50 great multimedia gift ideas. (Multimedia PC) (Buyers Guide) (Column)
by David English, Phillip Morgan, Lisa Young
It's been a great year for multimedia. Sound cards and CD-ROM drives are selling so fast that stores can't keep them on the shelves. Level 2 MPC upgrade kits (with 16-bit sound cards and double-speed CD-ROM drives) have pushed down the prices of Level 1 upgrade kits to less than $400. The trickle of CD-ROM software has turned into a flood of titles. In short, multimedia products are in demand, and they make great gifts.
While we've refrained from including the most expensive multimedia products, such as fully equipped multimedia PCs ($1,500 and up) and The Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM ($895), we've also refrained from cramming in lots of inexpensive but useless multimedia products. If you're not prepared for the sticker shock, you might pool your resources with friends or family members.
It'll be worth it--despite the expense. Imagine the delight on your loved one's face when that strange oblong package turns out to hold a pair of stylish multimedia speakers, or that tiny flat box--which was sure to be an audio CD--turns out to be a top-selling multimediua title.
To simplify things, we've divided the 50 products into three basic categories: multimedia hardware, CD-ROM software, and disk-based multimedia software.
1. Sound Blaster Digital-Edge CD. If you've waited to upgrade your PC to a multimedia PC, you're in luck. Now you can upgrade to a higher standard. Creative Labs offers a multimedia upgrade kit that meets the new Level 2 MPC specifications. The $999 package includes a Sound Blaster 16 ASP, a double-speed multisession CD-ROM drive, The Software Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia, Microsoft Bookshelf, Macromedia Action!, a microphone, and speakers. Creative Labs, (408) 428-6600.
2-3. Fusion Double CD-16 and Pro 16 Multimedia System. Media Vision has two Level 2 upgrade kits. The Fusion Double CD-16 ($799 external, $699 internal) includes a Pro Audio-Spectrum 16 sound card, a double-speed NEC CD-ROM drive (model 55J), and four CD-ROM applicatiosn (Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for Windows, Battle Chess Enhanced, Arthur's Teacher Trouble, and The 7th Guest). The Pro 16 Multimedia System ($1,199) includes a Pro Audio-Spectrum 16 sound card, a double-speed NEC CD-ROM drive (model 84JD-1), and eight CD-ROM applications (Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for Windows, Battle Chess Enhanced, Mantis, Civilization, Macromedia Action!, Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, PC Karaoke, and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe). Media Vision, (800) 348-7116.
4-5. Sonic Sound. Suddenly, DSPs (Digital Signal Processors) are showing up in sound cards and fax/data modems. The 16-bit Sonic Sound sound card uses its DSP for General MIDI wave table synthesis (32 simultaneous stereo instruments) and--with an upgrade option--extended MIDI and speech recognition. The basic package also includes Sound Blaster and Ad Lib support, as well as connectors for SCSI CD-ROM, MIDI, and joystick. Diamond Computer Systems; (408) 736-2000; $299 for Sonic Sound, $129 for the upgrade option.
6. Maestro 16vr. If you like to play games, check out the 16-bit Maestro 16vr sound card, which also uses a DSP for voice recognition and General MIDI instrument sounds. You receive a special voice recognition version of Interplay's Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, along with the usual Sound Blaster and Ad Lib support; connectors for SCSI CD-ROM, MIDI, and joystick; and utility software. This version lets you control the game with verbal commands, which you give using the provided microphone headset. Computer Peripherals, (805) 499-5751, $299.
7-9. Hello! Music!. Looking for a plug-and-play MIDI upgrade for your sound card? Consider Hello! Music! ($449.00). It includes an external General MIDI module that you can hook up to your computer's MIDI interface or serial port, as well as a selection of MIDI software from Passport (Trax, a MIDI sequencer program; MIDI Player, a MIDI jukebox program; and QuikTunes, a collection of preprogrammed MIDI tunes). Optional accessories include the CBX-K3 49-key MIDI keyboard ($299.95) and the CBX-S3 powered monitor speakers ($399.95). Yamaha, (714) 522-9011. 10-12. A pair of multimedia
speakers. What would multimedia be without a good set of speakers? They should be magnetically shielded so you can place them on either side of your computer screen and self-powered so you don't have to rely on your sound card's inferior amplifier. Yamaha (714)-522-9011) sells an excellent pair for $149, called the YST-M10. For a top-of-the-line sound, check out the Altec Lansing Multimedia ACS-300 (Altec Lansing Consumer Products, 800-258-3280, $400 a pair) and the Power Partner 570 (Acoustic Reserach, 800-969-2748, $475 a pair).
