Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Multimedia PC

Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Multimedia PC

Article excerpt

Visit a computer retail store during the next several months and you're likely to notice a number of new machines displaying logos with the initials "MPC." No, there's not a new computer manufacturer on the market. In fact, if you take a closer look, you'll see familiar brand names accompanying the MPC logos--names such Tandy, Zenith, and AT&T.

The letters MPC stand for "Multimedia Personal Computer" and their presence on a machine indicates that the computer conforms to a set of hardware specifications agreed upon by a group of manufacturers in the MS-DOS world. The MPC specifications are the result of several years of discussion between Microsoft and some leading producers of MS-DOS computers about a standard base-level platform for the delivery of multimedia CD-ROM applications.

The argument for such a standard: Although basic "IBM compatibility" is widespread these days--making it easy for software developers to create certain MS-DOS titles knowing that they will run on many different brands of computer--compatibility begins to break down when multimedia elements such as sound and high-resolution images are involved. Thus, although some exciting multimedia CD-ROM titles have already been produced for MS-DOS computers, users interested in buying a machine to run such titles have been faced with the questions: What sort of a graphics card will I need? What hardware will I use to play back the sound from the CD? (Since very few MS-DOS computers have built-in chips for playback of high-quality sound, and add-on card is generally required for this.) And will there even be enough titles to justify my investment in a CD-ROM drive?

The answer, according to Microsoft, Tandy, and several other manufacturers, is the base-level MPC configuration. By agreeing on an entry-level multimedia standard and then licensing the MPC trademark to hardware and software producers who conform to that standard, the hope is to approximate the sort of "plug-and-play" compatibility that people have to expect in the world of consumer electronics.

At its core, every computer displaying the MPC trademark is an MS-DOS machine with at least a "fast" (10 megahertz) 80286 microprocessor, VGA graphics, two megabytes of memory, a 30-megabyte hard disk, a 3.5-inch floppy drive, and a mouse. In addition, each Multimedia PC is equipped with three other important multimedia features: a CD-ROM drive; a special audio subsystem that allows for sound input, audio mixing, and stereo playback; and Multimedia Windows, a version of Windows 3.0 with "multimedia extensions" that make it easy for developers to add sound, high-quality still images, and animation to their CD-ROM titles. These three add-ons are also being made available in the form of upgrade kits that allow owners of MS-DOS computers meeting the minimum processor, graphics, and RAM requirements to turn their systems into Multimedia PCs.

Who's On Board?

Not everyone in the MS-DOS world agrees with the MPC approach. IBM, for one, has not endorsed a single entry-level multimedia standard. Where, for example, does laser videodisc technology fit into the equation? (While Multimedia Windows does allow users to access videodiscs, this technology clearly has little or no place in current MPC development plans.) and some software developers are concerned that the base-level specifications are set too low, making it difficult for them to create the sorts of high-quality multimedia applications they would like.

On the other hand, a number of key players are on board. Ten of them (Tandy, CompuAdd, NEC, AT&T, Philips, Olivetti, Zenith, Headland Technology, Media Vision, and Creative Labs) have joined with Microsoft to form the Multimedia PC Marketing Council, a subsidiary of the Software Publishers' Association, with the goal of promoting the new standard.

The first Council member to announce a line of machines configured to the MPC standard was Tandy. …

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