Tripping the light fantastic. (new products at the CD-ROM conference) (Column)
by David English
Where's the best place to learn what's hot and what's not in multimedia? The seventh annual CD-ROM conference (now called The International Conference & Exposition on Multimedia and CD-ROM). Over the past seven years, many of the major CD-ROM announcements have been made at this event. It's also a great place to tap into emerging technologies, such as realtime video compression, home delivery of multimedia using fiberoptic cables, and commercial applications for virtual reality.
Even though MPC is clearly the fastest-growing CD-ROM format, the conference provided equal time to the alphabet soup of competing platforms, including Mac CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, CDTV, Photo CD, and UNIX CD-ROM. The wide scope of today's multimedia was reflected by the eclectic mix of attendees. They included traditional information publishers, such as Compton's, Grolier, and World Book; traditional hardware manufacturers, such as Altec Lansing, Panasonic, and Sony; and traditional computer-based consumer companies, such as Broderbund, Access, and Creative Labs. The products reflected a similar divergence, including everything from a new $199 parallel-port audio card (the Audioport from Media Vision) to $50,000 video-editing systems.
Which were the most interesting new multimedia products? In addition to the Audioport, Media Vision announced its new 16-bit multimedia sound card, the Pro AudioSpectrum 16 (Media Vision, 47221 Fremont Boulevard, Fremont, California 94538; 800-348-7116; $349). This card has true 16-bit audio for CD-quality sound. The Pro AudioSpectrum 16 also uses the new Yamaha OPL-3 chip for high-quality synthesized sounds and has full compatibility with the Ad Lib, Sound Blaster, Windows 3.1, and MPC sound standards.
Grolier announced its New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Grolier Electronic Publishing, Sherman Turnpike, Danbury, Connecticut 06816; 203-797-3500; $395). It contains all 21 volumes of the Academic American Encyclopedia, plus high-quality maps, color photographs, illustrations, sounds, video, and animation--all on a single CD-ROM.
The marooned-on-a-desert-isle-and-can-choose-only-one-CD-ROM award would have to go to Library of the Future Series Second Edition (World Library, 12914 Haster Street, Garden Grove, California 92640; 714-748-7198; $399). It's a first-rate selection of 500 great works of literature, religion, science, and government. A close second for the same award would be the upcoming Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition) on Compact Disc (Oxford University Press, 200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016; 212-679-7300; $895). With over 2,400,000 illustrative quotations and a powerful search engine, it's the perfect gift for any PC-savvy word lover.
Speaking of massive amounts of information in compact form, Sony displayed a prototype of its new portable CD-ROM XA player. Somewhat larger than the diminutive Discman (this one's seven inches wide, two inches high, and six inches deep), it plays standard XA discs that have been altered to accommodate the smaller screen (320 x 200 pixels).
Interested in creating your own CD-ROMs? You can with Philips's new CDD 521 CompactDisc Recorder (Philips Consumer Electronics Company, One Philips Drive, Knoxville, Tennessee 37914; 800-722-6224; $5,995). Not only can it record standard CD-ROMs, but it can also write in XA, Photo CD, CD-I, and CD-audio formats. If $6,000 sounds like a lot, consider that this model sells for one-third the price of previous units. At this rate, you'll be able to afford your own CD-ROM recorder in just two or three years.
IBM was also making a strong pitch for the high-end multimedia buyer. The company has turned its Ultimedia computer into yet another CD-ROM platform. In effect, it's a higher-level MPC, with a minimum IBM 386 SLC processor, 4MB of RAM, CD-ROM XA drive, 2.88MB 3 1/2 floppy, XGA graphics, and 16-bit audio card. According to IBM, it can also run your MPC titles. As you can imagine, this is no home computer. Expect to pay $4,500-$10,000. On the other hand, once you've seen multimedia CD-ROMs designed specifically for this platform (including such eye-popping titles as Columbus: Encounter, Discovery, and Beyond), you can see why the future of multimedia will include a generous helping of wonder and excitement.