CES: another perspective. Ken Uston.
CES: Another Perspective
My reaction to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Can be summed up in one phrase, with apologies to the Val Gals: "Totally awesome--To The Max.'
I spent four full days wandering from exhibit to exhibit, talking to manufacturers, playing dozens of new video games, and experimenting with other software. Then I took three more days to read the three-foot stack of literature accumulated during the show.
My basic conclusion: the dominant implication of 1983 WCES is that the line of demarcation between video game systems and home computers is vanishing. I predict that, by the end of 1983, the functions performed by most game systems and home computers will be identical.
Video Systems Are Being Converted To Home Computers
Four companies announced modules that will convert the King of Home Video Systems, the Atari VCS, into a real, live, honest-to-goodness computer. These units are made by Spectra Video, Entex, Unitronics and Emerson. Most have a keyboard, 2K or 3K of RAM, and built-in Basic.
Mattel finally replaced their antediluvian Intellivision with a compact, sleek game system called Intellivision II. They displayed a "Computer Adaptor' and keyboard which converts Intellivision II into a 2K RAM computer, with 16-bit microprocessor and built-in Basic. The keyboard is attractive and full sized with 49 keys. (Remember, though, that Mattel has been announcing computer modules for years and has yet actually to deliver them in quantity.)
Mattel plans to produce games, educational, programming and music cartridges for the Intelivision II, which is also compatible with existing Intellivision cartridges. In a move which could really hurt the Atari VCS, they showed a module which allows play of Atari VCS games on the Intellivision system.
Mattel also displayed a powerful new game system, called Intellivision III. This product was so secret that many Mattel employees first found out about it at CES. It was displayed in a private room, by invitation only. Thank to a friend at Mattel, I managed to see it. It's fabulous. It includes 320 X 192 pixel screen resolution, a "nearly infinite' selection of colors, up to 64 moving objects, and built-in stereo sound effects. A remote control joystick replaces the infamous Mattel disk. Intellivision III will be convertible into a home computer with the Computer Adaptor and keyboard.
On display at the Odyssey booth was a "Command Center,' with full size keyboard and a modem, which allows the Odyssey game system to function as a dumb terminal, linkable to information services as The Source and Compuserve.
Company reps for both Atari and Coleco stated that they had plans to produce modules to convert the Atari 5200 and Coleco Vision into home computers, although no equipment was on display.
Home Computers Are Being Converted To Video Systems
Cardco announced a module that lets the Vic 20 play Atari VCS games.
When Coleco came out with a VCS module for their Coleco Vision, they were slapped with a patent infringement lawsuit by Atari. (They counter-sued, filing a restraint of trade complaint.) Wary of legal entanglements, Cardco secretly displayed their product in the bedroom of a Vegas motel. They claimed it would be available during the last week of January and list for $90.
SpectraVideo did to Coleco what Coleco did to Atari. They announced a $299 home computer, the SV-318, with a unit that allows all the ColecoVision games to be played on the SV-318. (I wonder if Coleco will sue them for patent infringement.)
More And More Companies Are Producing Both Video Systems And Home Computer Games
In a further erosion of the line between home systems and home computers, several companies have announced plans to produce game software for both types of systems. Imagic plans to make games for the Atari VCS, Intellivision, Odyssey, Vic 20 and Atari computers. Activision announced plans to provide games for the Atari computers. When I asked president Jim Levy whether Activision might produce Vic 20 or TI 99/4A games, he said the company is "studying' that possibility.
The Vic 20 and TI 99/4A computers sold heavily in late 1982. This has not escaped the attention of software houses, and more and more companies are producing games for these two computers, including Thorne EMI Video and Human Engineered Software (HES). The net result, of course, will be that these computers will become even more viable game-playing systems.
The result of all of this is good news to the consumer. We'll have a wide range of home systems that:
A Couple Of Gripes
Now don't get me wrong. I had the time of my life at WCES. I hope never to miss a CES for the rest of my life--God willing and the creek don't rise. But why on earth don't the companies train their people to use the products they're demonstrating? Some horror stories:
I went to the TI booth to review a music program for the 99/4A. I put the cartridge in, but couldn't get it to work properly. I asked a company representative standing nearby for help. He said, "Well, my daughter can run it, but I don't know much about it.' (His daughter couldn't help; she was in L.A.) After 10 minutes or so, I collared another TI rep and asked for help. She said, "I'm sorry. The person who demonstrates this is on break.'
I found a third person with a TI badge. She said, "I've picked up a cold and have to leave the floor.' (The Southern California flu had a field day circulating among the 70,000+ people at CES--it got hundreds of us, including my girlfriend and me).
I spent two hours experimenting with the cartridge before I fully understood how it worked. (It's pretty good.)
Then I tried to play a 99/4A Scott Adams adventure. I went through three more company representatives before I found someone who could load the program for me. The game requires both a cartridge and a floppy disk; two out of the three didn't even know that.
Then it was off to Mattel. They were demonstrating their new Aquarius computer in a separate section. Three of the computers were supposed to be hooked up to CompuServe, the information service. I tried to operate one to no avail and finally asked for help. The first fellow said, "I only show the word processing package.' The second, to her credit, tried, but couldn't raise CompuServe (I later found out it was because she forgot to dial the number). A third finally managed to get things started, but we got a busy signal.
