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Friday, January 8, 1999
Electronics companies take couch surfing to new level
By MARTHA MENDOZA
LAS VEGAS -- The days of being a lazy couch potato wielding only a TV remote are over.
From digital televisions to voice-controlled environmental systems, many of the cutting edge innovations highlighted at the annual Consumer Electronics Show this week are designed to raise sofa surfing to a new level of high-tech activity.
Satellite, digital, and now interactive television and the Internet, have "changed leisure habits irrevocably," Sony Corp. of America CEO Howard Stringer said at the trade show Thursday.
A typical American, without getting up, can now visit the bank, do their shopping, buy stamps, turn off the lights, turn up the heat, activate the alarm and of course, take a nap.
One product at the show goes right in the cushions.
Thomas Clark Fenner of Littleton, Colo., came to Las Vegas this week to show off his tactile sound devices, flying saucer shaped transducers that "make your couch come alive," said Fenner.
Sitting on a sofa with the so-called contact audio under the pillows, viewers feel the sound pulse through their body. Selling for between $299 and $699 each, the transducers "put you right in the movie without blowing your ears out," explained Fenner.
For those who start to feel a bit lazy or antisocial, Electric Communities from Cupertino, Calif., offers visual chat rooms over the Internet that emulate a physical environment--including the gym.
"It's like you can go out without having to get off the couch," said Mark Jeffrey, vice president of thepalace.com, the software the provides a virtual place for thousands of people to visit each day.
Using Electric Communities, people log on to the Internet, create a picture they want to represent themselves with on a screen and type messages back and forth to each other.
"It's fun, and you meet cool people this way," said Jeffrey, sinking back into love seat.
The U.S. Postal Service is getting into the living room as well.
"You can do everything through your Internet connected television: buy stamps, apply for a passport, check zip codes," said Danny Lopez, a Postal Service marketing specialist from Dallas.
"Well," said Lopez. "You still have to take the mail out. But we'll pick it up right outside your house."
The infrastructure beneath the high-tech living room is now being built into new homes.
"The end goal is having somebody sitting there, your typical couch potato, and they'll control the stereo, the television, the heater, the air conditioner, the lighting, the intercom, just everything," said Allan Bernstein, a sales manager whose Esoteric Audio USA provides the cables that tie everything together.
All of these technological breakthroughs come as great news to John Cahill, charter member of the Retired and Loving It Fat Boys Breakfast Club in Henderson, Nevada.
Blinking twice at a glittering display of digital televisions on Thursday, Cahill patted his belly and smiled.
"You can be a lot more active on your couch these days," he said. "It used to be that I would just sit and watch television. Now I'm sitting there watching television, taking a college course over the Internet, talking on the phone, you know, multi-tasking."