first look at the whole setup last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, they responded with little confidence that CD video would find a market.
Some of the heavy hitters in the effort spearheaded by Philips (which also led the drive for CD audio) include Sony, Panasonic, CBS Records, Polygram, Disney and Paramount Home Video. But the discouraging reception has further strained the fragile alliance of companies that have teamed up in hopes of duplicating the fabulous success engineered by the similar partnership behind CD audio four years ago.
CD video will never have the immediate impact of CD audio, in part because the technology isn't as new and simple as its audio cousin. The new part is the CD video single, a standard-sized CD that offers a five-minute music video followed by 20 more minutes of music. CDV singles can be played on three kinds of machines: standard CD players, which play only the music tracks; new CDV players, which also play CDs, and new "combi" players. The "combi" players also play full-length Laserdiscs -- which have been rechristened CDV LPs -- a format for movies that never caught on in the video market, despite a picture quality superior to cassettes.
The CDV team is hoping that the "combi" player will find a large market looking for an $800 machine that plays both movies and CDs, but retailers worry that Laserdisc has had its chance, and the new "CD" name won't make a difference.
Dealers doubt that kids who like music videos can afford the players, while the equipment and record people have conflicting ideas on how to position the discs in the market. The players and some 200 CDV singles should hit the stores in time for Christmas, with a fanfare of hype and confusion to match.
Ubertape: Super-VHS Dealers also got their first look at Super-VHS, the next generation of VHS videocassettes. Metal fragments embedded in the tape's coating enable it to produce a picture far better than a standard video image -- so good, in fact, that only a high-definition TV or monitor can reproduce it. The tapes can be played only on Super-VHS machines, but they, fortunately, will also play standard VHS cassettes. With prices starting at more than $1,000, they ought to. Video publishers have yet to decide how and when they will make movies and other programming available in the new format; until they do, retailers predict that the initial market for S-VHS tapes and equipment will be among camcorder users. Watch the Feeling Sports Illustrated is coming to video this September, with the first issue of a planned series of quarterly video magazines from HBO Video called "Sports Illustrated: Get the Feeling." Each $14.95 issue will feature an hour's worth of new photography depicting a particular aspect of athletics. For the first issue, "Speed," the publisher promises to put the camera "in places that it's never been before" to capture speedy action from a variety of different sports; future issues will include "Grace" and "Defeat." An "image-oriented" ad from sponsor Dodge Motors will start off the tape. HBO plans to publish videos based on other Time Inc. magazines next year.
In the Wings
" 'Round Midnight" and "Little Shop of Horrors" offered two of last year's best sound tracks -- the former winning the Oscar for best sound track -- and they both arrive in video rental stores next week in hi-fi stereo digital sound. With the right equipment, they'll probably sound better than they did in most theaters ... Julie Andrews fans can watch the star grapple with terminal illness in two of next month's rental releases, "That's Life!" and "Duet for One." The latter, in which Andrews acts her heart out as a musician dying a slow and grisly death, disappeared quickly from theaters after she failed to win a hoped-for Academy Award nomination ... Two enormously popular comedies will be repriced for the sales market later this summer. "Back to the Future" will be available at $29.95 in August, followed by "Back to School" at $26.95 at back-to-school time.