Multimedia Steals Data Show

TOKYO -- At first glance, it looks more like a giant television showroom.

But no, it is the Tokyo Data Show, and many of the new computers on display have built-in tuners that allow them to serve as television sets as well.

Even some of the new laptop computers have built-in stereo speakers, CD-ROM drives and video and television capabilities.

"The greater processing power in today's computers finally allows good quality video and audio," says IBM Japan's Seiichi Mochizuki. "And that's appealing to consumers, who are becoming an increasingly important market."

The annual four-day Data Show, which began Monday, is where Japan's computer makers display their models for the coming season, and this year the buzz word is clearly "multimedia."

With many of the new models, you can play CDs, edit sounds and photos, or watch a full-screen television picture. Or you can reduce the size of the image and keep an eye on a program in the corner of the screen while typing in a word-processing program or spreadsheet.

Most Japanese computer makers are exhibiting multimedia models, with prices ranging from about 200,000 yen ($2,000) to more than 400,000 yen depending on the equipment.

Most can store short portions of television broadcasts on their hard disks so they can be played back later or edited. But video requires large amounts of memory, and can quickly fill a hard disk.

In one answer to memory problems, Sony Corp. is displaying its first MD Data product, a portable storage device based on its audio MiniDisc technology.

MiniDiscs are 2 1/2-inch disks, similar to small CDs, that can record and play music. But the same technology can be used to store up to 140 megabytes of data per disk -- the equivalent of about 100 high-density floppy disks.

Sony's 340-gram MDH-10, the size of a Walkman portable tape player, will go on sale at the beginning of November for about 64,800 yen, the company said. Disks for storing data will cost about $20.

In a major marketing offensive, IBM Japan gathered 70 software companies at the show to demonstrate applications for its OS/2 operating system, which has just begun to catch on in Japan.

"This is an extremely important market for us, and it still has a lot of potential to grow," says Harumi Tahara, manager of OS/2 promotion for IBM Japan.

While Microsoft's MS-DOS is the dominant computer-operating system in most parts of the world, Japan's PC market has been splintered for years by incompatible systems. However, IBM-compatible computers have begun to gain popularity, and the market's shift toward new standards may give OS/2 a better chance here, Tahara said.

Taiwanese computer makers were also out in force. Twenty-five Taiwanese companies, up from 18 last year, were showing their wares, said Tsao-jen Wang of Taiwan's Far East Trade Service Center. "Sales have been climbing since the beginning of this year, thanks to the rising popularity of IBM-compatibles and the high yen," he said.

The high yen has made Japanese goods less competitive and has forced Japanese electronics companies to find cheaper overseas sources for both components and finished goods.