TECHNOLOGY: Disc jockeys

A new and versatile breed of electronic business presentation for the PC has arrived. Manoeuvring between a CD-ROM and the Internet, it enables users to plunder all available technologies to view high-quality material at remarkably high speed, writes Ron Condon

A new and versatile breed of electronic business presentation for the PC

has arrived. Manoeuvring between a CD-ROM and the Internet, it enables

users to plunder all available technologies to view high-quality

material at remarkably high speed, writes Ron Condon



Fancy yourself in a Ferrari Testarossa, but still a few pennies short of

the pounds 50,000-odd it’s likely to cost you? Well, why not settle for

a cheaper experience - sit down in front of your PC and slip the

Ferrari CD-ROM into the drive.



This will give you the chance to take a look at every road car Ferrari

has produced, with video clips, background music, and a bit of

commentary in a choice of French, German or English. Furthermore, you

will be able to flip between pieces of information by clicking on the

Ferrari gear-stick that acts as your navigation tool.



The CD, produced by Global Beach, is an example of a new breed of

business presentation that runs by itself using the power of the modern

multimedia PC to generate the required effects. A natural follow-on from

the promotional VHS tape, it has one big advantage - it is interactive.



That means the user can navigate around the information as they wish,

pick and choose what they want to view instead of sitting through the

boring stuff.



The Global Beach demo is designed to run from the CD-ROM without

cluttering up your hard disk, and it also self-starts with minimum user

intervention. This is the result of some neat programming the company

did to ensure it will run on any multimedia PC which has a sound board,

and either Windows 3.1 or 95.



The problem, of course, with PC-based presentations is that the

technology is still struggling to catch up with demand. Users expect

high-quality animation, video and sound, but those things eat up disk

space faster than you can say Bill Gates. And unless you have all sorts

of go-faster boards installed in the PC, they tend to run slowly.



Some of the notebook computers on the market are trying to address the

problem. For example, Olivetti is concentrating on building systems with

large screens to make presentations more readable.



But PC capacities still tend to limit what you can achieve in terms of

video and sound. Global Beach got around the problem by writing its own

software so that it can run regardless of what is on the PC. As managing

director Clive Jackson says: ‘Your target audience won’t be prepared to

sit there messing about loading AVI or Quicktime drivers. They will be

frightened or they will ring up the IT department.’



Another way round the PC capacity problem, according to Paul Easty,

production manager at Clearwater Communications, is to combine the PC

with a VCR and switch between the two during the presentation.



‘That is a flexible way of getting large-scale video playable within

your presentation, and you won’t need to go to the expense of digitising

everything for playback,’ he says.



You can organise that yourself, or use something like the Cruiser system

from Revere - a specialised presentation machine built around a laptop

computer that provides connections to the VCR.



There is also the prospect of delivering all presentations over the

Internet. After all, standard presentation packages such as Microsoft’s

Powerpoint and Lotus Freelance have features which enable frames of a

presentation to be sent via the Internet. But even that can run into the

sand if you try to do too much. With most people still using modems

running at around 14,400 bits per second, graphics and sound can take an

age to arrive.



‘Presentations over the Internet are possible but they suffer all the

limitations of poor reliability and insufficient bandwidth,’ says Easty.

‘It’s like playing Russian roulette with your presentation.’



He says that users have high expectations of the Internet because of the

publicity surrounding it but can be very disappointed when they try to

access a company Web site which has been poorly thought out. ‘There is a

huge ‘me too’ effect on the Internet, which has resulted in a flood of

people setting up Web sites without any real consideration about what

that site is meant to achieve,’ he says. ‘The key is that the Internet

is an interactive medium. Many of the initial sites ignored that, and

used their sites as an electronic billboard. It’s like putting your

billboard in a field the size of Great Britain along with eight million

others. Where is the value in that?’



He does, however, see the Internet playing a role in business

presentations in combination with CD-ROM and says Clearwater is due to

announce a system that allows the viewer to do just that. The user will

be able to put together a presentation using a range of tools, video

clips and the like - which can sit on the PC’s hard disk or on a CD-ROM.



The presentation can be customised by hooking up via the Internet to the

company’s Web site, where specially prepared material can be downloaded

into the presentation. This could be material specific to your client,

such as time-critical figures.



The secret to successful electronic business presentations therefore

seems to be to plunder the best of all technologies, using the PC where

appropriate, and the CD-ROM or floppy disk where they apply.



As for the Internet, it is only likely to play a subsidiary role until

the cost of ISDN lines come down and the public is able to access

presentations at something approaching full speed.



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