The gal told me, "They're probably real busy because of the show. We might not be able to get through for a half hour or so.' I sensed that she just wanted me to go away. I did.
As I left, I first wondered whether this meant that users might as well forget trying to use CompuServe during the eight days each year that CES is running. Then I wondered how 30 or so CES hookups out of a customer base of over 30,000 could cause a logjam in the system.
I went to see a couple of new Sony computers. When I first asked for literature, the rep said, "We've barely got the equipment together in time for the show, let alone having time to print anything up.'
O.K. Fair enough. I asked "What compatible software will be available?' The rep had no idea. After a few more questions I just left, convinced from the rep's evasiveness and vagueness, that the computers might never see the market.
At a press conference held by Ultravision, the company president announced that his system would be sold for $999. All the press handouts said $595. Incredibly, the president made no mention of the discrepency in his speech. David Ahl finally asked him about it (answer: the keyboard, not shown in the press package, will be included, and the whole package will cost $999).
During his speech, the president said the unit would be expandable to 128K. Afterwards, I asked how that would be possible with an 8-bit microprocessor. He gave me a funny look and remained silent. I said, "Are you going to get around that by using bank switching?'
He nodded affirmatively, but somehow I felt he did it just to duck the question.
In some instances I was given tours by knowledgeable company spokesmen. The best took place at the Spectravision and Data Age booths. But in far more cases, the company reps didn't seem to have enough knowledge about their products to be able to explain it to others. Especially annoying was the way they guessed at the answers. I was supplied answers I knew were wrong at least a dozen times. Picture the poor retailer, making buying decisions based on that information!
One final gripe. Here we are in the center of the technological revolution of the world. Now, just take a guess as to what equipment I'm using in the press room to type this piece. No, It's not a word processor. No, not even an electric typewriter. I'm using a manual Remington Rand! I haven't tried working one of these confounded gadgets since high school typing class.
Now I'm not suggesting that CES should put a word processing system in their press room--I know they're expensive. But what if some company donated one? Can you imagine the gratitude that would result--from reporters from The New York Times, Newsweek, and countless newspapers, magazines and other publications? Maybe even more than gratitude --hundreds of thousands of dollars of favorable publicity. Here's hoping someone shows this article to Steve Jobs (yeah, I know Apple doesn't show at CES--but so what?)
I know this is a little off-the-wall for a computer magazine, but I've got to inform you about the most revolutionary musical instrument invention since the electric piano, in my opinion.
An electronic trumpet was demonstrated at WCES that sounds exactly like a trumpet. It can be played with no "embrochure'; in other words, you just blow into it. If you've ever tried playing trumpet, you know that you must make your lips vibrate to make sound. To play high notes, you must compress your lips really tightly. Only a handful of players can play "screech' notes, the high screaming sounds that made Maynard Ferguson famous.
The instrument, called the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI), was invented by Nyle Steiner. It allows you to play as high or low as you want, simply by blowing into the instrument and turning a cannister with your left hand to select one of seven octaves.
I heard Nyle play the EVI at the show accompanied by a keyboard player. I couldn't believe the results. EVI can produce the rich broad tones of Harry James or the narrow shrill lines of Dizzy Gillespie. Until now, this could be accomplished only by subtle, artful changes in embrochure. At first, I thought that EVI had obsoleted all trumpet players. Upon reflection, however, I realized that some players, such as Dizzy, have so much "soul' in their improvisational lines that most of us couldn't come close to duplicating it. But wait. I predict there will soon be a device to pre-record lines into EVI, just as Casio keyboards can now "read' and play music, as shown in the attached photograph.
I sheepishly asked the two questions you're probably wondering about: when is EVI available and how much will it cost? I braced myself for a multi-thousand dollar response. I nearly fell off my chair when told that the EVI is in stores now and lists for $350!
