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ONLINE DOCUMENT: INTERNET FIRM OFFERS TWIST ON HOMESTEADING

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Opportunities in cyberspace have been compared with the Gold Rush days of the Old West. If that's true, now there's a way to stake a claim on your own hunk of cyberspace - to build a virtual house in a virtual community.

San Francisco-based Worlds Inc. has created a virtual community, a computer-generated world accessible on the Internet's World Wide Web, where online users can own a plot of virtual ground and build a virtual house with computer tools furnished by Worlds.There's no charge to use the virtual community - called AlphaWorld - and once you've enrolled you can visit virtual neighbors and have real-time chats using your computer keyboard. Other users are shown as avatars - cartoonlike characters that can move about the world and enter other homes there.

The virtual community is still in beta testing, one of the reasons why you won't pay to enroll. The software and complete directions for reaching AlphaWorld are available on the Web at http://www.worlds.net.

To use the service you'll need a direct Internet account and an IBM-compatible PC that has a 80486DX/33 megahertz chip or faster.

You will find some advertising on AlphaWorld - that helps pay the bills. Sony pictures is promoting its movie "Jumanji," and PC magazine also has some promotional material there.

More-realistic sound

Unless you're an audiophile, you might think that the best way to listen to music is with speakers pointed directly toward you. But direct sound isn't as realistic, since - in the real world - sound bounces around and comes to you in a less direct path.

Some new speakers that are designed to provide a less direct and more diffuse sound are the PSB Ambient I and Ambient II. Each enclosure houses twin speaker systems that are mounted back-to-back to create the diffuse sound.

That characteristic makes these speakers a good choice for use as rear channel speakers in home theater systems.

The Ambient I handles 75 watts of power on each channel and has an 81/2-inch-by-83/4-inch enclosure. It sells for $349 a pair. The Ambient II handl es 80 watts per channel and has a 11-inch-by-11-inch enclosure and sells for $449 a pair.

Panasonic enters DBS market

Panasonic has entered the booming market for direct broadcast satellite receivers and plans to introduce two models this summer.

Panasonic's system uses the 18-inch satellite dishes that were introduced with the RCA system. The Panasonic models will offer on-screen channel listings, a remote control capable of controlling most consumer electronic devices and built-in controls for the new digital video disc players that are expected to hit the market later this year.

The entry level TZ- DSS10 is designed to be connected to a single TV and will sell for about $650. The TZ-DBS20 can be connected to multiple TVs that can be tuned to different channels and will sell for about $750.

Smaller digital camcorder

RCA will introduce a digital camcorder small enough to fit in a purse and that weighs less than a pound, yet produces pictures that should be sharper than current Super VHS or Hi-Band 8mm camcorders.

The $2,595 device is expected to be on shelves this spring. It is about half the size of a paperback book. Since it will store video digitally, picture quality should be dramatically better than nondigital camcorders.

It will store video on a miniature cassette that is about the size of a matchbox but offers up to 60 minutes of recording time. The camera will have a 10x zoom lens and operate in poor lighting conditions (down to 1 lux).

The camcorder also will have a built-in digital image stabilizer. The stabilizer is designed to electronically reduce unintended camera shaking and moving.

The camera will be powered by a lithium battery that is only slightly larger than a standard AA cell.

Bigger picture tube

Most video enthusiasts believe that big-screen sets designed to be viewed directly from the picture tube, instead of a projected picture, are clearer.

However, big tubes are difficult to build, and expensive. RCA plans to unveil the industry's first TV with a 36-inch picture tube later this year. The company still isn't talking price but says that the tube - to be used in its ProScan line of color TVs - will offer the sort of clarity needed to take advantage of digital TV.

The tubes are being made at RCA's high-tech Advanced Tube Manufacturing facility in Marion, Ind.