What is happening to CD-i in 1999?

Unfortunately, as we have known for some time, 1999 will signal the phasing out of CD-i. I say unfortunately, because, as yet there is nothing to replace it. This may not seem important, but it is.

CD-i has carved a very successful niche for itself as the Multimedia platform of choice for training, marketing and sales kiosks. There are at least a hundred very experienced and qualified CD-i developers in North America and Europe working for many of the largest most influential companies in the Western world. In this field CD-i has been enormously successful and is, as yet without a successor.

The computer industry are lobbying for DVD-ROM, which has all the problems and complexities of CD-ROM, only more so. Standard DVD Video players, which would seem the logical successor to CD-i, do not in fact support many of the capabilities of CD-i and are in reality a replacement for VideoCD.

The Interactive Digital Media Association is lobbying hard for an Interactive DVD standard but unfortunately, it is in no ones interest to make this a reality. The two power brokers, in the world of DVD are the film studios and the computer industry. Hollywood has what it needs to sell us yet another copy of all its films, using DVD Video played in a simple DVD Video player, costing less than four hundred dollars. The computer industry run by the computer elite, for the computer elite has all it needs in DVD-ROM.

Even though both manufacturers, Philips Electronics and Digital Video Systems would very much like to continue manufacturing CD-i players to satisfy the very strong demand it is not going to be possible for much longer. The supply of special CD-i microchips will eventually become exhausted, which will mean that there will be no more new CD-i players.

Should I still consider creating a CD-i title? That depends entirely on your particular circumstances. If you are an established user of CD-i and have CD-i players that you can use, then there is currently absolutely no reason why you would stop making CD-i titles. There is still no alternative to CD-i, other than Panasonic's M2, so if CD-i is working for you at the moment, then let it keep working for you until something better comes along. After all, one does not scrap one's car the moment a new model is announced. One waits until it becomes unreliable and then one changes it.

If you are not a current user of CD-i, but are convinced that you need the capabilities that only CD-i can provide, then you have two alternatives. One, move quickly and purchase the CD-i players you need while they are still being manufactured and go ahead with creating a CD-i title. Two, consider using Panasonic's M2 as an alternative, it should be able to do everything you intended to do when you choose CD-i. Finally, if your Project requires large numbers of players, or it is some distance in the future, then you need to find an alternative. If the Project can be realized with only very limited interactivity then you can choose between VideoCD, SVCD and DVD Video. If the Project is being created for use in a controlled environment, by people with all the correct skill sets then you could consider DVD-ROM. If you need the capabilities of CD-i, the simplicity, reliability and of course the interactivity, then the Panasonic's M2 platform again, is probably your best choice.

Waiting in the wings, and fighting for a place in the sun are various set-top box type solutions which you may also wish to consider. Unfortunately, at this time there is no common standard that is supported by any of the giant electronics companies, whose backing the industry needs to make one of these standards an internationally accepted platform with which one can work.

Can I still get CD-i players? Yes players are still available. Philips Electronics, the inventor and almost the only manufacturer of CD-i players still has stock available. Contact Job Mensink at job.mensink@philips.com. Digital Video Systems also manufacture CD-i players intended for commercial and professional use. They have a substantial supply still available. CD-i players manufactured by Digital Video Systems can be used with both PAL and NTSC televisions and have voltage sensing transformers so they can be used in both Europe and North America. For further information on DVS CD-i players contact Pamela Livingston pamliving@aol.com.

Small quantities of CD-i players are also available in North America from pmpro,Inc. contact: John Gray at gray@pmpro.com , in Europe from McNo, contact: Alan McNaught at info@mcno.com.

Can I get CD-i authoring software? CD-i authoring software is still available in North America from RISE International, contact: Richard French at riserlf@flash.net, Multimedia Technology Center, contact: Rick Hallock at hallock@dreamscape.com and in Europe from Cambridge Multimedia, contact: Robin Sewell at Robin.Sewell@cmgroup.co.uk.

Can I get CD-i consumer titles? Yes consumer CD-i titles are available from either of the two Web sites. For North America visit www.pmpro.com, order by Credit card from 1-800-340-7888 or fax your requirements to 202-337-2514. For Europe visit www.mcno.com or e-mail Alan McNaught at info@mcno.com.

What will replace CD-i? The answer to this question is not yet clear and depends on whom you ask. What is required is a player, which would in fact play DVD Video, VideoCD, Super VideoCD and CD-R. Plus of course audio CDs. It will need the ability to communicate by modem with Internet's and Intranets. It will need to be controlled by input devices such as a mouse, touch screen, a tracker ball and the host of other input devices being used in kiosks and training applications. These are just the mechanical requirements and they, can very easily be built into a player. The hardest feature to create a standard for is the human interface.

The difference between an Interactive DVD player and computer with DVD ROM is only the human interface. The DVD interactive player will have all the hardware and software that you will find in the DVD ROM computer, the difference is that to the user it is totally transparent. The user of the DVD interactive player will only ever have to do one thing before using the program and that his place the disc into the player drawer. They will never be asked to work with, "Wizards" or "Drivers who are loaded." They will never have to input instructions using a keyboard were the words have to be spelt, with all the letters in exactly the right order.

This may not seem important to you. If you are a computer literate person, it is as natural as driving a car or programming the microwave. However even the cleverest person in an emergency or under stress would be thankful for an Interactive DVD platform that does the thinking for them. For the rest of us, (who believe that, if computers are so clever, why do they ask such stupid questions), what we want is a computer that provides the answers not asks more questions.

What comes next? The Multimedia platform that comes nearest to meeting these goals is Panasonic's M2. If this platform were indeed capable of playing DVD Video then I think it would meet all our requirements. However as a non-DVD replacement for CD-i, while we await the introduction of Interactive DVD, M2 would be well worth consideration if only for the fact that it has all the capabilities of CD-i plus enhanced video, very comparable to MPEG 2 and DVD Video.

If you wish to be kept up-to-date with developments in Television Based Multimedia select our newsletter, Plug & Play. To be added to the Circulation Send your name and e-mail address to the editor, Paul Holmes.

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