- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Here's a look at some hardware and software that's available to try:
MTV SMVG-600 by the Singing Machine, stand-alone unit, $99.99. The 30-year-old tradition of karaoke (loosely translated from Japanese to mean "empty orchestra") once was reserved for turning bar patrons into singing superstars. Thanks to the continued refinement of technology, the karaoke concept has been transferred comfortably into home settings so families and teenagers can spend a Saturday evening performing songs for one another.
Just one of the products available further enhances the enjoyment of karaoke by providing a way to permanently capture performances on videotape. The multifunctional unit the size of a miniboombox contains a 5.5.-inch black-and-white monitor for viewing lyrics or the singer, a color mini video camera and a CDG (compact disc plus graphics) player and comes with a unidirectional microphone and a 10-foot cord.
For those unfamiliar with the CDG revolution, the 4 3/4-inch discs burst forth in the mid-1990s to offer a regular audio track synchronized with simple information stored on a data track. With CDG, listeners can hear a song while seeing lyrics that change color (or have bouncing balls) as they are to be sung. The CDG has become the most popular way to take part in karaoke, and discs cost around $10 for four songs. Titles range from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to Bette Midler's "The Rose."
With the SMVG 600, crooners simply hook the unit into their tape-loaded VCR (patch cords are provided), pop in the CDG sampler, throw a little echo on the vocal cords and follow the words scrolling across the monitor while either getting help from a vocal track or going solo and watching themselves on their television.
The unit works perfectly, but the $99 price point may limit budding superstars. The video was extremely grainy, but the sound really impressed. Also, there is no way to control the key in which the songs are played, so the tunes may be out of some singers' range.
Anyone older than 30 will need to go out and immediately purchase additional discs. I have a pretty good tolerance for today's music scene, but the sampler provided with the unit offers the likes of "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child, "Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears and "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down. I had no interest in any of those selections. How about throwing in a Beatles or Dean Martin tune next time for the old fogies?

E-Reader by Nintendo, peripheral for Game Boy Advance, $39.95. Another day, another use for the trading card. The home of Mario and Pokemon has devised a way to reuse some old titles and add a bit of collectibilty to its pixilated entertainment universe with a device that translates encoded paper into a gaming experience.
Players will need Nintendo's popular hand-held entertainment console, the Game Boy Advance ($69.99), the E-Reader and a pack of cards (less than $5) to enjoy this mixed-media adventure.
By attaching the reader through the Game Boy's cartridge slot, players can slowly scan cards that contain optical data, such as sound, images and text. Created by Olympus Optical, this advanced bar-code technology reads 2.2 kilobytes of information from the long side of a card and 1.4 kilobytes from the shorter side. In addition, the device has 1 megabit of Flash ROM on board to store an entire game, which can sometimes involve scanning several cards into the reader per instructions from a voice prompt.
Once the data is captured, the Game Boy is used to play the game. Some games offer a more elaborate possibility playing classic 1980s hits such as Donkey Kong Jr. or Excitebike on Nintendo's GameCube console by connecting the Game Boy (with the E-Reader) to the console and enhancing a game or further extending the value of a set of collectible trading cards by adding minichallenges, tips or character secrets.
In fact, the maker of the Pokemon card-based game Wizards of the Coast has put together a 165-card expansion set titled Expeditions. Each card has E-Reader capabilities. (A nine-card pack sells for about $4). For example, using cards 51, 85 and 117, the player can access the history and evolution of the Machop Pokemon species, and when they are scanned together, it leads to a rock-crushing mini video game.
Owners of the E-Reader get two sample packs of cards one containing a full multicard game (Donkey Kong Jr. or Pinball) and the other featuring three Pokemon Expedition cards, the classic Game & Watch Manhole challenge and a card to embellish the GameCube's current hit, Animal Crossing.
Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC, 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski

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