- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — High tech is marching into the toy box.

A miniature Batmobile revs its engine in sync with an animated version on TV, and a furry cat sings along with a digital video disc or tape.

Toy companies, hoping to compete with video and computer games, are marketing toys that interact with what children are watching on TV. But unlike some high-tech toys of the past that were too difficult to operate, manufacturers say, the latest versions are easy to use.

“Toy makers have been able to put more technology into the toy, and still enhance the play factor,” said Tom Conley, president of the Toy Industry Association. He estimates that 70 percent of the new toys introduced at this week’s American International Toy Fair, the industry product expo, will have some sort of microchip.

One of the latest technologies in toys, licensed by Mattel and Hasbro, is called Video Encoded Invisible Light, or VEIL, created by Veil Interactive Technologies. VEIL is a process that alters the light levels of an image on TV. Humans can’t detect it, but a photosensor on the toy picks up the signal, which then prompts the toy to react in a certain way.

Scott Miller, vice president of business development at VEIL, said many toy companies were interested in adopting the technology, but the company was careful to launch it with what it considered “the best properties.”

Mattel is using the VEIL technology initially in three of its Batman toys, but Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Eckert expects the company to use it in other toys as well.

Some of the high-tech toys sold in recent years, such as robotic dogs and other animals, were too complex for children. Mr. Eckert said this generation of toys is easier to use.

“You can take technology too far and it actually turns kids off,” he said.

Some critics fear these toys will interfere with children’s play, limit their creativity and get them hooked to TV for longer periods of time.

“Instead of watching the television, they are now watching the doll watch the TV. When these kids watch a show, they don’t want to be disturbed,” said Stephanie Oppenheim, co-editor of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, an independent guide to toys and other media.

“I’ll be very interested to see how these toys do,” she said.

Miss Oppenheim also said children like to use their imaginations, even when watching TV, and she believes some of these new toys dictate “directed dramatic play.”

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