13. Extra CD-ROM caddies. You can never have too much money or too many caddies. If you have young kids around, it's a good idea to keep your most frequently used CD-ROMs in their own caddies. There's nothing like trying to scrape peanut butter and jelly off your CD-ROM's to convince you to have plenty of extra caddies. Many places charge $10 or more for a caddy, but if you shop around, you can find them for $5 or less.
14. Microsoft Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia 1994 Edition For Windows. Microsoft has taken the articles from Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia and enhanced them with generous portions of photographs, audio, video, and animation. The program's interface makes it easy to find your way through this huge amount of information. You can explore events chronologically, geographically, or conceptually, or you can search for associated ideas using the nine categories and 84 subcategories. Microsoft, (800) 426-9400, $395 ($99 until December 31st).
15. Compton's Intreractive Encyclopedia for Windows. This new CD-ROM version of Compton's Encyclopedia uses images, maps, graphs, audio, and video to make the text come alive. One new feature lets you store open windows as a virtual work-space. Compton's New-Media; (619) 929-2500; $395 for CD-ROM version, $498 for combined CD-ROM and printed version.
16. The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Make learning fun for yourself and your children with the latest version of this multimedia encyclopedia. Video, animation, sound, and a raft of color and black-and-white Super VGA images bring the excitement of CD-ROM technology to the complete text of The Academic American Encyclopedia. Grolier Electronic Publishing, (800) 356-5590, $395.
17. Microsoft Dinosaurs. Get detailed descriptions of the lives of 80 dinosaurs and dozens of other prehistoric creatures with nearly 200 articles and more than 1000 illustrations and photographs. With hot-linked text to connect you to more than 800 pop-up windows, you can explore the material at your leisure or take a series of guided tours. Microsoft, (800) 426-9400, $79.95.
18. The Animals!. Visit the San Diego Zoo in the comfort of your own home. You and your child can explore all of earth's biomes to learn about familiar and exotic animals in their natural habitats. This single CD-ROM is packed with 82 videos, 1300 color pictures, 2500 pages of text, and 2 1/2 hours of sound data. The Software Toolworks, (800) 234-3088, $119.95.
19. Microsoft Cinemania '94 Interactive Movie Guide For Windows. Search for your favorite movie titles, actors and directors with this top-selling CD-ROM film reference. Cinemania includes all 19,000 capsule reviews and ratings from Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, thousands of entries from The Motion Picture Guide and The Encyclopedia of Film, and movie stills and audio clips from major motion pictures. Microsoft, (800) 426-9400, $79.95.
20. SI-CD-ROM Sports Almanac. With 26 categories of sports information, this title from Sports Illustrated can satisfy the most voracious stats appetite. It's a compilation of 1991 stats, awards from 1931 to the present, obituaries, profiles, and dozens of SI articles. It also lists year-by-year records for each sports. Sports Illustrated, (800) 593-6334, $59.95.
21. Monarch Notes on CD-ROM. For years, Monarch Notes have helped demystify the classics for students. Now you can have the entire collection on a single CD-ROM. Search for a word, name, or phrase from any of the nearly 200 titles--many of which are long out of print. The collection also includes recorded voice passages, pictures, and drawings. Bureau Development, (201) 808-2700, $99.
22. Street Atlas USA. Browse through the streets of your youth without leaving home. Street Atlas USA uses the U.S. Census Bureau's TIGER files to map every street in the country. You can search by ZIP code, telephone number, or street name. Delorme Mapping, (207) 865-1234, $169.
23. Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. More than just a book on CD-ROM, this layman's health references is an impressive use of multimedia. The program gives you the complete text of the 1400-page book, hundreds of color photos, animation, voice, video, and hypertext. Its text is nontechnical but thorough. Interactive Ventures, (612) 686-0779, $99.95.
24. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing: Version 2.0 for Multimedia. The CD-ROM version of the top typing program adds digized speech and digital audio music. Multimedia Mavis offers verbal dictation of ten prerecorded letters and lets you add your own. There's also a self-running overview and demonstration of the program. The Software Toolworks, (415) 883-3000, $99.95.
25. Fractal Ecstasy. View the amazing patterns that make up fractal images. The program includes fractal fly-throughs, over an hour of Video for Windows movies, and more than a thousand full-screen fractal images. Create your own fractals with the program's Fractal Crator, which works with 30 different fractal-generating formulas and 125 different color palettes. Deep River Publishing, (207) 871-1684, $49.95.
26. Nautilus. This CD-ROM magazine offers traditional bulletin board information enhanced with CD-quality pictures, music, animation, and film clips. You can also use Nautilus to establish two-way access with Metatec's own online service which is similar to CompuServe and GEnie. Along with the typical magazine material, you'll receive shareware, free-ware, fonts, programming tips, and utilities. Metatec Discovery Systems; (614) 761-2000; $9.95 for a single disc, $119.40 for a 12-disc subscription.
27. The 7th Guest. This is the first CD-ROM game too large to fit on a single disc (it ships on two). Realistic video-generated characters, high-resolution 3-D--rendered back-grounds, and an excellent musical score make this computer game seem like an interactive movie. Solve the logical puzzles as you move through a haunted mansion in search of clues. Virgin Games, (714) 833-1999, $99.99.
28. Hell Cab. This ultraphotorealist game features state-of-the-art 3-D graphics, sound effects, and music. The plot involves a New York City cab driver (he's really a devil trainee), prehistoric jungles, Nero's Rome, and the trenches of World War I. Your goal is to make it back to the airport with your soul intact. Time Warner Interactive, (800) 593-6334, $99.99.
29. Microsoft Golf for Windows, Multimedia Edition. For the golfer with a CD-ROM drive, what could be better than a golf game on CD-ROM? The new multimedia version includes video "flybys" of each hole, a personal video golf pro who offers advice for each hole, and video demonstrations of swinging and aiming techniques. The program is compatible with the many Links Championship Courses from Access. Microsoft, (800) 426-9400, $64.95.
30. King's Quest VI. In this latest release in the King's Quest series, King Alexander attempts to rescue Princess Cassima from the evil Vizier. He travels among a mysterious set of islands, whose lush graphics were hand-painted and then scanned into a computer for the look of a storybook. The CD-ROM's spoken dialogue and text also enchance the game. Sierra, (800) 326-6654, $79.95.
31. European Racers. Build your plastic model car with the help of a high-resolution CD-ROM. The package comes with one model kit, a Porsche 911 Slant Nose, but the CD-ROM includes the simulation software for three additional kits, which you can buy separately at toy stores and hobby shops. The program shows your model rendered in 3 D-polygon animation, provides step-by-step assembly instructions, and includes a racing track where you can square off against five onscreen competitors. Revell-Monogram, (708) 966-3500, $69.95.
32. Just Grandma and Me. This interactive children's storybook helps your child explore language and learn to read while having fun. Accompanying Grandma and Little Critter to the beach, your child can choose the Read to Me button to watch the animation and listen to the story, or choose the Let Me Play button to interact with the characters. Broderbund Software, (800) 521-6263, $69.95.
33. Arthur's Teacher Trouble. Like Just Grandma and Me, Arthur's Teacher Trouble is an interactive children's storybook that combines animated effects, musical accompaniment, and narration in a choice of languages. It teaches young readers (ages 6-10) as it entertains with subtle humor. Broderbund Software, (800) 521-6263, $59.95.
