COMDEX 98
Multimedia
 
by David Steward

COMDEX - Technology's Main Event"Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter" should have been chiseled into the portal above the doors leading to the COMDEX show floor, as this years COMDEX got off to a great start. The cacophony of sights and sound were deafening. Just about every facet of the industry was represented in some form or fashion. Did I say fashion? Believe it or not, now there is politically correct, ergonomic clothing that should be worn while sitting in front of your computer system. It seems that everyone is attempting to get into this industry.

 However, there did seem to be a fair amount of stuff to be quite impressed with. Being my forte, I concentrated on mostly multimedia-oriented products. One of the first things that struck me was the lack of new technological breakthroughs. There were a lot of new vendors and product representatives, but not many new products. 

I discovered that one of the reasons for this was that most companies have been spending the majority of their research time and budgets, developing fixes for the Year 2000 crisis (Y2K).

 I had the opportunity to attend a number of speeches by CEO's of some of the largest software companies in the world. Both Bill Gates of Microsoft and Gordon Eubanks of Symantec had mixed feelings concerning the Y2K crisis. Neither felt that it was going to have the severe impact that most rumor mills has stated. There are indeed some concerns, but most revolve around how an individual user utilizes the software/hardware interface. And yes, 2000 will be a leap year, as it is divisible by 400. Only century years that are divisible by 400 are treated as leap years.

 "Connectivity" is still the buzzword in the industry. Most of the major steps that were taken in the last year revolved around networking and allowing users around the world to share data. Wireless keyboards and even completely wireless networks will start being prevalent in the next few years. Products are already being offered that allow large companies to install and maintain networks, that send and receive data over the installed power lines in buildings. In addition, great strides have been taken to enhance the way that we communicate over the Internet. More and more high speed backbones are being installed to help facilitate the ever growing number of people that use the Internet each day.
 
 

Flat Panel Displays

Flat panel displays were everywhere, in all sizes, resolutions and price ranges. On the high end, Fujitsu has introduced a 42" diagonal flat screen monitor that is only 6" thick. Designed for mounting on a wall, it even substitutes for a TV monitor, when not being used for PC or Mac applications. The estimated price for this unit is $ 12,995.00 and over 5,000 units are presently installed or on order.

 On the other end of the spectrum, many companies have introduced smaller flat screen displays that are designed for the individual user. Samsung, for example, has a 15" display that is, to say the least, beautiful. I have used some of the early flat screen displays and, frankly, was not impressed. The colors seemed to run together, the pixel size was to large for high resolutions, and the refresh rate made you eyes hurt after a while. Samsung has completely changed my attitude. Their models 330 TFT and 331 TFT Liquid Crystal Displays have completely overcome the problems that I noted above. With a .26 pixel size, the resolution of these displays are 1024 X 768 and rival any tube type monitor that I have seen. In addition, the color are more vibrant that on tube type displays, and the refresh rate is high enough that no discernable flicker is present, thus leading to no sore eyes. Although still a bit pricey at $1,299.00, it is a must for those of us that want top end systems. 

Expect to see tube type monitor prices to drop even more significantly over the next few months as the flat screen technology progresses. The average price of consumer flat screens at last years COMDEX was approximately $125 per diagonal inch. This year, this average has dropped to about $70 per diagonal inch, and will continue to fall.

 For you technophiles, Phillips was demonstrating their latest addition to their consumer product line, the High Definition TV Flat Screen or HDTV. This had to be seen to be believed. This screen had one of the crispest and most vibrant pictures that I have ever seen. Before you run out and try to purchase one, be prepared to spend upward of $8,000 for a good one. The consensus was that they would probably be in the $1,500 2,000 dollar range by the end of 1999. If you like movies, it well worth the price tag.
 
 

Multimedia and sound

Although connectivity and networking was the big push this year, a few good enhancements have been developed in the multimedia area. Video cards have improved significantly and many new features have been added. STB and ATI have introduced high speed accelerators that improve overall efficiency in Windows applications. Coupled with up to 32 MB of video ram, these cards are a gamers dream. More realistic textures and real time animation improves the "you are part of the game" feeling. In addition, the extra memory allows very rich 3D effects to be included.

 Sound card manufactures have not been left out. Until recently, sound cards with up to 64 simultaneous voices have been the top of the line. Now, Equsonic and Turtle Beach have introduced cards with 320 voices. As with video cards, the added capabilities make for much more realistic sound effects. Imagine and explosion in your favorite game. With 64 voice cards, you can only have 64 unique sounds. With the 320 voice cards, you can have the same 64 sounds and add 256 more. I had the opportunity to compare the two different cards is a controlled sound booth, and believe me, you can definitely tell the difference.

 Do you remember how the CD-ROM revolutionized the PC era. We get ready. The DVD is doing it again. Most of the CD-ROM manufacturers have started producing DVD and some have already moved into the second generation of DVD products. With faster speeds and throughput, PC video animation has reached an all time high. In addition, Creative Labs will be making available, a low cost DVD player/writer sometime during the first quarter of 1999.

 Along these same lines, the battle for streaming video over the Internet has once again heated up. More and more people have gotten into the act. It looks like movies and full speed animation delivered to your desktop will be possible very soon.
 
 

A new operating system

Competition for Microsoft Windows has been unveiled. A new operating system has been developed that will, in my opinion, give Windows a run for it's money. The Be operating system is a fully multi-tasking, kernel based operating system that has been designed mainly for the multimedia industry. "As it's foundation, the BeOS is based on a concept called pervasive multi-threading that utilizes even a single microprocessor more efficiently by breaking down applications into hundreds of smaller task that can be easily switched in and out as you move between applications." A few of the major software producers have already ported some of their applications over to the BeOS and many more are committed to doing so. More information concerning the BeOS can be found at www.be.com.

 I would like to thank the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG) for acting as hosts for all of the User Group officers that were present at COMDEX. Without their support and the support of the contributing vendors, sending representatives to COMDEX would be very expensive and in some cases, impossible.

 All in all, it was a great exhibition. I was able to make a great many new contacts that will benefit Alamo PC in the form of new presenters and lots of great software and hardware that will be reviewed for the PC Alamode. And in case you have not heard ( at least 20 times) Congratulations go to Clarke Bird, editor of the PC Alamode, which won the first place prizes in all three categories of the magazine contest.

 David Steward is the program chairman for Alamo PC.