Looking into the Multimedia Crystal Ball at the COMDEX Show

Article excerpt

Las Vegas was a most appropriate location to start pondering about the directions multimedia technology will take in 1994. The end-of-the-year COMDEX show, the largest of all the trade shows, has been the perfect vantage point for seeing what the next year will bring in computer and information technology, and this is particularly true for multimedia.

Las Vegas is the "multimediaest" city you can imagine. It provides all-sensory stimuli, and so did the omnipresent multimedia products of the COMDEX show, tactile and olfactory stimuli being the only missing ingredients.

One of the main themes of COMDEX this year was multimedia (and implicitly, CD-ROM). Not only were there special exhibit halls (showcases in COMDEX parlance) dedicated just to multimedia, but even the traditional exhibit halls were full of multimedia hardware, software, and applications. Not only will there be pure multimedia applications in 1994 but we shall also see this technology across the board in the form of narrated and animated help files and tutorials in many applications. And they will be popular, I assure you. If the exhibits had been open for 24 hours a day, the 2000 exhibitors could have pitched their wares to the 175,000 attendants around the clock, and the casinos, their shows, and the escort services would have filed for Chapter 11.

The most characteristic trends from the point of view of readers of Information Today were: (1) the avalanche of multimedia titles and products for the mass market, (2) the omnipresence of affordable multimedia PCs and upgrade kits, and (3) the migration to the Windows platform.

MASS MARKETING LAS VEGAS AND MULTIMEDIA

Las Vegas has been making efforts to attract families by offering more than just adult entertainment. So have the multimedia producers. We, information professionals, should not look down at the mass market products because these will drive down the prices of all multimedia products, bring novel software and hardware solutions in interface design and "Plug-n-Play" compatibility to please even the most technophobic among us, and will prepare these information users for the more sophisticated and more expensive professional information services.

On the basis of what I saw, it is a safe bet that the number of edutainment titles will increase at a higher rate than any other category, and genuine multimedia will force CD-ROM to accommodate the sounds, the pictures, and the videos. Many of the floppy-based education programs and databases will be transferred to CD-ROM. Even hard-core floppyists such as Knowledge Adventure have realized that they have to move from floppy to CD-ROM if they want to remain competitive, and they have done so. Others who still try to sell floppy-based multimedia, such as Bodyworks or Body Illustrated will not succeed, and their efforts seem like trying to win a million on keno. Who is going to buy such a product for $40 or $50 when the 1994 editions of the three general encyclopedias (Encarta, Grolier, and Compton's) now sell for less than a hundred bucks? These reference works deliver an incredible amount of information about anatomy, health, and anything else you can think of, and the quality is superb (except for the video components, but even that will change drastically in 1994).

Those who may have been in the front-line of multimedia a few years ago (most prominently E-book, Inc.) will be left behind if they do not upgrade the multimedia flavor in their databases (The Beauty and the Beast) and/or limit the searchability of a database to that of a book (The Survey of Western Art). Not all is or will be gold that glitters on a CD-ROM even if the title promises so. Sloppy content and bug-ridden software characterize the Expert Maps Gold Edition. Suffice it to say that I just cannot imagine what a non-gold edition might have been. The Multimedia Pinacoteca database is nothing but s slide show of pictures with extremely limited access software. …