Sony Modifies Handycam; Too Revealing, Say Execs

In the comic books of the 1960s, "X-Ray Specs" were hot commodities in the back-page ads. The mail-order eyeware supposedly enabled users to see through walls, doors, and ordinary clothing---a compelling motivation for millions of adolescent males who saved their lunch money for weeks to buy them. In what was probably their first introduction to marketing hype, the disappointed boys discovered that the specs were a fraud.

However, devices that actually see through clothing are not hype, as Sony Corporation discovered to its embarrassment recently. Some models of the company's Handycam video cameras can apparently make clothing vanish when the infrared "night shoot" mode is used in daylight. In playback, lightweight clothing virtually disappears, as do swim suits.

Sony reportedly knew nothing about the camera's hidden ability until reports began to surface in various magazines. Company technicians verified the rumor. The feature was intended to allow people to engage in such wholesome pursuits as taping their sleeping children or recording the behavior of nocturnal animals. but it was soon discovered that it could be used for more prurient purposes.

The cameras have since been modified to prevent the use of "night shoot" unless it is actually dark. But at least 870,000 of the original cameras were sold worldwide before the glitch was discovered, with almost half the sales in North America. A Sony spokesman denied reports that his company had attempted to recall the cameras, which are likely to hold their value well. Undoubtedly, a good many Handycam owners were also buyers of X-Ray Specs.