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Director's cut

National | A new way to edit home movies, a new college expense, and other technology news

Issue: "Mad Dash," Dec. 16, 2000

Everyone's an editor
Ready for a digital video camera? They make it easier to record, edit, and broadcast homemade movies that can be sent over the Net. They aren't cheap, but they're coming down in price-from $4,500 or more to $700-$1,000. By plugging into a computer with some editing software, users can edit in ways once available only to TV stations and videographers. You can stream your wedding over the Net or send clips of baby's first words. Sound editing has been a cinch for several years-even though diehards still take razor blades to reel-to-reel tape-and video is catching up. The definition isn't always clear and the picture sometimes jerks, but hey, it works. Paul Worthington of Future Image Inc., a digital-imaging research-consulting firm in San Mateo, says that this technology can help people turn archives of home movies into condensed classics for repeat viewing. "Those who bought a camcorder five years ago and didn't have the capability to edit the footage ended up putting the (analog) device in the closet-you were not going to watch your own holiday videos let alone make other people sit and watch," he said. "But now, they can make something they can be happy with." Those who want to send video through cyberspace, but don't have $1,000 lying around, can try the so-called digital PC cameras. These are inexpensive, stationary devices that are usually mounted atop a monitor. InfoTrends Research Group expects consumers to snap up as many as 7 million of these low-end cameras, with prices falling to as low as $50. The quality isn't high, but it's an inexpensive way to send your face around the world. Mandatory laptops
Students entering some colleges today have an extra expense on top of tuition and books: a laptop computer. Having one has been a good idea for a decade, but colleges are starting to make them mandatory. According to the University of Illinois' Daily Illini, almost 30 colleges and universities in the United States now require students to own computers, including the University of Florida, Ohio University, and the University of North Carolina, which began requiring laptops this year under its Carolina Computing Initiative. (Grove City College takes a different path: It gives students a laptop and builds the cost into its tuition price.) "Professors are more likely to design learning opportunities using computers when they know access is no longer a problem for students," explains the UNC administration on a website about the policy. UNC offers financial aid to students who can't afford laptops. The downside, of course, is that laptops are expensive. Why not a standard desktop machine back at the dorm, with a simple handheld device for portability? That combo can run about half the price of a good laptop. The only reason a laptop might be necessary is if a teacher passes out a test or in-class assignment on disk. But mandatory computers help colleges to cut their costs. If every student has a computer, schools can downsize their expensive computer labs. PC woes
Is the personal computer old hat? Manufacturers say sluggish domestic demand may mean lower profits, and handheld computers, digital cameras, and assorted other gadgets are stealing the spotlight now. Market-research firm PC Data reports sales of desktop computers fell 10 percent in October, compared with the same month a year earlier. That follows three months of slow or no growth. This is a sign of a slowing economy, right? Not necessarily. Sales of digital cameras rose 30 percent in October; sales of flat-panel monitors jumped 150 percent; and sales of handhelds more than doubled. "About 60 percent of homes have a PC and many of those have a second PC," said Martin Reynolds, an analyst at the Gartner Group. A big problem for Gateway, Micron, Hewlett-Packard, and others is that many people have already bought their first computers for Internet access. For many people, that first machine was a significant investment and replacements won't come soon. Another issue is that recent computers don't need upgrading. People who bought their machines since the Windows '98 introduction (and many earlier models) run essentially the same software as the latest machines. A new PC may be necessary for games, software compiling, and multimedia production-but most users do fine with what they have. New innovations will require faster, more powerful PCs, but many users believe that existing products are fine and don't need upgrades. Word processors, spreadsheets, and Web browsers don't get much better with new features.

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