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Desktop video and multimedia.


Desktop Video and Multimedia

The screen fades up on a mesa with distinctive geological formations under a starry sky. A comet streaks into the frame and a title appears in a flash of color, then dissolves. New titles dissolve on and off, the stars wink a few times and with a surge in the music, the moonscape dissolves into a logo rising on the desert horizon. Dissolve to a close-up of rolling ocean waves, then a checkerboard dissolve reveals a bright green field. As yellow flowers pop on and off in staccato rhythm, the screen dissolves again to a crowd of people. The camera zooms into a woman's eye. The eye blinks several times, and with each blink a new title appears. Cut to a rapid-fire 25-second montage of video and film clips, then cut back to the mesa. A comet streaks by again as the final title dissolves on and off.

Sounds like another $50,000 corporate video. But because most of this show was created on a PC, it was produced at a fraction of the usual cost and in half the time.

Headlines in the computer and business trades swing from upbeat predictions that desktop video has arrived to dour pronouncements that it will not fly, at least not yet. Nonetheless, even as the usefulness of desktop video within corporate environments is being debated, dozens of corporate communicators are already exploring life after desktop publishing--desktop video and multimedia.

The 90-second program described above was created last July by American Express' business communication department using a Macintosh IIfx and an animation software package called MacroMind Director, which allows you to animate images scanned into the PC.

"We are presenting information to a senior management meeting on new technologies being introduced within the corporation and wanted to create an impact by using the latest technology. And we didn't want to spend a lot of money," says Al Weiss, vice president.

Using desktop technology to create all of the graphics, they were able to complete the piece in seven days, "very cheaply," rather than in weeks, at an "astronomical cost." Weiss estimates the savings at 20 to 25 percent of what the show would have cost if it was created through normal production techniques, like using a Quantel Paintbox at US $200-$300 an hour to create the graphics, integrated with existing film and video footage. Digital effects were created with traditional post-production technology. It was transferred to videotape for projection in the meeting room.

"The look is terrific," says Weiss. "It's broadcast quality video. I can't tell the difference."

How Do You Get into Desktop Video Production?

Probably the biggest stumbling block to getting desktop video integrated into the corporate communication mix, according to Datamation magazine, is a lack of information about what is available and how the various hardware and software options fit together.

"Desktop video technology isn't mature in the way that desktop publishing is mature, with widely used off-the-shelf products," says Hazlitt Krog, a founding partner in Armonk, N.Y.-based Simulations, a company which creates custom high-end interactive corporate presentations using Macintosh technology. "In spite of the fact that there are a lot of products shipping, desktop video is still in an experimental period," he says.

"We are probably on the crest of the curve," acknowledges Ben Goodman, American Express business communications' systems coordinator, who was responsible for setting up the animation team.

Up until a few years ago, contracting out of house was the only way to produce professional quality products with video, animation and sound. That is changing. Just as desktop publishing put the power of the printer and the graphic designer into the hands of communication specialists, desktop video is putting the skills of the videographer, animator and editor into the hands of a whole new group of users--corporate video and training departments, small businesses, educators, independent video producers and advertising agencies. Even professional production houses are starting to incorporate desktop video into their rate cards to lower prices for customers.

At Peat Marwick Main & Co., the international accounting firm, managers in the tax technology department last spring started producing internal marketing and training programs using desktop video. "We'd never done traditional video production before," says Robert Wells, one of the partners in charge at the Montvale, N.J., office. But in the past year, using Targa Systems 4,000 software on an AT-based IBM 286, they have created six videos, averaging one every other month. The final 10-minute programs are distributed on VHS cassette to the company's 3,600 tax professionals in offices located in 130 cities across the US.

Counting their investment in hardware and software--they paid US $50,000 for the Targa software, a dedicated PC, a 35mm camera, a music library and a sound effects library--Wells figures they've saved at least $60,000 by producing their shows in-house. That's based on his estimate of $1,000 per minute for professionally produced video. "If we had gone with an outside production company, it would have cost $110,000 for all six," he says.

Just about Anyone Can Learn the Technology

But according to Ilene Hammershlag, a manager in the tax technology department, "The biggest advantage is we have tax people creating videos for tax people in the field."

Hammershlag, a tax and computer professional with no prior video production experience, became the in-house desktop video producer after just a few days of training with Targa on what the system can do.

By handling the entire process themselves, "We don't have to try to explain to a videographer what we do, we don't waste time translating," she says. The most difficult part, she adds, isn't mastering the technology, but "keeping them (the videos) interesting and entertaining enough for people to watch."

With desktop video, live or pre-recorded video footage is fed into a desktop computer, mixed with any combination of computer-generated text, graphics, audio, animation or titling, and then output to videotape for later viewing. Or the finished program can be output to floppy or hard disk for playback on a PC.

Multimedia uses all the elements of desktop video, incorporating text, graphics, audio, animation and video in a single computer document, but it goes one step further by adding interactivity, allowing the user to determine the pace and path through branching options.

