What do you think of when you hear the term multimedia? Nowadays it may be videoconferencing, a voice command or dictation system, a corporate video editing suite based on the boardroom PC, or mega 3D sound and video cards bought by dedicated gamers. In this multimedia product focus, Australian Reseller News looks at the developments and trends in the multimedia marketplace, new products and the advantages to the reseller in selling these products "Multimedia means many things to many people and being a player in all markets is indeed a challenge. Multimedia is a part of the future that will develop from a buzzword into a persuasive intuitive technology that will touch all our lives."
- Rob Hartnett, market development manager at Hewlett-PackardAccording to Hewlett-Packard's market development manager, Rob Hartnett, numerous studies over the last several years detail the overall effectiveness of interactive multimedia solutions. Learning curves are said to be about 60 per cent faster and content retention has been shown to be 25Ð50 per cent higher when multimedia technologies were implemented.
Distributors told ARN that multimedia is very much a growing market in Australia with strength in the government and education sectors, and with corporate sales "beginning to show much promise".
Mike Addicott of IDEA Media - a Queensland distributor of multimedia solutions - believes that, although there is some strong growth, "there is, however, a much greater potential.
"The major problem we continue to face is resellers' general apathy towards this major growth area."
To support its claims of market growth, IDEA Media points out that 1997 has seen a 30 per cent sales increase overall during 1996 with new products being released almost every week.
"Our sales have grown from $6m in 1996, to over $8m in 1997 - almost entirely based upon digital video and interactive multimedia products."
Richard Higgs, Lako Vision's market development manager, told ARN that more and more corporate clients are producing multimedia projects in-house, rather than contracting out to professional service bureaus.
"A few years ago these companies were coming to terms with exactly what multimedia meant . . . now they are asking what multimedia can do to improve the way in which we do business."
Higgs also believes that in terms of multimedia technology, various forms such as video, computing and the Internet are merging. "The trend seems to be video on the Internet as a means of communicating global messages in sales, marketing, interactive TV, training and information."
To this end he says that "any future hardware products and software developments that make this task easier and richer will be successful sellers in the market".
If resellers are apathetic about the idea of selling multimedia products, we should look at what the distributors say are sales advantages.
The most common advice from distributors is that resellers need to branch out from the traditional areas of computing sales where falling prices and fierce competition have constricted dealer margins.
It is suggested that the answer to the problem is to specialise in areas of computing sales where there are higher margins and less competition. Margins of 30Ð40 per cent have been quoted for desktop video products, and Addicott of Idea Media adds that "these products are rarely discounted in the marketplace".
Addicott, when pointing out the advantages of selling digital video products, told ARN that "digital video sells bigger systems. For the home user wishing to purchase a system suitably equipped to handle digital video editing, a system would cost around $5000. Compare this to the average cost of Pentium systems in the market and you will notice a difference. Also, the components that are required to be added are generally sold at a healthy margin. Hence you can increase profit margins as well as resale values."
Value-added profit is another possibility alluded to by Addicott: "For those resellers taking the time to understand the technology behind digital video and interactive multimedia, a major profit generator is training and support.
"Why offer training on generic word processors that everyone is offering and competing for, when you could be offering more specific training offered at a higher cost and higher profit per client?"
Lako Vision also believes that digital video editing hardware and software is the biggest growth area with the best selling products in its multimedia range. Higgs of Lako Vision told ARN that the reasons these products are gaining in popularity are:
1. Prices have come down to a point where they have become consumer mainstream rather than specialist hardware.
2. With the advent of powerful processing power on the PC (Pentium), video editing is now within the average consumer's reach. 486 CPUs were not capable of the heavy demands of non linear video editing.
3. Most consumers who own home PCs also own a camcorder, VCR and TV. Using a PC to edit your videos is fun, practical and a new application to put your computer to good use.
4. Desktop video is in the late 1990s what desktop publishing was in the early 1990s, for example.
"For the price of a flatbed scanner . . . you can buy a digital video editing card and software to make your own video tapes."
The following pages cover a wide range of multimedia hardware and software currently available, with some distributor comment on the status of these products in the marketplace.
You can't always get what you want
By Brad Grimes
So get what you need. recent PC World tests reveal that few 3D video cards deliver 3D performance as impressive as promised, and no single board can do everything well, from battling 3D monsters to getting the real work done.
You've buttoned up your work for the day and now it's time to save the world from aliens. So you grab a joystick, launch into the brand-new game you just bought, and start blasting away with your phasers. But instead of laser beams, all you get are ugly black boxes. What's going on? Better check your graphics card.
Unfortunately, strange glitches in 3D games are typical of some of the latest graphics boards on the market. Every new board promises to blow you away with the coolest, fastest 3D images you've ever seen - but don't believe it.
Based on our evaluation of a batch of graphics boards after putting them through our new 3D and multimedia tests, we can say that few boards deliver 3D that's as impressive as the vendors promise. We found big differences in the way graphics boards handle video, too. So if you're considering upgrading your board just for these hot new graphics capabilities, beware. But if all you want is to make sure the board that comes in a new PC is good for business applications like Excel, you're in luck.
PC World's tests showed that just about any board is fine for basic 2D work, particularly at typical resolutions such as 800 x 600. The only significant speed differences you'll find in business applications occur at higher resolutions such as 1280 x 1024.
The real truth is that no one graphics board can do it all well - zoom around virtual worlds, play movies, and help you get your work done quickly. Some boards, like the Hercules Stingray 128/3D, have great-looking 3D games, but jerky video. On the other end of the spectrum, the Matrox Mystique 220 has the fastest 2D performance, but Direct 3D games look terrible. When you go to pick your graphics board, you're going to have to decide what you most want it to do.
What did we discover? Among other things, we found that despite the hype, today's 3D is a mixed bag. Some works, some doesn't. A lot can be predicted by the chip a board uses. (For more information on chips, see PC World Online, www.pcworld.com/oct97/graphics.)Most of the boards with S3's popular Virge chip, for example, had driver bugs that made some games virtually unplayable. These boards couldn't do alpha blending correctly, which makes textures translucent. Most vendors will have a fix for this.
A technology you can expect to see on the horizon is the Accelerated Graphics Port, a new system bus that links a graphics board directly to your PC's main memory. The direct link is expected to help graphics boards move large texture maps onto your screen more quickly, giving you smoother game play.
AGP-compliant PCs and graphics boards should appear on store shelves in early 1998.
It's clear that graphics boards have a long way to go before 3D, video, and animation look as good as the business applications you use most. What's more, as 3D technology becomes more advanced, it will be up to software developers to design good-looking, high-quality programs that really take advantage of it. Until then, you'll have to determine which type of graphics is most important to you and buy your board accordingly.