Announcements shake multimedia industryIntrigue, shifting...


January 11, 1993|By Steve Auerweck

Announcements shake multimedia industry

Intrigue, shifting allegiances and strange alliances are beginning to make the multimedia industry resemble a gathering of Somali warlords.

The biggest announcement last week came from 3DO Co., the start-up headed by W. M. "Trip" Hawkins III, who moved from Apple Computer Inc. to found Electronic Arts, a powerhouse in computer gaming. 3DO said it has licensed its design for a CD-ROM-based interactive multimedia player to American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., owner of Panasonic.

The two electronics giants are joined by Time Warner Inc. and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as investors in 3DO.

3DO hopes its machine, to be available in the fall, will achieve dominance by virtue of a custom chip that handles data compression. But it faces a pack of formidable opponents.

Earlier in the week, for example, Hitachi Ltd. said it will be part of a multimedia consortium led by Kaleida Labs Inc., a joint venture of International Business Machines Corp. and Apple. Fujitsu Ltd. also announced plans to enter the multimedia market with a home machine.

Microsoft Corp., Tandy Corp. and Philips N.V. of Europe are all pushing their own versions of CD-ROM standards.

Microsoft certainly won't be caught napping. Last week it raided Apple and came away with a top software manager.

Roger Heinen Jr., who headed the team that created the System 7 operating system for the Macintosh and the QuickTime multimedia software, will join Microsoft as leader of its data base and development tools division.

Fiber-optic cable installed by C&P

In a world that demands music and video from computers, plain old copper wiring is hard-pressed to handle data transfers. As a step toward the future, Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland recently completed its first residential installation of fiber-optic phone cable, which carries information by light impulses.

The line to the new Weston Courtyard Homes at Owings Mills New Town goes to a curbside box; traditional wires connect each home. The advantage to customers right now is simply a clearer connection. But the groundwork has been laid for future delivery of a broad range of information and entertainment services.

In addition to the installation at Weston, where the first houses should be ready in one or two months, C&P plans to run fiber to the DeerTrace town homes and a new condominium community at New Town.

C&P chose fiber as "the most cost-effective medium" for Weston, not because of specific plans for enhanced services, spokesman David A. Pacholczyk said. He did note, though, that C&P parent

Bell Atlantic Corp. has a "very aggressive strategy" for deploying ISDN, or Integrated Services Digital Network, a scheme for dramatically improving the data-handling capacity of phone systems.

One hint of where the phone system is going came with Thursday's announcement by Bell Atlantic that it will use an IBM server to test "video on demand" in Northern Virginia this summer.

The server is built with 36-gigabyte storage modules, each capable of holding about 30 digitized feature films on computer disks.

"From a customer's point of view, a network server will appear to be a remote VCR with films and other video information already loaded," Art Bushkin, Bell Atlantic's president of Information Services, said in a statement.

Waverly unit makes grammar software

Williams & Wilkins Electronic Media Division, the software publishing arm of Baltimore's Waverly Inc., has produced a grammar and style checker tailored for medical professionals.

Correct Grammar, Medical Edition, includes a spelling checker with every word in the Stedman's Medical Dictionary, and

highlights possible problems with grammar, syntax, punctuation and style.

The program, which sells for $199, works with a variety of word processors for PC-compatible and Macintosh computers.

Computer spending on the back burner

A survey of information systems executives released last week found that 1993 computer spending is expected to rise just 2.5 percent in North American organizations and 0.4 percent in Europe.

Computer Sciences Corp. said the planned increases were the smallest in the five years it has been conducting the survey.

The executives were more concerned with "re-engineering" existing procedures than expanding into new areas.

CSC said client-server computing, document imaging and automated programming tools were drawing the most attention.

More recent developments, such as pen-based computers, multimedia and video conferencing, were way down the list.

ARSoftware to market optical program

Applied Research Corp. of Landover said last week that its subsidiary ARSoftware Corp. will market OPTIMATR 3.1, a program to calculate optical properties, through a licensing agreement with the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University.

The $495 program for PC-compatibles calculates the way light is absorbed, scattered and bent by various materials.

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