Multimedia is the term used to describe two or more types of media combined into a single package—usually denoting a combination of some or all of the following: video, sound, animation, text, and pictures. Multimedia gives the user the opportunity to influence the presentation of material. The selection and manipulation of various aspects of the presentation material is the interactive aspect of a multimedia presentation. Interactive features could range from a question-and-answer function to choosing from a menu of particular subjects or aspects of a presentation. One application of multimedia, for example, involves presenting the user with a “what if” scenario, in which the choices the user makes affect the outcome of the presentation. This affords the user a degree of control, not unlike directing a motion picture and having the opportunity to make changes to the plot at various junctures.
TYPES OF MEDIA
There are certain types of media used in multimedia presentations, from simple to complex visual and audio devices. Multimedia components are divided into:
- Text. This refers to written documents, the words seen in handouts, powerpoint presentations, Web sites, and reports. One of the most simple types of media, text is also used to communicate the most information and appears in conjunction with visual aids.
- Audio. This is the sounds that often accompany visual presentations. Sound by itself can be used in radio broadcasts or online audio files, but in multimedia presentations audio is used as a complementary media. Sound effects can help make a presentation more memorable, while hearing the main points of information spoken can help listeners focus.
- Still images. Photographs, taken either by digital or analog means, are an important part of multimedia productions. Well-placed visual aids can explain concepts with clarity.
- Animation. Animations are graphics that move, accompanied by audio effects.
- Video. Video media is used to spread interviews, create movies, and post personal updates to communicate business messages. Currently, businesses can use videos online or create CDs to spread for instructional use within their company.
- Interactivity . The newest form of multimedia, interactivity, is a computer-based tool which allows users to choose to learn different parts of information on their own terms. By highlighting or choosing links and sections, users can manipulate the information environment, examining whatever knowledge is important to them.
ANALOG AND DIGITAL MEDIA
Analog media saves sounds, pictures, and text in non-electronic forms. This can include more traditional types of media, such as cassette tapes, records, and videocassettes, which use waves to transmit information. Analog equipment is generally more specialized than digital. Analog devices rely on tape recorders, video cameras, and older playback equipment to edit their contents.
Digital media transmits the information recorded in the waves into a more flexible format, namely, digitized code that can be transferred across a variety of devices, such as computers, internet systems, digital cameras, and more. Scanners, sound cards, and video compression are all used to record these types of media. Businesses currently use digital media most often in their multimedia applications, such as:
- Accounting and employee records management
- CDs for catalogs, records, and presentations
- Interactive training sessions for employees
- Internet tools such as company Web sites
- Product refinement and development using various computer-assisted design programs
- Sales presentations, and other communication to a wide audience.
- Self-running media presentations that can be used for commercial purposes
THE MECHANICS OF DIGITAL MULTIMEDIA
The CD-ROM and its successor, the DVD-ROM, store data in the form of a binary code. The binary code is placed onto the discs by a stamping process that impresses lands (flat areas that represent the zero in binary code) and hollows (pits that represent the one in binary code) onto the surface of the disc. When the discs are placed into a player or computer drive, the playing mechanism spins the disc and flashes a laser beam over the surface of the disc. The reflected light patterns caused by the embossed data contained on the surface of the disc are then decoded by the reader/player and translated back into audio and video. The storage capacity of a CDROM disc is 635 megabytes, while the storage capacity of a DVD-ROM disc can be as great as 5.2 gigabytes. Since sound, graphics, and other visuals take up considerably more data space than text alone, the increased storage capacities of the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs have played an integral part in making the use of multimedia more commonplace. The durability, portability, and relatively low manufacturing cost of the discs also play a critical role in their proliferation. While the Read Only Memory (ROM) format is still the most common for both CDs and DVDs, today recordable disc drives are widely available to enable users to “burn” data (write, erase, and/or rewrite data) to a disc on their own.
Rich media is a term referring to digital, interactive multimedia programs, the newest type of multimedia, most often found online via company Web sites or social networks. Rich media involves a combination of sound, pictures, animations, and video with integrated interactivity so that users, by pointing and clicking, can access online information as they desire. Rich media, because of its use of video and animation, can be built in two different formats. The first type is downloadable, which means Internet users can download the presentation and view it with a media player of their own, such as Apple's Quick-Time, Microsoft's Media Player, or Real Network's Real-Player. The second type of rich media is embedded into a Web site, meaning that it does not need to be downloaded, only accessed by the online user. This involves more cost on the producer's part, but makes it easier for users to have a seamless, interactive experience.
As the use of rich media increases, so do the benefits and complications. More and more companies are making use of rich media as marketing tools and training programs. However, downloadable media is dependent on its format, and problems can arise when transmitting rich media from one player to another. Animations and audio files may play differently from one media player to another. A successful rich media presentation will be interesting, informative, and easily accessed by any user.
Hypermedia, used in online multimedia presentations such as rich media, refers to the hyperlinks embedded in visual media. When a customer or employee clicks on a Web site link to learn more about a subject or choose a certain option, this is an example of hypermedia. It is ideal as a tool for allocating information on appropriate levels, giving users knowledge in pertinent pieces.
