Something Fishy About This Aquarium

A WELL-STOCKED AQUARIUM CAN BRING A CERTAIN CALM to any public setting--an office or hotel lobby, hospital, or restaurant. But who wants to bother buying the fish, feeding them, and periodically cleaning the tank? Fewer and fewer people, Japan's NEC Corp. is betting.

The company has just come out with Sakana Hakkei--meaning "eight views of fish"--a system that uses a video monitor and a laser-disk player to create a virtual aquarium. With its 32-inch high-definition monitor fitted behind a thin water tank--through which real air bubbles are flowing--the unit displays a 30-minute video loop of full-size fish. Initially two goldfish and three saltwater-fish disks will be available, but NEC plans within the year to extend its list to include more breeds. The system will rent for about $300 a month, with each video disk priced at about $800. NEC officials say they expect to install about 30,000 of the machines in the next three years. No word yet on the hush-hush virtual-cat project.

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