Disk-based Multimedia Software
34. SuperJAM!. Create instant melodies. The program includes an onscreen piano keyboard that can be controlled with your mouse or computer's keyboard; an Eas-O-Matic MusicMaker, which makes it easy to make musical decisions; 30 musical styles that include rock, pop, dance, classical, samba, and jazz; and ready-made musical arrangements and chord progressions. SuperJAM! is appropriate for both beginner and experienced musicians and works with any MIDI instrument. Blue Ribbon Software, (404) 315-0212, $129.
35. Soloist. This computer game makes it easy to learn melodic sight-reading. Simply hook up a microphone to your sound card, select your instrument and skill level, and play or sing the notes that the program displays on your screen. Soloist doesn't required MIDI, offers 36 levels of play, and includes a chromatic tuner to help you tune your instrument. Works with any musical instrument--even your voice. Ibis Software, (415) 546-1917, $59.95.
36-42. A Sound Source Unlimited sound clip package. Sound Source Unlimited offers a variety of popular sound clips to liven up your Windows environment. Each package ships with a utility that lets you associate sounds with your Windows system functions, such as startup, shutdown, General Protection Error, and application launch. Current collections include Star Trek ($59.95), Star Trek: The Next Generation ($59.95), 2001: A Space Odyssey ($59.95), Terminator 2: Judgment Day ($47.95), Total Recall ($47.95), Star Wars. ($37.95), and The Wizard of Oz ($37.95). Sound Source Unlimited, (800) 877-4778.
43. Sound Blaster: The Official Book. Pamper your Sound Blaster with a book of its own. This paperback includes tips and tricks to enchance playback and recording, as well as a troubleshooting guide that shows you how to resolve joystick difficulties, interrupt conflicts, and volume problems. You also get a 3-1/2-inch disk with dozens of sound files, dozens of songs and musical jingles, and several popular Sound Blaster utilities. Osborne McGraw-Hill, $29.95.
44. The Turtle Tools for Multimedia. Looking for an inexpensive way to get into digital audio, MIDI, and CD audio? Take a look at The Turtle Tools for Multimedia. It includes WaveTools, an audio-recording, -editing, and -playback application; Midisoft Session, a MIDI sequencer; KeyPlayer, a program that lets nonmusicians play and record music using just the computer keyboard; Sound-Attach, a utility that lets you attach WAV and MIDI files to Windows system functions; and SoundBank, a CD-ROM with over 300 sound effects in five different formats. Turtle Beach System, (717) 843-6916, $89.
45-46. A professional-quality sound-editing program. Sound-editing packages such as Wave for Windows 2.0 (Turtle Beach, 717-843-6916, $149) and Sound Forge 2.0 (Sonic Foundry, 608-256-3133, $179) let you alter sounds in ways that recording studios would have killed for just 10 or 15 years ago. We're talking about high-quality stereo recording direct to your hard drive, with cut-and-paste editing and nondestructive digital effects, such as echo, reverb, flange, fade, reverse, volume, and pan.
47. The Norton Speedrive. If your CD-ROM drive can't keep up with your CD-ROM programs, you might need a software cache for your drive. DOS's SMARTDrive doesn't cache CD-ROM drives, but The Norton Speedrive does. For owners of Level I MPC and subMPC CD-ROM drives, it may be the least expensive way to keep up with today's more demanding CD-ROM programs. Symantec, (800) 441-7234, $99
48. Netroom 3. Are your multimedia drivers taking up so much memory you don't have room for yo0ur programs? Netroom 3 loads your sound card, CD-ROM, software cache, network, and other device drivers into upper memory--leaving as much as 630K for your applications. The latest version adds a cloaking technology that can move your System and Video BIOS into extended memory. Helix, (718) 392-3100, $99.
49. Matinee. This is the first screen saver to bring full-motion video to your PC. The disk-based version ($49.95) features 38 clips, including monsters, cartoons, go-go dancers, and killer sharks. The CD-ROM version ($59.95) includes over 250 video clips in categories ranging from bikinis to sci-fi. Access Softek, (510) 848-0606.
Only 49 multimedia gift ideas? Don't forget a subscription to COMPUTE (COMPUTE Publications, 800-727-6937, $12.97 for 12 issues). With our new multimedia section and regular multimedia coverage in the rest of the magazine, you'll be fondly remembered throughout the coming year.