These types of nonlinear interaction are becoming increasingly common in the business world. As more people internationally gain access to hypermedia, companies are beginning to develop multimedia presentations to communicate their visions, opportunities, outsource training, and updates.
USES OF MULTIMEDIA
Multimedia devices have an almost innumerable variety of applications. They are used in home-entertainment systems and can be extremely powerful educational tools. Educators, for example, have been exceptionally creative in combining some of the exciting elements of video-game
applications with select features of educational material. By doing this, the concept of “edutainment” was created. The goal of using the multimedia edutainment approach is to entertain the user so effectively that the user remains unaware that he or she is actually learning in the process.
Multimedia can also offer critical services in the business world. While information can certainly be conveyed adequately by the singular use of still pictures, video, film, audio, or text, multimedia potentially multiplies the degree of effectiveness, in no small part due to the added entertainment value and the extent to which the viewers feel a part of the action. Such benefits can't easily be matched by the application of a singular medium. The effectiveness of teaching, selling, informing, entertaining, promoting, and presenting are all dependent upon one factor: the ability of the presented material to hold the attention of the desired audience. A dynamic multimedia presentation can usually be more effective than earlier methods at accomplishing this task with an audience that was raised on television and motion pictures. The computerized multimedia presentation offers the added benefit of cost-effective flexibility, allowing easy editing of the basic materials in order to tailor them to specific target audiences.
Training, informational and promotional materials, sales presentations, and point-of-sale displays that allow for customer interaction and communication both within and outside the organization are all common applications of multimedia in the business world. Multimedia presentations for many such applications can be highly portable, particularly in the cases of the CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and videotape. The equipment required to produce these presentations is relatively commonplace or otherwise easy to access.
Perhaps the vanguard application of multimedia is virtual reality, a combination of video, stereo, and computer graphics that attempts to create an interactive three-dimensional environment that immerses the user within the simulation. Virtual reality has been employed in a wide range of practical applications: to train military troops, to streamline manufacturing and architectural design processes, to create simulated test environments for industry, and as a form of public entertainment.
One should still keep in mind, however, that even if rendered in a highly advanced multimedia format, an ineffectual presentation is still an ineffectual presentation. One should remain focused on the message being conveyed while shaping the choice and use of materials in accordance with that message.
SEE ALSO Technology Management; Training Delivery Methods
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By the mid-1990s the processing speed and memory capacity of computers had advanced considerably, enabling users to do more than ever before on their PCs. It became possible to run applications like video games that combined text, sounds, video, and graphic animation in exciting ways. The combination of these different media elements came to be known as multimedia. In addition to multimedia software, the use of multimedia technology began to increase on the World Wide Web. Consumers were able listen to music and news via Internet audio technology, such as that offered by RealNetworks; and view streaming video clips, films, and Web casts.
Multimedia technology was a powerful tool for companies engaging in e-commerce. First, it allowed marketers to show and describe products on the Web or CD-ROM with static text and pictures. However, it also allowed them to create more exciting promotional efforts that incorporated video and sound. For example, a hotel chain could allow potential visitors to take virtual tours that included previews of rooms, restaurants, and entertainment offerings at different properties. An online music store could provide sample songs from CDs prior to purchase. Multimedia technology also made inroads in the area of e-mail marketing. In the early 2000s, Radical Communications provided technology to leading companies like 20th Century Fox, the National Football League, Dell, Old Navy, and Kraft that allowed them to deliver audio and video to consumers via e-mail. It did this through a product called RadicalMail.
Despite rapid advancements in multimedia technology and the speeds at which consumers connected to the Internet, a survey conducted by Keynote Systems Inc. in October 2000 revealed that the quality of Web-based audio and video was still quite poor. The organization expected conditions to improve as streaming technologies evolved and more users relied on high-speed connections to access the Internet. Bandwidth, or the amount of data that a network connection is able to carry, is important for multimedia transmission quality. According to Dataquest, the number of households with high-speed access was expected to reach 28 million by 2004, increasing from 6 million at the end of 2000.
"Dataquest: Broadband to Connect 28 Million U.S. Households." Nua Internet Surveys, November 21, 2000. Available from www.nua.ie.
"Keynote Systems: Web Multimedia Still Low-Grade." Nua Internet Surveys, October 25, 2000. Available from www.nua.ie.
"Multimedia." Ecommerce Webopedia, May 25, 2001. Available from www.e-comm.webopedia.com.
"Multimedia." Tech Encyclopedia, May 25, 2001. Available from www.techweb.com.
SEE ALSO: Bandwidth; Streaming Media
mul·ti·me·di·a / ˈməltiˈmēdēə; ˈməlˌtī-/ • adj. (of art, education, etc.) using more than one medium of expression or communication: a multimedia art form that is a mélange of film, ballet, drama, mime, acrobatics, and stage effects. • n. an extension of hypertext allowing the provision of audio and video material cross-referenced to a computer text.