...while Kendall Wrightson tackles the Mac...
The computer press has been talking up interactive multimedia for well over two years now, yet for the average Mac owning musician, the 'M' word is still more a concept than a specific product or application. However, the next few months will see the release of several new standalone and computer based products that should finally reveal interactive multimedia's true potential.
By definition, a multimedia product includes any device or application that combines and/or processes several media — a television for example. However, it is multimedia's interactive aspect — its 'intelligence' — that makes it so powerful. For example, HyperCard (an application supplied free with every Mac) offers screens ('cards') of text and graphics through which you can 'navigate' with arrows, buttons, and dialogue boxes. The path you follow through the cards depends both on personal choice, and on data entered in answer to questions asked by the program.
HyperCard's multimedia abilities are available through special XCMDs (External Commands) and XFCNs (External Functions). Invisible to the user, these software drivers let HyperCard control CD-ROM drives, video decks and laser disc players, or play back animation, MIDI and 8-bit audio files.
Digidesign's Sound Tools is supplied with a HyperCard stack (stack = HyperCard document) called Sound Access that installs XCMDs and XFCNs into any existing HyperCard stack, allowing 16-bit audio files to be recorded, played back, and edited via a Sound Accelerator NuBus card. A simple playlisting stack called Radio Cart demos the facility admirably.
Opcode's Audioshop (MCMXCIX, (Contact Details)), announced at Frankfurt earlier this year, offers a similar facility (plus a waveform editor) for standard Mac (8-bit) audio files. The user interface is an on-screen CD player, reflecting the fact that Audioshop can also sequence audio tracks from a CD-ROM drive connected via SCSI. Opcode also announced Soundtrak, a CD ROM disc containing 150 songs stored as MIDI Files that can be loaded into any Mac MIDI sequencer and modified to taste. The tracks are recorded to suit devices conforming to the General MIDI standard (see SOS April 1991). Incidentally, Yamaha's latest GM tone module — TG100 tone module — includes a built-in Mac MIDI interface, another indication of the Mac's growing acceptance as a music computer.
The arrival of CD-ROM based musical applications reflects the downward price spiral that has seen CD-ROM players fall from £1,000 to around £300 in the space of 18 months. Some sampler owners have purchased CD-ROMs in order to gain access to pre-programmed banks of sounds in CD-ROM format from the likes of OMI, InVision and Roland. However, fast, low cost CD-ROMs, and a rash of new sophisticated applications should put the CD-ROM into many more studios and Mac musicians' homes.
A spur to CD-ROM developers is the imminent launch of Apple's 'multimedia LC' — a Mac LC II with a built-in CD-ROM drive — and the Autumn launch of Sony's Bookman, a CD-ROM player in an audio Discman-size case (Sony Consumer Electronics (Contact Details)). The Sony discs will be PC compatible and, thanks to the closer links between IBM and Apple, should run on Macs too.
As a standalone unit, the Bookman will have to compete with a totally new Philips/Sony consumer multimedia format called CD-I (Compact Disc Interactive, Philips Consumer Electronics (Contact Details)). CD-I players are similar to CD-ROMs except that they are complete in themselves and do not need to be hooked up to a host computer. The first generation of players will include text, animated graphics, audio (16 and 8-bit, on up to four simultaneous tracks), but Philips/Sony claim that full screen live video — up to 70 minutes per disc — and MIDI will be incorporated by next year. Both CD-ROM and CD-I machines should be compatible with Kodak's Photo CD discs. Launched this summer, P-CD (Kodak, (Contact Details)) provides an alternate medium for storing 35mm photographs. The images are viewed via an ordinary TV or CD-ROM equipped PC.
Interactive video offers extraordinary possibilities for training, education, and the consumer, but 68020/030 Mac owners can have a taste of video-capable CD-I right now by asking their dealers for a copy of Apple's QuickTime. A system extension (to 6.0.7 or 7.0.x), QuickTime allows colour digital video (up to 24-bit colour) or animation, both with stereo sound, to be cut, copied or pasted just as text, graphics and sounds are at present. Apple claim that a future version of QuickTime will support MIDI, LTC, built-in caption, and live video editing support.
The QuickTime system software includes an application called Simple Movie Player that plays QuickTime files (which are called 'movies') directly on a Mac screen. Movies incorporate data compression ratios of up to 25:1, yet they still eat up one megabyte of storage for every 10 to 20 seconds, and some cannot be replayed from CD-ROMs. In order to prevent jerky results, the windows in which movies play are small — around 1/16th screen size. On black and white monitors performance is totally naff because movies have to be converted to 1-bit graphics, and so frames are skipped. However, on a colour LC, II or Quadra, the quality is viewable, albeit sub-VHS and rather pixelised.
Software houses have been busy developing applications that utilise QuickTime; from word processors with video message/manual support (Word Perfect, Microsoft Word) to full-blown off-line digital video editing packages such as Adobe's Premiere and Diva's Videoshop (Principal Distribution, (Contact Details)).
MIDI software house Passport have announced a professional multimedia package called Producer (MCMXCIX, (Contact Details)) that acts as 'visual cue sheet' interface for CD audio, MIDI, digital audio (8 and 16-bit), laser disc players, video decks, animation, graphics, titling and QuickTime movies. With LTC, VITC and MTC support, Producer is aimed at the post-pro market and should end up being used on jingles, film scores, dialogue editing, sound effects and presentations.
So what will the new multimedia hard and software do for the musician with a Classic? We should see QuickTime movie manuals bundled with Mac software on CD-ROM or 128MB optical disks further increasing the demand (and therefore decreasing the price) of both media. CD-ROM, CD-I applications and QuickTime movies will all require music and sound effects, so if you make library music, it may be worth your while to point your publisher in the direction of an interactive multimedia software publisher, or contact them directly yourself. For the MIDI programming suite or smaller studio, the new desktop video editing technology provides a fantastic opportunity to help create a new market for cheap off-line video editing, offering smaller companies, bands and even individuals the chance to produce their own videos.
Feature by Kendall Wrightson
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