We're off to see the wizard. (Microsoft's presentation at Spring COMDEX) (Special Anniversary Issue)
by David English
They call it Hot 'Lanta. It's the home of Ted Turner, a movie theater that only runs Gone with the Wind, and Spring COMDEX, the massive computer trade show. In past years, COMDEX has been a hardware show, but this year the organizers added WINDOWS WORLD, a Windows show-with-in-a-show. Guess, where the biggest crowds were. That's right- most of the attendees spent most of their time checking out the latest offerings in Windows programs.
Within WINDOWS WORLD, you could find a section devoted to Windows-based multimedia products (sort of a show-within-a-show-within-a-show). Microsoft was touting the imminent release of Microsoft Windows graphical environment 3.0 + Multimedia Extensions 1.0. That's the official name for that Microsoft used to call Multimedia Windows. It's a name only a lawyer could love and jornalists and computer users will quickly come to hate. According to Microsoft, the official informal name is Windows with Multimedia.
Whatever you call it, it should be available by the time you read this, either in the form of new PCs (officially called Multimedia PCs) or upgrade kits (called, oddly enough, Upgrade Kits). If you choose the upgrade path, you'll generally get the Windows multimedia extensions, a CD-ROM player, and a sound card.
Not surprisingly, the two biggest PC manufacturers were busy showing off their soon-to-be-released Multimedia PCs and Upgrade Kits. IBM is offering two Upgrade Kits that can transform a PS/2 into either a Training System or an Information Delivery System (more product names for lawyers). A Training System is a 386-based PS/2 that includes a VGA monitor, a laser disc player, and IBM's M-Motion sound card, as well as support for touch input. An Information Delivery System is a 286-based PS/2 with VGA graphics, a CD-ROM, and an 8-bit sound card.
Tandy, the other big PC manufacturer, announced three Multimedia PCs - 1 16-MHz 80286, a 20-MHz 80386SX, and a 16-MHz 80386DX. All three include an internal CD-ROM drive, Tandy's multimedia sound board (with full MIDI support and Sound Blaster compatibility), and a VGA Plus Video card and monitor (for a resolution of 640 x 480 with 256 colors). Tandy's Upgrade Kits include Windows with Multimedia, a CD-ROM drive, and Tandy's multimedia sound board. The kits sell for $799.95 (with an internal CD-ROM drive) and $899.95 (with an external CD-ROM drive). By the way, Tandy's new internal CD-ROM drive is a real bargain at $399.95, and it fully meets the Microsoft multimedia specifications.
Turtle Beach Systems showed its new 16-bit sound card, called MultiSound, which provides CD-quality sound for $995. With a top-selling Proteus synthesizer built into the card, this represents a truly significant price breakthrough for adding professional-quality sound to Windows applications.
In software, Passport Designs announced that its latest version of Master Tracks Pro ($395.00) supports Windows with Multimedia. It's currently the top Windows-based MIDI-sequencer program, but expect one of the major Macintosh MIDI-software developers to announce a competing Windows product real soon now. Brown-Waugh showed its new Cyber Animator ($199.95), a low-cost Autodesk Animator competitor that can read Animator FLI files. You can have individual animation frames trigger sound effects that play through a Sound Blaster.
Asymetrix demonstrated a faster version of ToolBook (version 1.5, $395). It displays objects on the screen 30-40 percent faster than before. A special multimedia version of ToolBook should be available by the time you read this. And U-Lead wowed the crowd with its new PhotoStyler ($795), a slick new image-processing program that's similar to Adobe Photoshop and ColorStudio on the Macintosh. It's the first serious 24-bit-color photo-editing program for the PC. More are on the way.
The rest of the new multimedia hardware and software will have to wait for future columns. Spring COMDEX proved that multimedia isn't all smoke and mirrors. These are real products that can turn frustrated nonprogrammers (or tinkering weekend programmers) into professional-level multimedia wizards.