Multimedia in Computers

Multimedia is nothing new. The nature of human communication has always involved “multimedia”. We hear, speak, write, draw, make gestures, play music, and act out our thoughts and feelings to one another. We have enjoyed multimedia presentations since our childhood through film, television, and, more recently, videotape, videodisc and digital videodisc. These have all involved analog media. What makes recent developments in multimedia new and exciting is that we can now deal with these various media in a digital format.

The digital format allows manipulation, sharing, and merging of data in ways that analog cannot. For example, writers can incorporate digital images into a word processing document. They can record and edit sounds to link with images or text, permitting the data types to serve multiple purposes with a minimum of reworking. Users can program the computer to seek files randomly, to store these different files digitally, just as any computer file. They can edit this information, eliminating unnecessary parts, transforming them, or adding alternative data or special effects – all without expensive postproduction.

Multimedia evokes different images depending on the listener or reader’s understanding. Multimedia is defined as an interactive computer-mediated presentation that includes at least two of the following elements: text, sound, still graphic images, motion graphics, and animation (Theoretical Foundations of Multimedia. Robert S. Tannenbaum (c. 1998)). Even the unabridged edition of The World Book Dictionary (c. 1990) leaves room for interpretation by defining the term as “using a combination of various media”.

Some people understand “multimedia” to mean the use of two or more types of media in the same product. We know that CD-ROMS (Compact Disc-Read Only Memory) can store virtually any type of digitised information. If we can digitise the data, we can also store it on a CD-ROM just as any other type of digital file. Many applications in the MS-DOS environment that employ multiple media in this way usually use them as discrete elements or as complements to each other just as magnetic disks do. Philips and Dupont Optical Company (PDO) refer to this as “mixed mode”.

It defines a mixed mode CD-ROM as one, which contains computer readable data on track 1 and CD-quality audio on the remaining tracks, 2 through 99 (Multimedia in Practice 1995, p. 23). Others understand “multimedia” to mean the integration of several media within the same application. Philips, Microsoft, and Sony refer to this as “compound mode” in the introduction to CD-ROM. These types of discs present special problems, which we plan to discuss later on. Since CD-ROM essentially consists of one long linear medium, it stores data only sequentially, even though it permits random access.

In addition, files vary in length and playback requirements. For example, digital images require much more storage space than text. One type of medium may play in a “static” mode at the same time as another might play in “dynamic” mode, such as an image displayed on the screen accompanied by audio (music and/or narration) or text accompanied by graphics and audio (Welcome to Multimedia 1992, p. 67). The basic Macintosh computer comes equipped for multimedia. It has high-resolution graphics monitor and built-in audio capabilities.

Newer models have colour monitors and faster processors – two features that add to the Macintosh’s ability to handle new graphics-intensive applications that have animation and video; they just require the addition of a CD_ROM or videodisc player. New hardware add-ons, such as video processors, have the potential to improve the Mac’s ability to handle multimedia applications. Apple’s extension to the Mac’s operating system, called QuickTime, allows software developers to integrate audio and video data types with standard applications (Utilizing Multimedia 1996, p. 12).

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