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
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.