What to Buy in the '90s Should you wait for high-definition TV? Is DCC a smarter buy than DAT? Do you go for CD-I, CDTV or CD-ROM? Here are room-by-room solutions to all of today's home entertainment dilemmas.
By Phil Patton Reporter associate: Samantha Welsh

(MONEY Magazine) – What you want, of course, is magic: simply controlled, powerful technology that instantly delivers high-fidelity sounds and images wherever you go. But there are so many technologies out there -- or on the way -- that they amount to alphabet soup. There's HDTV (high-definition television), DCC (digital compact cassette), CD-ROM (compact disk, read-only memory), CD-I (compact disk, interactive), CDTV (compact disk television) and more. The question facing bewildered consumers: What should you buy -- and when? You'll find some answers on these pages, where we present the electronic household, circa 1995. Everything pictured is either already in the stores or soon will be. While other gizmos coming your way may not exactly be new, HDTV, by contrast, really is the next electronics big bang. It promises amazingly sharp video on expensive, computerized TV sets. But getting HDTVs into living rooms across America is still years away -- perhaps 1999. Consumers shouldn't wait to trade up, because HDTV is mired in competing technologies and international politics. The publicity about HDTV, says Ed Knodle, executive director of the National Association of Retail Dealers of America, ''is its own worst enemy. Waiting for the ideal, the latest and the greatest home electronics,'' he adds, ''doesn't make sense.'' In general, however, year-to-year improvements in quality or innovation will be slight throughout the '90s. So there's no compelling reason to postpone your electronic gratification. With no must-buy technology on the delivery trucks, the industry hopes to lure customers by becoming more consumer- friendly. One recent survey, for instance, showed that frustrated VCR owners spend only 3% of viewing time watching programs recorded by timers. That explains the industry's new emphasis on convenience and control. Today's machines are easier to use, lighter and more portable. One simplified remote- control unit, for example, now replaces a trio of finger-busters. Tiny CD players link up to wallet-size, self-amplified desktop speakers. Sleek boom boxes and mini-component multimedia systems bring quality sound and images anywhere you go. The 1980s ''media room'' can fit in a cabinet. Plus, now is a great time to buy. After exploding at a 13% annual growth rate through the '80s, consumer electronics managed a gain of less than 1% in dollar volume last year. The industry's hard times have forced retailers to deal. Says Kurt Barnard of Barnard's Retail Marketing Report, a New York City newsletter: ''There are very good values now available. People are looking for bargains, and merchants will oblige.'' All prices here are manufacturer's list. Discount stores, of course, will always offer better deals.

The Kitchen The pocket VCR/TV. While the eggs cook, switch on the four-inch liquid crystal screen on this battery-operated Sony Video Walkman GV-500 ($1,400) for the news. You can also pop in an 8mm videocassette to replay Seinfeld or your kid's soccer game (recorded on your 8mm camcorder).

Fail-safe cooking. Computerized microchips in breadmakers and toasters, like this Rowenta TP-100 ($45), assure even browning.

The smart house. Using a central computerized panel (left) or a Touch-Tone phone, this technology, adopted by 25 firms including Pioneer and AT&T, lets you fine-tune heating and air conditioning as well as control appliances and lamps. A car phone can switch on the Jacuzzi or program the thermostat to be energy-efficient. The wiring can be installed only as a house is being built or, by 1995, in a down-to-the-studs renovation. A Smart House system runs $15,000 to $20,000 for a 2,500-square-foot home. Local contractors can give details, or call Smart House at 301-249-6000.

Appliances with sense. Due next year, this ''fuzzy logic'' Sharp microwave oven (above, about $700) will be the first of its kind in the U.S. Such sophisticated appliances are already available in Japan. Fuzzy-logic technology is the same as that found in smart cameras that have built-in light meters and automatic focus. In the microwave, 11 sensors calculate the shape, type and size of food and then determine the optimal cooking time and temperature. After the microwave, Sharp plans to introduce a fuzzy-logic vacuum cleaner that can regulate its power and cleaning brushes.

Phone with a view. First shown at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the videophone is back. A 3.3-inch screen on the AT&T VideoPhone 2500 ($1,500) shows a caller in color (if he or she is on a videophone too). You can close the camera's shutter at will. All calls cost the same.

The Living Room Home theater goes to the movies -- a large-screen TV hooked up to new digital- sharp videodisk players plus surround-sound excitement from additional speakers.

Updated CD players. The Technics SL-PD627 CD Multi-Changer ($200; below) plays a round-robin of cuts from one to five disks. For extra editing features, check out the Technics PD827 ($230).

Disk players go video. After the videotape player comes this Pioneer disk player CLD-M90 ($700; shown above) or the newer Pioneer CLD-M301 ($650). You can see TV with laser-bright fidelity as well as play audio CDs. Acceptance of the technology limped along until last winter when player prices dropped dramatically and videodisks became more available.

The universal zapper. To harness all the new electronic power, you no longer need a gaggle of remotes. Try a ''preprogrammed'' or ''learning'' remote control. A Sole Control SC 300 ($30), like the one below, can take the place of all your existing remote-control units for TV, VCR, CD players and other equipment.

