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8-mm video cameras on the way

Consumers already confused by the array of home video equipment available may take small comfort in the recent introduction of a videocassette recorder (VCR) in yet another form.

Kodak, the General Electric Video Products Division, and Polaroid have all announced they will be marketing 8-mm video cameras by year's end.

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Judy Ziegler of GE Video in Portsmouth, Va., says her company is now trying to ''de-confuse'' consumers, retailers, and videotape suppliers. Even before the 8-mm camera arrives on retailers' shelves, GE offered a plethora of products and options. A home ''tabletop'' recording deck and tuner retails for $400 to $1,000 , depending on features. A hand-held camera goes for up to $1,000; that includes a tuner to record programs from the television and a portable deck for home movies.

Those options are available in the familiar half-inch format used by Panasonic's VHS and Sony's Betamax. (GE's equipment is VHS compatible.)

Enter the 8-mm system: a one-piece camera with deck that weighs five pounds and fits into a tuner box. It's to retail for about $2,000. Its tapes offer a maximum recording time of 90 minutes. It requires a special adaptor for home recording.

''Its main advantage is its weight and its portability,'' said Judy Klein, the 8-mm Unicam's product manager. ''And it doesn't require a deck slung over the shoulder - it's part of the camera unit.''

''Our consumer research shows that it will occupy a small, specialized niche in the marketplace,'' Ms. Ziegler said. ''The person most likely to buy it is the person who does a lot of home video shooting, someone who wouldn't use the VCR much for recording TV shows or movies.''

''We're finding interest among people who already own half-inch VCRs; they're looking for a more convenient, flexible way of shooting video,'' Ms. Klein said.

Kodak, on the other hand, is reportedly looking for a change in market direction toward 8-mm video. The company as yet offers nothing for half-inch formats, which have been responsible for a rapid decline of market share for Kodak's own Super-8 film systems.

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Owen J. Gaffney of Polaroid points out his company's camera and recorder ''represents an extension of Polaroid's accomplishments in the design and manufacture of instant photographic systems.''

The vagaries of the estimated $6.3 billion home-video marketplace, however, probably mean nothing to consumers, many of whom are grappling with the whole concept.

''Many people still don't know what video is, or what we're talking about when we talk about videotape, as opposed to film, or what we mean when we talk about recording sound on the videotape,'' Ms. Ziegler says.

''We're just getting to the point that most people know someone who has a VCR ,'' says Ms. Klein. ''That's the consumer threshold; that's when we know the industry is taking off.''

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