In Japan, It's Dial A Tune On The Karaoke Line

Karaoke machines, which let aspiring lounge singers croon along with recorded music, have been popular in Japanese bars for years. But they require owners to maintain a costly collection of laser disks--a problem for which Brother Industries Ltd. in Japan thinks it has a solution.

In October, the company plans to launch Joy Sounds, the first karaoke computer network. Subscribers to the system will lease a special Brother karaoke machine that contains over 3,000 music titles as well as compressed still video images. When customers tire of that collection, bar owners can simply download the latest releases from one of the 300 computers scattered throughout Japan and connected to Brother's headquarters in Nagoya. The cost: about $20 for 20 new titles. While the setup can't handle full-motion videos the way most other karaoke machines can, Brother figures its up-to-date program listings will give it unique appeal.