The mood at the 12th Video Software Dealers Assn. confab, on through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is decidedly upbeat.

Despite all the hoopla proclaiming the death of the video store as the emerging technologies of video-on-demand and the 500-channel TV highway rear their electronic heads, most video retailers believe their immediate fate is not sealed. The impact of these advances is too far away to calculate, they believe, and the technology is both too experimental and too expensive for the average consumer.

Many acknowledged they were attending this year’s confab primarily to get the scoop on how technological breakthroughs such as CD-ROM, CDI and 3DO will affect their business. The high curiosity factor could explain why attendance at this year’s gathering is running 10% ahead of last year.

With hardware at $ 700 and up, many retailers feel the media has made much ado about nothing.

“Our Genesis CD-ROM didn’t sell. So now we’re renting them,” said Shirley Sweeny, whose Maryland store has carried the new format with disappointing results.

In other convention developments, companies offering systems that allow customers to perform their own transactions are on the rise, while there has been a noticeable thinning of the ranks among adult-video suppliers.

Paramount Pictures Home Video announced street dates for “Scent of a Woman” (July 28), “Mad Dog and Glory” (Aug. 18) and “CB4″ (Sept. 1). A sell-through package of “Cheers” episodes also will be released.

Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” will be launched with a $ 16 million marketing campaign, utilizing tie-ins with American Airlines and Quaker Oats. An “Alien” trilogy designed for sell-through will highlight their slate.

The debate over rental vs. sell-through will again heat up, with wags and proponents almost evenly split. While sell-through revenues are experiencing double-digit gains annually, rental receipts are mostly flat. Many marketers are pegging the continued success of sell-through on the availability of low-cost titles.

And the debate over sell vs. rental will extend this year to the interactive media, with cynics predicting few consumers and retailers will embrace the expensive new technology without an opportunity to check it out firsthand.

The VSDA believes its member stores will play an important role in launching interactive technology, since they have the time to explain the technology to customers. These stores are set up to rent the software and hardware, much as VCRs were rented in the early days of homevideo.

Manufacturers attribute disappointing sales of the new format by the larger home electronics chains to consumers’ inability to rent the products. “People want to test-drive it,” says Don Rosenberg, exec VP of VSDA. “You aren’t going to sell a $ 700 piece of equipment through a chain store like Circuit City or Silo. They don’t introduce products, they sell them.”

Laser disc continues to make strides toward increased market share, thanks in part to blockbuster titles released on the format. Pioneer LDCA will put out a collector’s version of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” featuring THX sound enhancements, marking the company’s first title to use the system.

The seminar “How Hollywood Views the Next Generation of Home Entertainment” and the presentation by comedian Steve Martin officially open the gathering today.

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