CD-ROM Production

A Guided Tour

By Robert Lamm

An Impressive Display

John Francis, our first speaker showed some samples of the CD-ROMs that his company (Tarragon Interactive) makes. I was very impressed, especially by the one for a shoe company: A salesman can call up images of every style shoe they make, including all the various colors, from all sorts of angles. The easy-to-navigate user interface shows all the pricing, each store's sales history, even videos of the comapny's ads in one nice neat package. And the application will even book orders and feed them into the company's main computer.

John explained that CD-ROM production can be tricky: You have to be careful that all your viewers' hardware can play your application and that the user-interface doesn't get too hard to navigate.

He stressed the need for lots of pre-production planning to insure that the content is complete and properly organized before committing lots of production resources to the project.

One Man's Experience

Wilson Chao,the next speaker, gave specific details on how he produced the Internet CD-ROM that he recently brought to market: He spent 8 months and $70,000 on it, although it would only have taken 3 months if the cash had been on hand at the start.

His group chose the Internet topic because most viewers would already have computers to watch the presentation on and have sold about 60,000 since January, when they started shipping.

He pointed out that the compression algorithms favor graphics over live video, so a lot of his footage is screen grabs, which compress very nicely, as opposed to video of people, which artifacts very quickly. He shot the video in Betacam, digitized it on his Avids at Cambridge TV Productions, and made the presentation with MacroMedia Director on the Mac. Wilson generally praised the Mac platform, he said it was more compatible with Windows than the other way around.

He admitted that he hadn't made a million dollars on the CD, but that he would have done a lot better if he had gotten it out before Christmas, when the shopping season was at its height and before a half-dozen other people came out with competitive products.

Wilson predicts that a lot of the current hardware limitations are going to go away: CD-ROM's will handle more data, transfer speeds will increase, and CD-ROM's will become a viable medium for distributing video in the next few years.

Production Hardware

New Media Columnist Bob Doyle discussed some of the digitizing technology currently available. Basically, these range from inexpensive low-quality $500 specials to $6000 for a 60-field 640x480 Targa 2000. He also discussed MPEG compression options, which range from $1000 software packages (these take a looooong time!) to $15,000 real-time machines.

Bob will be making a more extensive presentation at our upcoming June meeting, June 29, at Active Communications in Waltham.

Guided Tour

Then we all got a tour of Video Transfer's recently expanded digs, which includes a new CD-ROM making capability. They've got a new Yamaha CDE-100 4-speed CD-ROM burner on a Pentium 100, video digitizing hardware, and a huge assortment of video decks, including Digital Betacam, D-2, D-3, as well as the usual analog formats. This is being used to make one-offs and small runs of up to 50 disks at a time. Did I mention the catering? Delicious! Thanks, guys!

Bob Lamm is Manager at CYNC Corp., a video equipment dealership in Brookline, MA. He can be reached at (617) 277-4317, fax (617) 232-8748, cync@world.std.com.