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JUMBO TVS AMONG HOT YULE ITEMS

Santa Claus better make extra room in his sled this Christmas, because it's likely to be crammed full of jumbo televisions, satellite dishes and home theater set-ups.

Those are all expected to be hot items in the upcoming holiday season, according Jim Barry, a spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association. Barry, who was in Buffalo Monday to offer a glimpse into what's new and hot in the electronics category, said Americans have a big appetite for enhanced home entertainment.

"While the overall television market is rather stable, there's huge growth in sales of TVs that are 30 inches and larger," he said. "And with prices coming down on the big-screen TVs, a lot more people can afford to move up into that category."

With the big screen in place, a logical next step for a growing number of viewers is the satellite dish. While still a far cry away from cable television in terms of numbers -- 7 million households linked to the stars, compared to 70 million hooked to cable -- the satellite dish serves up a veritable smorgasbord of viewing options.

In addition to more channels, the space-based links provide a much better picture and the side benefit of digital music channels.

"If you're into sports and/or movies, you have to take a look at satellite dishes," Barry said. "In many cases, if you're subscribing to the more expensive cable options, your costs will be comparable to what you're paying for cable, but your choices will be much, much greater."

With the larger screen in place and the improved picture and viewing options of satellite, the next logical add-on is a home theater sound package. "One-box" packages, available from a number of manufacturers in the $500 range, should be hot-sellers this Christmas, according to Barry.

For cutting-edge electronics users, the buzz word continues to be "digital." In the past couple months, manufacturers have started to ship their newest products that use digital technology in everything from cameras to digital video discs (DVD) and disc players.

"If you look at the big picture of what's happening in the world of electronics, it's that more and more of the stuff you use is going digital," Barry said. One example is Panasonic's Palm Cam, which, as its name suggests, is a digital camera that literally fits in the palm of your hand. With a suggested price of $450, it's clearly not for the casual shutterbug, but it will catch the eye of individuals and small business people who do a lot of computer-based work.

"It's another link to the PC, to the Internet," Barry said. "It's a communication tool." The little camera is the first to employ a larger, camcorder-like viewing window.

Cordless telephones also will continue to be popular this holiday, according to Barry, with fourth-quarter sales helping to ring up about 20 million cordless phone sales for all of 1997.

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