Multi-Media, It's more than you might think

Do you talk to your computer? I do, and I've said a lot of choice things (*@!#), but now PC's are not only listening, they're talking back too.
Voice recognition and text-to-speech synthesis are just a couple of the many features that make up "multimedia." I just returned from the 1993 Comdex, in Las Vegas, where 170,000 computer professionals convene every year to see what the industry is gambling will appeal to you and me. It's one solid week of bright lights, dazzling shows, slot machines, black jack and oooh's and ahhh's for the latest in computing, which this year means multimedia. As I toured the giant convention halls, almost every computer was capable of two-way video conferencing, voice annotation, full motion video presentations and sound effects that were "bad to the bone".
Keynote speakers like Microsoft's CEO, Bill Gates, are saying that soon every PC purchased will be multimedia ready. Apple's new CEO, Michael Spindler, agrees, claiming that multimedia is not just an application, but is destined to be an integral part of the user interface. That's not surprising to Star Trek fans, but to others, the definition of multimedia is still not clear.
Some might say multimedia is just another way to describe a PC equipped with a CD player. To others it means additional equipment, like cameras, speakers, microphones and video capture boards, but these are just the physical tools of multimedia. For those who have caught the spirit, multimedia has a completely different dimension.
Think about the last time you scratched and sniffed one of those perfume ads in a magazine. Strictly speaking, that's multimedia. In fact, anything that uses two or more of your senses at the same time is a multimedia event, but there's more to the excitement than that. After all, television has been using sight, sound and motion for decades.

What sets multimedia apart is authorship, control of the environment and interaction. When you scratch the perfume ad, you are actively involved. You determine when the event takes place, and how long it lasts. You control the sequence of events. The same phenomenon occurs on a multimedia PC. You become the producer and the director, creating new events from original material or combining existing items in new ways.
Not all of us want to be the next Lucas or Spielberg, so how will we use this new technology? Try video conferencing. A camera lens the size of a dime mounted next to your monitor plus a tiny microphone let you carry on two way video conversations with other users connected via computer networks or even ordinary telephone lines. If the other party is not available for a live conversation, you can record your image and voice and send them as attachments to E-mail messages. This refined form of electronic mail is already being called M-Mail. Businesses can use this technology to cut travel expense.
Making a video about your family vacation? Why not edit the scenes from your camcorder in your PC and then output the final product to your VCR? VideoDirector(tm) is a software package from Gold Disk, Inc. of Buffalo, NY, available for less than $200. The package works with most 8mm camcorders and an infrared remote controlled VCR. More sophisticated packages let you insert graphs and charts generated on your PC, along with special effects.
Would you like to proof read a long column of figures you just entered in a spread sheet? Just let the computer read them back to you through your speakers. Then add voice notation to cells in the spread sheet, explaining how the numbers were obtained.
Many reference works are now available on CD, like the new Encarta Encyclopedia from Microsoft. These contain full motion video clips and sound recordings that bring history to life and make complex ideas easier to understand by providing moving illustrations. By double-clicking on cross-references to related subjects, you can explore the information in a multitude of ways. The interactive nature of these works stimulates the learning process.
There is no doubt that all the separate devices we know now as computers, TV's, VCR's and stereos are rapidly being drawn together into one powerful, interactive, multimedia machine. Whether you use it as a tool for business, communicating, learning or entertainment, multimedia is certain to impact your life.

-C.Serpent (guest contributor)

Originally appeared Vol 2, Iss 4 (11-12/93)

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