The basics for getting started in desktop video are a PC, a video camera or camcorder with microphones, tripods and other accessories and a video cassette recorder. The PC must have a special video board, which allows it to synchronize to the video recording signal, and a color monitor. You'll also need one of the dozens of computer graphics, animation and sound effects software packages, and a significant amount of memory and disk space.

A recent issue of Macworld magazine advises that a simple amateur desktop video set up with two VCRs, a camcorder and a monitor can cost several thousand dollars, in addition to the PC, and professional equipment will be 10 to 50 times more expensive.

Despite the experimental stage of desktop video, the market for hardware, software and related materials and services is expected to grow over the next five years. So say the experts at Multimedia Computing Corporation of Santa Clara, Calif., who recently conducted a desktop video market study. By 1995, desktop video will become a mainstream technology in the personal computer industry when it's anticipated that the consumer market will kick in.

Desktop Presentations Inc., a market research firm, predicts that the worldwide desktop presentation market--software tools, hardware systems and supplies--will grow to $7.1 billion by 1992 from about $2.4 billion in 1987.

Without question, notes MacWEEK magazine, in the last 18 months, there has been a steady stream of new product announcements promising enhancements of hardware and software to make it as easy for users to combine images and sounds as it is to manipulate text.

Multi-Use for Multi-Purpose Videos

"Interactive video, hypermedia and simulation are in their adolescence in big school and big business," the researchers at Multimedia Computing report. "In five to seven years, they will be primary tools for teaching everything from kindergarten to rocket nozzle dynamics at NASA."

Hewlett-Packard in Cupertino, Calif., runs a television broadcast facility dedicated to technical training for HP sales representatives, support and R&D engineers scattered throughout the world. For the past three years, they've used desktop video as an integral part of these training programs. In monthly live, interactive broadcasts to 50-100 sites across the US and Canada, HP incorporates live and pre-taped video, PC-generated graphics run through a Videoshow disk drive to convert them to NTSC broadcast signal, and 2-D animation created on a Commodore Amiga 2000.

"Desktop publishing had a much firmer, more vanilla definition," says John Vernon, producer and instructional designer for HP's ITE-Net (Interactive Technology Education Network). "Desktop video means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, it means having desktop video on your desk and being able to run video in a window on the screen. For us, it's being used in an interactive broadcast setting, allowing an instructor to use a Hewlett-Packard touchscreen PC built into a console that gives him or her access to an overhead camera, a computer display, graphics, animation, videotape and still-stored images."

Admittedly the Hewlett-Packard set-up is "pretty advanced," to use Vernon's modest phrase. But a basic desktop video production system, based around the Commodore Amiga, costs between US $3,000 and $5,000.

As the prices come down and technology improves, desktop video is going to rapidly change the emphasis of corporate communication, says Chris Campbell, founder and creative director of Praxis Media, Inc., a corporate communication consulting company in South Norwalk, Conn.

"Computer, video and kinetic literacy will be among the most important talents going into the next century," he predicts. As desktop video puts professional quality video production within reach for almost anyone, "now the premium will be on creativity, rather than on who owns the limited number of toys."

"There are 14,000 producers between 10th Street and 96th Street in New York City right now," says Campbell. "But there are not 14,000 good producers. It's like the guitar--almost anybody can play one, but there aren't that many Segovias."

So Where to Begin?

"The first question," says American Express' Ben Goodman, "is what kind of budget you have. Then decide whether you want to create broadcast quality tapes, animation or videotapes or slide shows. Finally, you need to determine what kind of quality that application will require and match it with your budget."

"You need to find software solutions first," advises Hewlett-Packard's John Vernon. "What's going to allow you to do what you want, and then find the hardware platform to support it, making sure that it supports television and video applications as well."

Says Robert Wells of Peat Marwick Main & Co., "Don't commit a major amount of money unless you feel comfortable with the technology." Before they settled on the Targa system, they made a trial investment. "If we weren't pleased, we would not have kept the system," he says.

"You have to know what you are trying to accomplish, and you really need people who are interested in getting involved, because you can't buy a rule book," Wells adds.

A subscription to a few computer journals can also be a big help in mastering the intricacies of computer and video jargon and in keeping up with the latest technology and applications news.

Desktop video has arrived, and as its use becomes more widespread in business, there's one thing we can be sure of: It's not going to be technology that sets communicators apart, it's going to be the ability to make the leap to visualize new ideas.

PHOTO : Hewlett-Packard's TV broadcast facility dedicated to technical training for HP employees throughout the world.

PHOTO : Middle column: Using an IBM computer, this fanciful image was created by KPMG Peat Marwick's tax technology department for use in a 10-minute training video.

Deborah A. Weingrad is a free-lance writer and public relations/business communication consultant based in South Norwalk, Conn.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Weingrad, Deborah A.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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