Philadelphia Area HP Handheld Club Meeting

Thursday, June 11, 1992 - 7 PM - Drexel University

1992 Summer CES Report

Another Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago is behind us and for the first time, the show was open to the general public (for the final two days). According to recently published numbers, just under a hundred thousand consumers paid the ten dollars to get in. On those last two days, the crowds were reminiscent of the days of the early 1980's when the Summer CES was consistently a full house. It will be interesting to read about the exhibitors' reaction to this experiment. (Also I wonder who gets the million dollars from the admission fees ... )

Just as compact disks revived the audio market around ten years ago, there is a push to repeat the trick with Philips, digital compact cassettes (DCC) and Sony's mini disc (MD) formats. These are not new to this CES show, but for the first time, prototype DCC units were all over the show for attendees to use. Sony only showed a working MD unit at their permanent showroom (called the Sony Gallery) on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, but a few exhibitors did have prototype MD units under glass in their booths. There is wide music industry acceptance for these systems, and both systems are supposed to appear on the shelves this year. Early tabletop DCC machines will cost in the 800-dollar range and be out by September/October, with MD portables costing 600 bucks and appearing by Christmas. Despite the slight fidelity loss in each formats, data compression/expansion algorithms, the possibility of an eraseable/recordable disk format for audio (in the mini disc) still intrigues me.

In the handheld computing world, there was some activity in different areas. The big splash was made by Apple Computer in their formal announcement of their Newton handheld device. This unit, scheduled for next year, is an LCD touchscreen-based system with organizer, computing and cellular communication capabilities. Handwriting recognition will allow the user to write on the display surface with a stylus, along with displayed buttons which may be pressed. Despite Apple having a booth at CES, they only showed their highpowered multimedia products running on macintoshes. The prototype of Newton was tucked away for safe keeping. In fact, the press kit did not even show the final design (just a closed case and open mockups). Info on Newton appears later in this handout.

Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments sat this CES out. Presumably, the TI-85 scientific will be released some time between now and the Winter CES in January. June 8th was supposed to be the release date of HP's 1.3-inch 20 meg hard disk drive for the HP95LX, but otherwise they were in hiding. Rumors have resurfaced that rev H of the HP48SX will be slipped into the production line soon. (Rev letters "F" and "G" have been skipped, according to Dennis York's talks at our Philly conference last March.) This unit has software upgrades, but no hardware changes. In addition, the latest word on the street on the computer side is that a 286-based palmtop ("Cougar"??) just slightly larger than the HP95 but with a full 25 by 80 LCD and built in hard disk drive will be released at the end of the year. This is to be followed in 1993 by the 3-pound 386-based subnotebook ("Lion"??) which got some press coverage in the past month or so.

Both Sharp and Casio showed new high-end models of their organizers. The Casio SF-R20 BOSS increases the RAM capacity of the SF-RLO to 256 kilobytes from 128 with no other immediately apparent changes. Sharp announced a model called the wizard OZ-9600 with a QWERTY keyboard and touchscreen LCD that is operated with a stylus, but I never saw it at the booth. There was info in the press materials (which appears in this handout). Both these units are getting fairly expensive (above $400.) and thus reaching upwards toward the DOS-based handhelds. The Sharp EL-9200 and EL-9300 scientific graphics/solver/scientific calculators are scheduled to appear in this country later this year in very limited quantities. According to Richard Nelson, Educalc may not see them for quite a few months, despite including them in their upcoming catalog (#56).

Seeing a booth from Tandy at the CES was quite a surprise, since they don't have to make deals with outside distributors. However, since the public was going to be present, they decided to make a big splash with introductions of new notebook computers. These units appear to be competitive with anything currently on the market. The top of the line $3500 unit is a 33 MHz 486DX-based unit with all the trimmings. According to someone in the booth, it is the fastest computer they sell except for one 50 MHz "tower" system.

There is still quite alot of activity in the video market. much of it appears to be scrambling to grab consumers, dollars just before the formal standard for high-definition television is adopted. Since the wide-screen format has been praised by most people, many companies (RCA/Thomson, Philips, Panasonic, Sharp and others) are showing wide-screen versions of the standard NTSC TVs. These can play laserdisks which contain "letterboxed" movies in widescreen format without having to blank out the upper and lower parts of the screen. In addition, some demonstrated had a regular 4:3 aspect ratio broadcast picture displayed along side of several small frames from alternate channels; a "picture-beside-picture" feature. Thomson even showed new RCA 8-mm format camcorders which will record in wide-screen format.

Camcorders continue to get smaller, lighter and more feature-packed. In the 8-millimeter world, the standard optical zoom has now reached 10-to-1. Some of the VHS-compact companies' digital zooms claim magnification up to 100 to 1. Both camps now have vendors showing some units with electronic image stablilzation to damp out camera jitter. High-speed shutters up to one-tenthousandth of a second are becoming commonplace. Some have color-LCD viewfinders now (but they are altogether too grainy since the number of pixels hardly matches the number in the CCD imager). Wireless remote controls are almost a standard now. The VHS-C tape time limit of 30 minutes (in SP speed) still seems to be its biggest limitation. Meanwhile, two or three tape companies have begun shipping 150-minute 8mm tapes. The biggest limitation for the 8mm units - not being able to play the tapes back in the tabletop VCR had been addressed by Sony for several years now with their ever-evolving line of 8-millimeter tabletop VCRs. However, at this show, both Samsung and RCA introduced their own 8mm VCRS, which is a positive step. Not only are they feature-packed, they are extremely compact (on the order of 9 by 9 by 2 inches).

Chicago CHIP Group Users' Meeting

At the Chicago CHIP group users meeting on Friday evening, May 29th, there were around 20 attendees. Talks included using the Apple Powerbook with the HP48 (by Bill Quinlan), the process of manufacturing CD-ROMS for the computer industry (Mike Katz), the HP95LX scene (Hal Goldstein of the Palmtop Paper), activities on Compuserve (Ted Dickens, sysop of CIS' HP Forum) and a presentation on Rick Grevelle's upcoming all-machine-code HP48 library builder software (Jake Schwartz). Richard Nelson was present and spoke on Educalc's status, and the handheld computing world in general. They are still pushing for a handheld users' conference in 1993 in the west coast, and the exact time and place is still up in the air. It looks like the calculator and palmtop computer camps will probably remain together in this conference, in order to assure adequate attendance numbers. There would probably be multiple tracks of speakers in different disciplines, in order to keep the interest high. Everything was videotaped and is available to those who are interested.

On Sunday, May 31st, Paul and Brenda Hubbert hosted the 9th annual CHIP Picnic at their house in suburban McHenry, Illinois and all enjoyed perfect weather, horseshoe pitching, boat rides on the Fox river and an all-day barbecue. From all the video gear present, it could have been a gathering of a Sony users group as opposed to an HP gang.

Following Month's Article  Previous Month's Article Back to PAHHC Page