Big-screen magic. At home, the movie always starts on time. Now you can also have a big screen. No wonder large-screen TVs -- 30 inches or more -- are one of the few hot electronics items. By last spring, sales were up 54% over '91. Why wait for HDTV with TVs like this RCA ProScan PS35180 ($3,099)? It gives sharper 600-lines-of-resolution pictures, compared with conventional 525-line images. (Pundits argue about HDTV resolution -- more than 1,000 lines are promised.) The RCA ProScan automatically fills in image details of broadcast signals. Result: much improved video. And built-in Dolby Pro-Logic speakers give theaterlike sound.

The semipro theater. Television's future lies as much in better sound as in movie-quality video. To experience theater sound with an older TV, link the set to an audio/video Dolby-sound receiver and four to six speakers. Panasonic and its subsidiary-brand receivers incorporate Dolby ProLogic sound in the Technics SA-GX730 audio/video receiver ($650; top shelf at right). Filmmaker George Lucas developed another technology -- called THX -- for theaters and then licensed it to manufacturers. Now, sets with built-in receivers can create surround-sound via a THX-system amplifier connected to your VCR, disk players and TV. THX-quality components end up boosting the cost of your system, though. The NAD 2400 THX amplifier ($600; second shelf from top) is one of the best.

With either system, room-filling sound comes from secondary speakers behind the viewer. Sony's wireless IFS-50 speaker system ($350; at right), for example, works by using infrared technology to pick up audio signals that seem to send the rocket ship on the screen roaring over your shoulder.

DCC vs. DAT. This year's bright hope is digital compact cassette (DCC) players that offer high-quality sound reproduction, like this Carver DTD 1880 ($800 to $1000; second shelf from the bottom), due in the fall. DCC's rival is the older digital audiotape (DAT), such as Sony's DAT Player DTC-700 ($900; bottom shelf). The main difference: DCC machines can play your existing analog tape cassettes, but DAT players cannot. Plus, by the fall there will be 500 to 600 titles of pre-recorded DCC tapes on the market, vs. only 200 or so DAT titles.

Snapshots on TV. Arriving this month, the new Kodak PCD-870 Photo CD Player ($550) puts the family album on videodisk -- ready for your TV viewing or editing. A processing firm transfers negatives to a 100-image disk -- $20 for 24 pictures.

The MasterSuite The VCR, now in three out of four American homes, gave us control of time. Welcome the next wave: Compact media systems let us name the place.

The portable office. Home gear is shrinking in size and growing in power. Apple PowerBook 100 laptop ($1,500) reads MS-DOS and Macintosh disks.

Streamlined video. Nothing technologically new here, but VCRs can now be combined with TVs in one unit, like this Panasonic PV M2071 ($999). The result is one box: up-to-date convenience.

The mini that roars. Stereo systems that once dominated a wall of shelves now fit on a night table. Various makers mix and match a choice of components. The Yamaha YST NC1 Mini Stereo System ($800) weds radio, CD and tape players to speakers in one elegant unit.

Consumer-friendly. Introduced in 1990 by two Chinese-born engineers, the Gemstar VCR Plus ($60; left) is the little gizmo that could. Now also built into RCA, Sony and JVC VCRs ($400 to $650), the technology programs your VCR for you. Simply key in a TV program's code number (found in the newspaper TV listings). Just make sure you remember to put a tape in the VCR.

The Kid's Room For the electronic generation, there's a laser-sharp world of interactive education and entertainment -- all available on disk.

Electronic library. Basically an Amiga personal computer linked to a disk player, the interactive Commodore Dynamic Total Vision (CDTV) system ($800; below), introduced in '91, aims to be an educational Nintendo. Your kid can pop in a CD of Beethoven's Ninth to hear quality sound while seeing images and text about the composer. A different disk player, CD-ROM (compact disk, read-only memory), can be hooked up to virtually any personal computer to create a similar interactive audiovisual system. Such players sell for about $600, complete with reference works. NEC's CD Gallery ($650; also below), comes with mini-speakers and seven disks, including The New Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia and The Software Toolworks World Atlas. For a portable version, check out Sony's Data Discman ($550).

The retro boom box. Like watches, basic electronics will become fashion's domain, designed to mirror trend and fad. Your kids can tune in golden oldie Beatles on this Cicena Overdrive radio/tape cassette player ($129; right), inspired by the look of your first car.

Not just for kids. Due out early next year, this new miniaturized-format CD player can also record, unlike the larger models. The Sony MiniDisc player (probably $500 to $800) will feature a 2 1/2-inch shiny disk.

The Rec Room Electronic recreation is at home in the basement or the den -- wherever a big- screen projection TV fits best and you can work on perfecting your golf swing.

TV hole in one. Any room turns into the back nine with the Philips Interactive Compact Disc (CD-I) player ($999) and a golfing CD. Unlike Commodore's CDTV (see page 149), this player hooks up to a TV. It's most impressive on a projection screen like Pioneer's 50-inch Elite Pro-95 ($4,800). The Palm Springs Open ($50) disk lets you ''play'' various roughs and fairways. Other disks include: A Visit to Sesame Street ($30) and Treasures of the Smithsonian ($50).