CAN'T quite make out the main trumpet theme in Igor Stravinsky's
"The Rite of Spring"? Remove the sounds of the orchestra's other
instruments for a moment.
Like to practice your guitar with your favorite rock band or get
a printed score of your live compositions? How about a tour of the
Smithsonian Institution from your living room (you decide which
galleries to visit and for how long)?
Get used to the words "interactive" and "multimedia." The two
1980s buzzwords are moving beyond the rarefied world of industrial,
school, and electronics-buff applications into the living room of
the average gizmo-buyer. The terms refer to ever newer ways of
combining television monitors, compact/laserdisc players, and
computers with the promise of education, information, and
"Interactive multimedia is in a growth spurt right now," says
Brian Stonehill, a professor of media literacy at Pomona College.
"This is where the information explosion gets organized."
Though the recession has eaten into overall sales in the
consumer electronics industry, some observers are hopeful that the
dropping costs of multimedia technology will woo consumers.
"This technology has existed for years, but now it is hitting
the magic consumer price point of under $1,000," notes Laura Cohen,
director of creative affairs for Philips Interactive Media.
Because laser and compact discs are known as optical storage
media, they represent a change from both magnetic tape and floppy
discs that are read by tape heads.
Laser-read technologies allow users to access different parts of
the stored information at will - and instantly.
The user "interacts" with software by responding to on-screen
menus that offer choices of material to read, study, hear, or see.
One makes selections through a growing array of "joysticks,mouses,"
remote controls, clickers, and switches.
Take one company's computer-screen study tour of 18 of France's
top chateaux, for instance. Choose 1) fly by; 2) walk through; 3)
history; 4) construction; 5) still photos. Each choice includes
more choices within, allowing users to follow their own interests.
In 1991, at least two major corporations - Philips Interactive
Media of America and Commodore Electronics Ltd. - marketed consumer
versions of interactive hardware to pair with television sets. Both
offer dozens of titles of software from painting to sports, arts,
and gardening. Commodore's "CDTV" (about $800) is run with an Amiga
500 computer that can expand into a home video-editing system,
print hard copies, and interface with music composition equipment.
Philips is pushing its "CD-I Imagination Machine" (about $800)
as the hardware that will become the world standard, already
followed with prototypes from Matsushita, Sony, Technics, Sanyo,
Toshiba, and Yamaha.
Much smaller companies such as the Voyager Company here upped
the ante recently on interactive computer software they first
introduced in 1989 for CD-ROM. (A CD-ROM is a compact disc
appendage for home computers that stores far more than the average
floppy - the illustrated Bible with sound for instance.) Such
drives cost about $1,300 three years ago and now start under $500.
Voyager is taking advantage by beating the competition to
full-motion video known as "Quicktime" for a title called
"Baseball's Greatest Hits."
The dizzying proliferation of such products is a cause for both
amazement and caution. "Some of these products are redundant,"
warns Prof. …