Fast forward: seven multimedia power tools. (multimedia utility software) (Multimedia PC) (Column) (Buyers Guide)
by David English
You've probably heard the cliche. To get the job done right, you need the right tool. The same principle applies to multimedia. As multimedia becomes a larger part of our everday computing, software developers are creating new and more useful multimedia utilities. Here are seven utility packages that should be a part of everyone's multimedia toolkit.
The first one might surprise you. It's SMARTDrive, which comes free with both DOS and Windows. The latest version, available with DOS 6.2, finally caches CD-ROM drives, and it does it using much less memory than the third-party cache programs I've tried. In fact, if you've already upgraded to DOS 6.2, you may be caching your CD-ROM drive without even knowing it--the DOS 6.2 installation program automatically adds your CD-ROM drive to the list of cached drives.
Next up is CD Power Pak (Core Systems, 800-772-6735, $99). It includes software that caches CD-ROM drives, a program that lets you play your audio CDs from your CD-ROM drive, a WAV file editor that lets you edit your sound files, a systems browser that helps you troubleshoot your Windows system configuration, a graphics file manager, and a wallpaper flipper that changes your Windows wallpaper each time you start Windows. In addition, you get a pair of Koss headphones, a CD-ROM with over an hour of music clips and sound effects, and a sampler Photo CD. It's quite a package for the money and a great add-on it you're about to purchase a CD-ROM drive.
Meridian Visual CD (Meridian Data, 800-767-2537, $69.95) is yet another CD-ROM utility than can make your computing life a bit easier. It not only catalogs your CD-ROMs and audio CDs but actually senses when you put a CD in your drive and knows which disc you've inserted. Visual CD works especially well with Photo CDs (the program automatically creates thumbnail pictures that reappear each time you insert the disc) and audio CDs (the first time, you have to tell the program the titles of the disc and individual tracks; after that, it's automatic). The program's treatment of ordinary CD-ROMs is less impressive, but if you work a lot with Photo CDs or regularly use your CD-ROM drive to play audio CDs, Visual CD could become the most popular program on your desktop.
I've tried most of the memory managers, including QEMM386, 386MAX, and DOS's own EMM386, but nothing gives me more working memory than Netroom 3 (Helix, 718-392-3100, $99). Almost anyone with a sound card and CD-ROM drive can user more conventional memory, but if you're running both and you're on a network, you may find yourself with 520K or less to run your applications. Netroom 3 provides a number of strategies--some conservative and some quite aggressive--that will help you maximize your system's memory. The bottom line: With all the other memory managers, I can't run my multimedia stuff and the network drivers; with Netroom 3, I can have it all.
Microsoft (800-426-9400) ships its new Windows Sound System 2.0 two ways: with a sound card ($219) and without ($79). The version witout the sound card is a terrific addition for any sound card that doesn't already have speech recognition software. The package includes Voice Pilot, which lets you voice-activate Windows menu commands and create voice command macros, and Quick Recorder, which lets you record voice and music using two powerful compression schemes (True-Speech and ADPCM). You also receive a sleek microphone especially designed for speech recognition and a generous selection of useful sound files and utilities.
Finally, iff you like to play around with sound and video, you'll love MCS SoundTrak (Animotion Development, 205-591-5715, $79.95) and 3D-IT (Electronic Imagery, 305-968-7100, $99.95). Both seem much closer to magic than multimedia utilities. MCS SoundTrak lets you add QSound to your WAV-format sound files. QSound is a revolutionary technology that adds a three-dimensional quality to sounds; you can even place individual sounds in precise positions across a full 180 degrees. 3D-IT turns ordinary Video for Windows (AVI) files into 3-D movies--the kind that require funny glasses with one red lens and one blue lens. And unlike x-ray specs, this thing really works.