Manufacturers Mentioned in CES Coverage
Manufacturers of Video Games and Game Controls
Activision, Inc. 2350 Bayshore Frontage Rd. Mountain View, CA 94043 (415) 960-0410
Answer Software Corporation 20863 Stevens Creek Blvd. Bldg. B-2, Suite C Cupertino, CA, 95014 (408) 253-7515
Atari Incorporated 1265 Borregas Ave. P.O. Box 427 Sunnyvale, CA 94086 (408) 743-4124
CBS Software 41 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10010 (212) 481-6400
Coin Controls, Inc. 2609 Greenleaf Ave. Elk Grove, IL 60007 (312) 228-1810
Comma-Vid Inc. 1470 Farnsworth, Suite 203 Aurora, IL 60505 (312) 851-3190
Compro Electronics, Inc. 365-B Clinton St. Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714) 641-9156
Data Age, Inc. 62 S. San Tomas Aquino Rd. Campbell, CA 95008 (408) 370-9100
Discwasher 1407 North Providence Rd. P.O. Box 6021 Columbia, MO 65205 (314) 449-0941
Electra Concepts Corporation P.O.Box 6479 23882 Pipit Court Laguna Niguel, CA 92677 (714) 831-7641
Emerson Radio Corp. One Emerson Lane Secaucus, NJ 07094 (201) 865-4343
Entex Industries, Inc. 303 W. Artesia Blvd. P.O. Box 8005 Compton, CA 90220 (213) 637-6174
Fox Video Games, Inc. 4701 Patrick Henry Dr., Bldg. #9 Santa Clara, CA 95050 (408) 988-6666
Frobco 603 Mission St. Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (408) 429-1552
Gakken Toy & Electronic Division Retrix Systems, Inc. 2832-B Walnut Ave. Tustin, CA 92680 (714) 731-0960
General Consumer Electronics, Inc. 233 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401 (213) 458-1730
Human Engineered Software 71 Park Lane Brisbane, CA 94005 (415) 468-4900
Imagic 981 University Ave. Los Gatos, CA 95030 (408) 399-220
Kraft Systems Company 450 W. California Ave. Vista, CA 92083 (619) 724-7146
Mattel Electronics, a division of Mattel, Inc. 5150 Rosecrans Ave. Hawthorne, CA 90250 (213) 978-5150
N.A.P. Consumer Electronics Corp. Interstate 40 and Straw Plains Pike P.O. Box 6950 Knoxville, TN 37914 (312) 266-7200
Questar Controls, Inc. 670 N.W. Pennsylvania Ave. Chehalis, WA 98532 (206) 748-8614
Sega Enterprises, Inc. a division of Paramount Pictures Corp. 5555 Melrose Ave. Hollywood, CA 90038 (213) 468-5000
SpectraVideo, Inc. 39 West 37th St. New York, NY 10016 (212) 869-7911
Starpath Corporation 324 Martin Ave. Santa Clara, CA 95050 (408) 748-8551
TG Products 1104 Summit Ave., Suite 110 Plano, TX 75074 (214) 424-8568
Tiger Electronic Toys, Inc. 909 Orchard Mundelein, IL 60060 (312) 949-8100
Unitronics 401 Grand Ave., Suite 350 Oakland, CA 94610 (415) 839-2301
US Games 1515 Wyatt Dr. Santa Clara, CA 95054 (408) 748-9800
Video Product Sales Earl Laskey Video 20 Morning Dove Irvine, CA 92714 (714) 857-6370
Video Technology Inc. 2633 Greenleaf Elk Grove Village, IL 60007 (312) 640-1776
Wico Corporation 6400 W. Gross Point Rd. Niles, IL 60648 (312) 647-7500
Manufacturers of Computers and Peripherals
Atari Incorporated 1265 Borregas Ave. P.O. Box 427 Sunnyvale, CA 94086 (408) 942-6790
Androbot, Inc. 1287 Lawrence Station Rd. Sunnyvale, CA 94086 (408) 745-1084
Brother International Corp 8 Corporate Pl. Piscataway, NJ 08854 (201) 981-0300
Cardco, Inc. 313 Mathewson Wichita, KS 67226 (316) 267-6525
Commodore Inc. 487 Devon Park Dr. Wayne, PA 19087 (215) 687-9750
Data-assette 56 South 3rd St. Oxford, PA 19363 (800) 523-2909
Epson America 3415 Kashiwa St. Torrance, CA 90505 (213) 534-0360
Mattel Electronics, a division of Mattel, Inc. 5150 Rosecrans Ave. Hawthorne, CA 90250 (213) 978-5150
Milton Bradley Company 443 Shaker Rd. East Longmeadow, MA 01028 (413) 525-6411
Mindware Inc. 15 Tech Circle Natick, MA 01760 (617) 655-3388
Olivetti Corporation 155 White Plains Rd. Tarrytown, NY 10591 (800) 431-1366
Panasonic One Panasonic Way Secaucus, NJ 07094 (201) 348-7182
Sanyo Electric, Inc. 1200 W. Artesia Blvd. Compton, CA 90220 (213) 537-5830
Semi-Tech Microelectronics Corporation 525 Middle Field Rd., Suite 130 Menlo Park, CA 94025 (415) 326-6226
SpectraVideo, Inc. 39 West 37th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 869-7911
TeleData Products P.O. Box 16771 Irvine, CA 92713 (714) 751-5163
Texas Instruments, Inc. P.O. Box 53 Lubbock, TX 79408 (800) 858-4565
Timex Computer Corporation P.O. Box 2655 Waterbury, CT 06725 (203) 573-500
Toshiba America, Inc. Information Systems Division 2441 Michelle Dr. Tustin, CA 92680 (714) 730-5000
Ultravision, Inc. 2315 N.W. 107th Ave. Miami, FL 33172 (305) 592-0878
Video Technology Inc. 2633 Greenleaf Ave. Elk Grove Village, IL 60007 (312) 640-1776
Photo: On behalf of Video & Arcade Games, Betsy Staples (L) presented a Gamester of the Year certificate to Cathy Carlston of Broderbund Software in honor of Sea-Fox being selected for use in the competition.
Photo: Steiner Electronic Valve Instrument.
Photo: Gladys Knight "playing' the Casio MT-70.