Selling the sizzle. (Multimedia PC) (Column)
by David English
The date: October 8, 1991. The place: the Hall of Meteorities at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This was it, folks--the day that multimedia officially came to the PC. Now that multimedia has arrived, what does it mean for the average consumer? Will historians look back on this event as the official wedding of television and computer technologies? Or will multimedia be just another niche market for people with money to burn? Maybe I'm biased, but I think we're onto something big here.
It was hard not to be impressed. The first speaker was James Burke, best known for his two rapid-fire history-of-technology series on PBS, "Connections" and "The Day the Universe Changed." With Burke comparing multimedia to Gutenberg, Martin Luther, and the American Revolution, you couldn't help but feel you were witnessing a real-life day the universe changed.
Microsoft's Bill Gates followed Burke with a more down-to-earth view. He was clearly delighted with the 60 titles on display--though most of the titles weren't quite ready to ship. (The official name for a multimedia software product is title, not program or application.) Gates also demonstrated how you'll be able to paste a sound from a multimedia application into a Word for Windows document. An icon is placed on the page, and the reader can click on the icon to play back the accompanying sound.
So what kind of titles can you expect to buy for your new Multimedia PC? Broderbund showed Just Grandma and Me, the first installment in the new Living Books series. It's similar to The Playroom, but it's structured more like a traditional book. As you would expect, it includes full digitized voices and some very clever animation. The Voyager Company demonstrated a similar title, Amanda Stories, which was more free-form in it organization and more whimsical in its content. In the same vein, Sierra On-Line showed the multimedia version of its award-winning Mixed-Up Mother Goose. All three titles will have young children begging in the aisles for a Multimedia PC.
For those who prefer to create their own multimedia presentations and applications, AimTech has IconAuthor, a high-end authoring program that lets you mix graphics, text, sound, animation, and video into a seamless whole. From Autodesk you can buy Autodesk Animator, Autodesk Animation Player for Windows, and a large selection of clips (mostly animation with some digitized audio and MIDI clips). It's all on one CD-ROM, and it's called Autodesk Multimedia Explorer. Midisoft is offering Midisoft Studio for Windows, a powerful MIDI recording/editing program that can display standard music notation as you play.
Other notable new titles include Microsoft's Multimedia Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony, which contains the full audio recording of the symphony, as well as the orchestral score and a detailed analysis by UCLA music professor Robert Winter; InterOptica's Great Cities of the World, Volume 1, which takes you on a multimedia tour of ten international cites; Metatec's Nautilus, the first subscription-based multimedia service available on CD-ROM; and HyperGlot's Learn to Speak Spanish, with 30 interactive lessons featuring the digitized voices of native Spanish speakers.
In addition, software companies have converted many of today's top programs to multimedia, including Britannica Software's Compton's MultiMedia Encyclopedia for Windows and Guinness MultiMedia Disc of Records 1991, Interplay's Battle Chess and Dvorak on Typing, Sierra's Jones in the Fast Lane and King's Quest V, Access Software's Links, the Software Toolworks' World Atlas and Chessmaster 3000, Passport Design's Master Tracks Pro and Encore, and Microsoft's Works for Windows and Bookshelf for Windows.
Of the software developers I talked to who are converting their programs to CD-ROM, most plan to offer their CD-ROM versions for less money than their disk-based versions. Expect to see $59,95 programs available for as little as $39.95 on CD-ROM. (Not only is it cheaper to supply software on CD-ROM, but it virtually eliminates the problem of illegal copying.) If the software companies can get enough titles out there at rock-bottom prices, multimedia could really take off. Fortunately, we're off to a great start.