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Videotaping: The Three-Step Program

A new system simplifies videotaping

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So you’ve had a VCR for a decade and still can’t program the thing? Despair not: Two new gadgets at your local electronics store may be your best chance yet for taping All My Children while you’re at the office.

Known as on-screen channel guides, these devices show up to a week of program information on your television screen. Push a button on the remote control, and up pops a grid display of what’s on your broadcast and cable channels. Push again, and the guides deliver capsule program descriptions — like ”Lisa is livid about talking doll” for a syndicated rerun of The Simpsons. Best of all, once you select a show you want to record, push another button and it’s as good as done — no need to fiddle with the VCR’s clock.

VideoGuide and StarSight, the systems that enable you to do all this, are being sold nationwide as $100 boxes that plug into your TV set; StarSight technology is also built into some Zenith and Mitsubishi TVs as well as some Gold Star, Samsung, Sony, and Magnavox VCRs. To use either system, you’ll need to subscribe to their program-information services. The first year’s subscription to VideoGuide costs $49.99, while StarSight costs $61.99. (Rates are lower for a two-year subscription.)

VideoGuide wins on sheer volume of information, supplying such plot summaries as ”Martin (Martin Lawrence) fears for his job when Sheneneh (Martin Lawrence) wins a date with his celebrity guest (Christopher ”Kid” Reid).” ”Sheneneh wins a dream date,” StarSight tells you. Nor does StarSight offer news and sports updates, which VideoGuide supplies for an extra $25 a year for each. For crazed channel grazers, however, StarSight has the edge. While you stay tuned to any show, it lets you flip through a text display at the bottom of the screen to find out what else is on; there’s no need to switch until you spot something that grabs you.

StarSight also groups shows by several genres. That led this Comedy Channel-deprived writer to learn, while browsing the comedy listing, that a local station airs one-hour installments of Mystery Science Theater 3000 once a week. Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live was nowhere to be found in comedy. How’s that for a perceptive channel guide? —George Mannes