Microsoft changes horses
Multimedia, rather than CD-ROM, was featured at the Sixth International Conference and Exposition on Multimedia and CD-ROM. The conference, sponsored by Microsoft, was highlighted by remarks from Bill Gates, President of Microsoft. He declared CD-ROM a big disappointment because it hadn't added enough value to information to compete effectively with print.
Miles Gilburne, a venture capitalist, echoed Gates' remarks and said that investors are not interested in CD-ROM. The market is not large enough. The potential must be hundreds-of-thousands of units. He urged tapping the expertise and capital in the entertainment industry.
Only Microsoft Bookshelf, the Electronic Encyclopedia, and Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia have sold more than 10,000 units each. Compton's already is a quasi-multimedia product in that it includes text, sound, and animated sequences; however, it lacks full motion video--an essential element in Gates' definition of multimedia.
"In order to have 'information at your fingertips,'" said Gates, "you must have a device which offers access to a broad range of information, including data, image, and sound. The best aspects of television and PCs must be brought together, not only to deliver more, but to overcome resistance by building on a technology that has much greater market penetration than the PC--television. That doesn't mean the screen has to be a television set; it just has to look like one."
Microsoft has formulated a "standard" for the multimedia PC. It consists of a 386-based PC with 2MB of RAM, a 30MB hard drive, enhanced audio, a CD-ROM drive, and Windows 3.0 with multimedia extensions (CD-ROM XA). Also crucial to multimedia is the use of compression techniques (using the MPEG standard) to get images into less than one percent of the space required for uncompressed data. (Without compression, one hour of motion video requires 81 Gbytes of storage--far too much for a single disc.)
Nine companies have committed to building and marketing devices which conform to the "standard," including heavy-weights such as, SONY, Commodore, JVC, Tandy, Kodak, IBM, and Fujitsu. The emphasis appears to be on the home market, with games and other entertainment the principal applications.
The thrust of SONY is exclusively entertainment, primarily games and movies Commodore's fifty 1991 titles will emphasize entertainment, with 17 games and a dozen children's stories. Tandy, Kodak, and IBM will stress hardware.
Microsoft has a slightly more elevated view of entertainment; it is teaming up with Voyager to do a multimedia product on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The $79.95 product will feature not only music but a video of the orchestral performance, a copy of the full score, and facts on Beethoven and his era. A Stravinsky disc is next. Microsoft is also redesigning its Bookshelf with illustrations and spoken pronunciation of words. The price will be $195. Fujitsu claims it will have 260 titles ready in 1991--all entertainment and business applications.
JVC is taking a broader view, considering multimedia as one market, with business, education, and consumer segments. Only Philips appears to be putting the business and education markets ahead of entertainment. They also consider WORM a viable alternative to CD-ROM as the storage medium.
Microsoft is repeating the conference in Frankfurt, Germany, this September 9-11, and hopes to get several additional vendors on the multimedia bandwagon before then.
Mammals: a multimedia encyclopedia
The most impressive multimedia product demonstrated at the Microsoft Conference was Mammals: A Multimedia Encyclopedia. The text contains the equivalent of the National Geographic Society's two-volume Book of Mammals. It covers over 200 different animals in twenty different orders. There are more than 700 full-screen color photographs, 150 range maps, vital statistics screens and fact boxes, essays equivalent to more than 600 pages of text, a glossary and an animal classification game. It also contains 155 animal vocalizations and 45 full-motion movie clips from the National Geographic Society's television specials.
The disc requires an IBM PC, XT, AT, PS/2, or compatible microcomputer with DOS versions 3.3 or higher, a VGA color monitor, a mouse, 640K RAM, and a CD-ROM drive with audio capability and Microsoft Extensions version 2.1 or higher. Users who don't have a mouse can also use the product, but the mouse makes the product easier to use. Mammals: A Multimedia Encyclopedia. requires no additional adapter cards and no set-up. It runs entirely off the CD-ROM disc. With Microsoft Extensions properly installed, the user switches to the CD-ROM drive, types "go," and the program loads.
The disc comes with no documentation--it was designed to be very easy to use, however. The disc includes all instructions in an audio track. The lower right corner of each screen has icons of a page with forward and backward arrows. Clicking on either of these will move for ward or backward to the next or preceding mammal in alphabetical order. Most of the icons appear under the mammal's picture. They include buttons to return to the main menu, to select another mammal by name.
The most striking feature of Mammals A Multimedia Encyclopedia is full motion video. It is that which makes the product truly multimedia. Clicking on the film icon will put a movie screen in the center of the monitor and display a clip from the National Geographic Society's videotape series, which has appeared on television. These clips range in duration from slightly more than half a minute to over a minute.
The ear icon produces animal vocalizations through the headphones or external speakers. There is a total of 50 minutes of audio, including a five minute introduction and a seven minute pronunciation guide. The remaining 38 minutes are devoted to animal vocalizations.
Mammals: A Multimedia Encyclopedia targets students in grades 4 through 12. Others, however, can also use it profitably.
At a price of $149.95, discounted to $99.00 for educators and educational institutions, this disc certainly aims at a mass market.
[Contact: National Geographic Society, Educational Media Division, 17th and M Streets, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036; (301) 921-1300 or (800) 368-2728; Fax (301) 921-1575. Also available from local authorized IBM dealers (part number 86F2558).]