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3DO bows long-awaited multimedia player

DIGITAL HOOPLA: The biggest event today at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas– for Hollywood exex, at least–is the unveiling of the new multimedia player from 3DO Co., the 2-year-old start-up created by Time Warner, Matsushita, Silicon Valley venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins and videogame maker Electronic Arts.

After listening to 3DO’s CEO Trip Hawkins talk about this next level of entertainment for nearlya year and a half, expectations are very high. The machine is supposed to provide animation graphics for the television that far surpasses anything currently available. That means a high-speed computer processor typically reserved for high-power workstations. And that means Nintendo and Sega will be playing catch-up.

“People coming from the computer world have tried to deliver technology for the TV,” says Hal Josephson, 3DO’s business development director. “What’s been missing is TV quality.”

What’s more, this isn’t just a machine that plays CD-based videogames. It’s also the TV-top box for Time Warner’s cable franchises.

Hawkins has repeatedly pointed out that the machine will be a computer that is also a cable TV receiver.

“This,” Josephson says, “is the crescendo.”

SATAN’S RIDE: One of the newest multimedia CD titles–and already most talked about–is coming out next month: “Hell Cab,” from Warner New Media.

Penned by underground artist Pepe Moreno, the disc invites players to journey through a demented New York City in a possessed Checker Cab. The trick is to foil the Devil’s attempt to steal your soul, and on the way travel through time to ancient Rome and WWI.

Recognizing today’s limits of full-motion video with its jerky 15 frames per second, Moreno used live actors and then wrapped them in computer-animated textures to make them more cartoon-like.

As a plus, Moreno snuck in a tour of the Empire State Building that is extremely realistic, down to the marble floors and wall plaques.

Game also features videos that pop up on the “Dead Sullivan Show,” to throw players off the trail.

TALENTED MULTIMEDIA: In the ongoing effort to bring multimedia to the masses, Atlanta-based Dynamic Media Inc. was in town two weeks ago visiting the top agencies with its Talent Source title.

With a compact disc, Dynamic Media’s president Gary White reports, 30,000 black-and-white stills can be sorted through using keywords like “blondes” or “skiers.” Along with the resume, video clips of an actor’s choice roles– playing at 30 frames per second– can be displayed with sound on a quarter of the computer screen. The system uses a video playback computer board from Intel Corp. that compressed images 100-to-1 for the IBM PC.

Potential users are suitably impressed with White’s presentation. “It’s an honest-to-God guide with images and sound,” says Steve Schaefer, director of casting at Lintas, the New York agency that counts Coke as a client. “It seems to me to be very convenient.”

The drawback, says one Hollywood agent, is the updating of new talent, “every time a new client comes in or a client has a new credit. That might be a stumbling block.”

White is considering putting the system on-line so the files can be updated electronically, but that’s impossible right now with video.

Already, White has one Atlanta agency signed up with 380 models on disc who’ve paid an average $ 46 a pop. But casting agents get the system free for six months and then are charged $ 50 per month, with talent agents paying $ 100.

The clincher? White even throws in a high-end PC with a CD drive to read the disc.

PORTABLE POWER: If you missed a stocking stuffer, here’s yet another entrant to the electronic Filofax category, fit for an agent. Psion Inc.’s Series 3 is trying to do what Tandy’s Grid computers can, and it has an eye on serving industry needs with a couple of handy applications.

To compete with Grid’s Palm PAD, which uses software from CGA Inc. to track hot costs from on the set, Psion plans to offer size and versatility. The Palm PAD weighs a little under three pounds, while the flyweight Psion weighs just about 3/4 of a pound and fits in a coat pocket.

Unlike other “organizers” like Sharp’s Wizard, the Psion has a standard keyboard and Microsoft’s Word for memos. Like the Wizard, data can be imported from a PC or printed from the Psion to a printer. The Psion lists for $ 600 (although they’re available for about a third less) and the small information cards go for another $ 50.

“I could do a brief memo from the production manager right on the set,” says Lisa Becker, a production coordinator at Castle Rock.

In the coming months Psion plans to introduce directories, like to the DGA, onto tiny Flash Cards. These are storage discs like a floppy, the size of credit cards, that currently hold up to 256,000 characters. “It’s putting Hollywood in your pocket,” promises Psion’s marketing chief, Nancy Rockett.

CORN CD: Philips Interactive Media of America is considering putting Billy Ray Cyrus, the multiplatinum country star, on a CD-I disc. Cyrus records for sister company Polygram Records.

The move would seem finally to wring some synergy out of the Philips family of companies. If it happens, it would follow PIMA’s U2 CD that it announced two months ago, based on the group’s Zoo TV tour.

“We haven’t signed any firm deals yet, but with the advent of full-motion on a full TV screen, we’re making a lot of overtures to the music industry,” says PIMA’s Emiel Petrone.

The Cyrus title, however, is supposed to be simply rolling over video to CD-I later this year, using Philip’s full-motion-video capability. U2 will have an interactive component permitting players to create their own music videos.

But sources say that Cyrus may not hit the disc at all because of an ongoing internal debate on how to spend limited development funds.

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