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Coming to Your TV Screen: `Video on Demand'

GET ready for the new buzzwords: ``Video on demand.'' When there's nothing good on the tube, just dial up your local video library, choose numbers from a menu, and have your favorite movie in seconds. Teachers can spontaneously tailor individualized courses from distant databanks, and businesses can transmit audio-video materials at low cost.

Using digital, time-compression technology, program tapes can be transformed into information that is sent over cable, satellite, fiber-optic, or high-capacity, standard telephone lines.

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Prototypes of two complementary products, the Instant Video Transceiver (IVT) and Instant Video Receiver (IVR) were demonstrated at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev. Though not yet on the consumer market, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based developer Explore Technologies is refining current applications for business clients.

``Video on demand will be the thing tantalizing consumers, educators, businesses as we move down the road,'' says Scott Pool, director of strategic assessment for Southwestern Bell. ``Besides the obvious use of entertainment, applications will abound across education and commerce.''

For now, an IVR connected to high-capacity transmission lines can receive a two-hour motion picture in 15 seconds. Over fiber-optic lines, the time is an almost instantaneous, 2 to 3 seconds. Once received, the program is stored in the memory of the receiving unit. The system has already won a United States patent.

``This is a win-win technology that serves not only the consumer but any industry that deals with video,'' says company founder and president Richard Lang.

Beyond consumer use, the technology has the capacity to revolutionize the transmission and reception of programming for broadcast and cable operators. In addition to the savings of time compression, the information can be stored in far less space, with greater ease of retrieval.

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