VIVA LAS VEGAS: It’s hard being part of a crowd of 130,000 sifting through computer exhibits from 2,000 companies. It’s not pretty, but that’s what this year’s Comdex is like. What’s billed as the world’s biggest five-day gathering for computer makers, software vendors and their customers is deadly.
The main event consumes space equivalent to more than five football fields in the city’s convention center, and spills over to five hotels, which means dodging keno players and slot machines. It ends, mercifully, tomorrow.
For the second year, multimedia has again been consolidated at one hotel, but the offerings proved disappointing. Sprinkled in with sound boards that make computers sing was one possible gem: Video Machine, from Munich-based FAST Electronics GmbH.
The just-introduced machine is a cheap on-line video editor on a single computer board for a PC. It provides windows that display A and B rolls and offers such impressive video effects as zooms and tumbles. It stores up to 13 seconds of images at a time and is priced at $ 4,000 for IBM-compatibles and is soon to be available for Apple Macintosh at $ 5,000. Users can expect to see it in dealers’ hands in two weeks.
On the main floor, Microsoft Corp. dominated with products strewn over more than 25,000 square feet. The latest product was its new multimedia software package, Video for Windows. Introduced Tuesday, the software finally gives IBM-compatible PCs the ability to record and play video cheaply.
Used alone, it plays back images at 15 frames per second in a window that’s one-eighth the computer screen. Boards from one of four companies boosts that so it can handle up to 30 FPS at nearly full-screen, but the resolution is still quite low. One unique feature from Truevision Inc. in Indianapolis, is a board that lets video editors view up to five windows of images on the computer screen at one time.
Video for Windows means access to millions of PCs for the 30 companies offering CD-ROM products. One of these companies — Jasmine Multimedia Publishing — is out with the largest library of royalty-free video images, stills and music on compact disc. Video producers can have easy access to incidental music and location shots, according to Jay Alan Samit, JMP’s president. For around $ 1,500, users get six CDs with 1,000 video clips and seven hours of music.
MAX HEADROOM REDUX: Late Tuesday night, about 1,500 people sat through what was billed as the “Grand Scientific Musical Theater,” at UNLV’s arena. While the show featured music by Graham Nash, Todd Rundgren and Yes’ Jon Anderson, one of the unusual components was a computer-generated talking head, Eggwardo, on an 8 -foot TV screen.
Created by South Pasadena-based, SimGraphics Engineering Corp., Eggwardo is what vice president Steve Glenn calls a VActor, a three-dimensional cartoon character controlled by a frame that sits on the user’s head. With sensors attached to key points on the face and mouth, the computerized character suddenly has human-like expression. To make this happen in real time, the system uses some of the most powerful computers from Silicon Graphics Inc.
Now, SimGraphics is making its VActor software available for a hefty $ 30,000 to $ 80,000, and has even cut a marketing deal with Iwerks Entertainment, the theme-park ride company. The goal, say sources, is to use the software at parks to make those long lines more bearable by having folks talk back to a character.
HOT TALK: Yes, Silicon Valley does meet Hollywood. That was proved earlier this week at a software conference sponsored by 3DO Inc., a well-funded aspirant to the interactive game and entertainment field.
3DO is different from Sega or Nintendo because of its pedigree: It has the backing of Time Warner Enterprises Inc., the joint venture teaming Time Warner, Toshiba and C. Itoh; blue-chip venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; and top Nintendo game developer Electronic Arts. The newest partner is Universal Studio’s parent, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. With such heavy hitters backing the venture, plenty of Hollywood had camped out for 3 1/2 days at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency to hear how showbiz can be a part of the new enterprise.
It was a who’s who of entertainment multimedia, including the cream of Viacom’s new multimedia cadre, headed by Michelle DiLorenzo and kid-whiz engineer Jonathan Guttenberg.
The purpose of this gathering was to generate excitement among potential title developers for what is likely to be a major leap forward in game and entertainment players.
Electronic Arts founder and 3DO chairman Trip Hawkins wants to develop a machine that leaves other players in the dust, with the same 30 -frames-per-second picture quality that’s found on TV. In animation terms, that’s 6 million pixels per second flashing on and off on the screen. By comparison, the current crop of game machines, whether CD-ROM or Super Nintendo, crank out a mere 1 million pixels.
To achieve this goal, 3DO needs horsepower. Hawkins has hired former Amiga Computer aces Dave Morris and R.J. Michal to design a player that sports a high-powered RISC chip–reduced instruction set computation–the guts of any super-fast processing power of speedy workstations. RISC also means a much larger color palette and 3-D graphics.