topical media & game development

talk show tell print

multimedia applications

In many stores there is a multimedia section. In some stores you will see B-movies being announced as multimedia topper. In other stores, the multimedia sections has a large offering of computer peripherals, ranging from DVD-RW drives to webcams and TV on PC hardware. Elsewhere you may buy authoring packages to organize your cell-phone photos, your family photo and video album, to create your personal archive on DVD. All this might make you wonder whether multimedia is serious business. See figure (a) and (b), illustrating our personal memex, as explained below.

But more seriously, what is the commercial impact multimedia and in particular digital convergence may have? And, perhaps equally important, why should we be interested in this from, I must say, an academic perspective?

In this last section of the introductory chapter, we will look at some popular press items related to new media, mixed media (in particular the merge of TV and internet) and mobile multimedia. We will then briefly reflect on what significance these issues have from our academic perspective.



new media

As you may be read in the newspapers in the beginning of this century, large investments have been made (by both cable and telephone companies) to improve the technological infrastructure for the new media. Simultaneously, joint ventures have arisen between content developers and providers, as with the Dutch Endemol company.

Now, what does the popular press have to say about all these developments. Here is one comment, from a Dutch newspaper:

Peter Greven 23/3/2001 (Volkskrant)

new media sucks


people like new technology.

they don't like new media.

The translation from Dutch is, admittedly, mine. It says, in other words, that people like to receive the old stuff on new gadgets, but that they are not willing to pay for any new sort of services. For example, when considering the smart video recorder, that uses a disk cache for storing MPEG coded versions of broadcasts, just think of other gadgets and services that didn't make it or that are encountering problems in being accepted. Some famous examples from the past are the videofoon, videotext, cd-i, and DCC. Perhaps the reason for these failures is the trial-and-error method,, also referred to as the spaghetti method, that is being followed in developing new media. As characterized by Jan van Dijk, of a dutch university in the east of the Netherlands (Twente), the spaghetti method consists of throwing a plate against the wall, and see what will stick to the wall. In other words, just throw your product on the market and see whether it will stick. Perhaps that is not the right method to be followed. But can you think of a better one?

In many cases 'the market', that is the people using a service, do not behave as expected. For example in Sweden, the upload of material far exceeded download, which is contrary to the assumptions underlying ADSL.

TV meets the Web

At first sight it seems promising to develop mixed media. As an example, a dutch agency announced services to support the integration of TV and the Web, promising the integration of

streaming media (audio and video), interactive gaming, virtual reality and 3D animation, interactive TV programming, interactive advertising, video on-demand, webcasting and multimedia

In 2000 they issued a report sketching the European broadband landscape. Quoting from this report: The advent of broadband Internet access, which has been available in the US for some time but is only now beginning to make inroads into Europe, makes a whole range of new services possible.

As download speeds have increased and more bandwidth has become available, the possibility of delivering screen-based content such as films, television programs and music has moved a step closer to mass market usage. With respect to the adoption of cable or DSL in Europe, they observe that despite the fact that cable companies have gained firm ground, there is an even larger number of conventional telephone lines, around 180 million. In contrast, there are only 15 million cable subscribers, giving DSL a large potential audience. Matthijs Leendertse, co-author of the report, observes: Gaining competitive advantage and future revenue in Europe's broadband landscape will depend heavily on a company's ability to offer integrated services: access (fixed and wireless) and content. It is virtually impossible at this point for one single company to offer these services on a pan-European level. This means that companies need to find partners to fill the gaps in their offerings. Let me assure you, at the moment you will be reading this the battle is still going on!

mobile multimedia

Let's look at another potential hype. In 2000, Webnoize published a report (by Matt Bailey), entitled Wireless Entertainment: What Is It Worth?, which introduces the wireless web, and predicts that young media junkies will demand music videos and animations, and listen to wirelessly streamed music.

The intent of the report is to investigate whether investments in the mobile entertainment are justified. The report examines how providers of music and video services can benefit from the wireless delivery of multimedia. Using survey evidence, pricing information from new wireless networks and interviews with industry visionaries, the report analyzes supply and demand to build an economic and business model for mobile multimedia.

Apart from the need to invent some business model, there are a number of strategic questions to be answered in order to estimate the risk of making investments in this direction. Following Bailey, we may list questions such as:

strategic questions

  • how quickly will wireless connectivity speeds improve?
  • what is the demand for services that deliver music and video to wireless devices?
  • how can suppliers of multimedia services monetize demand for wireless access?
  • how much will it cost to stream multimedia content to wireless devices now and in 2006?
  • are consumers willing to compromise quality for lower cost?
And more. If you are interested whether anyone is willing to take such risks and invest in mobile multimedia, just look at what players were involved.

the players

Alltel, AT&T Wireless, AtomShockwave, Cingular Wireless, Clear Channel, HitHive, Ifilm, Infinity, KDDI, Liquid Audio, LMIV, Mannesmann,, MTV, NetCom, Myplay, Nortel Networks, NTT DoCoMo, Omnitel, Sprint, Telefonica, Telstra, Vitaminic, Verizon Wireless, Virgin Megastores, Vodafone, Voicestream.

Now make up your mind, and ask yourself the question whether multimedia is worth your (intellectual) investment.


Vasulka Objects (1)Vasulka Objects (2)


the academic perspective

Being sensitive to hype is only too human. So also academics may be fascinated by new trends. and get distracted by rumors on the market. Breaking loose from this fascination, we may ask ourselves what are the real issues, and what makes multimedia interesting. Let me start with answering the latter question first. As an academic subject, multimedia is interesting because it offers such an intriguing mix of subjects, including multimedia technology, exploratory design and scientific validation. Commercially, it is safe to say that the volume of entertainment related multimedia content, including games, music and infotainment is substantial, and hence its economic interest is indisputable. But what are the real issues?

One of the examples of multimedia applications I will present in the last chapter is an application in the domain of cultural heritage. For this domain we have developed so-called digital dossiers containing a representation of the work(s) of a particular artist as well as information that characterizes the work in its historic and cultural context, needed for the re-exposition or installation of the work. Problems facing the developer of a digital dossier cover the interaction of the user with the dossier, the presentation of both textual and multimedia information, and facilities for search and navigation. And there are technical issues, such as which codecs to select for the videos and how to manage the content included in the dossier. Developing a dossier is not as one might naively think the creation of content only, but rather involves designing the functionality of the application as well.

Generalizing from the domain of cultural heritage to the area of infotainment and multimedia information systems, where an integrated presentation of textual and multimedia information must be achieved, we may boldly state that designing the functionality of the application is the most crucial issue, and as such of primary academic interest. All other topics, including multimedia technology, compression algorithms, software engineering, multimedia platform support and information retrieval techniques, may be regarded in some loose sense to be subservient to the issue of design.

digital art

As the illustrations in the text testify, another personal motivation for being involved in multimedia comes from the area of digital art. And, with students I observe a similar interest in the potential digital content authoring offers as a vehicle for personal expression.

One of the artists of which I included material in this book is Woody Vasulka, who was a pioneer in the early days of video and computer art. In an interview, held in 1985 with Rene Coelho, the founder of Montevideo, Vasulka explained his fascination with the scan processor and later the video computer by stating that it allowed him to invent the image. Still, howver, as he said, in some sense traditional painting acted as a visual reference system by which to judge the images produced with the new technology. Later in the interview, he observed that after some time he became bored with the images produced this way, and he started to feel the need to include more narrative in his work. His wife, Steina Vasulka, with whom he founded the Kitchen, a gathering place for new media artists in New York in the 1970s, remarked that in the early phase she was struck by the fact that the material was so friendly, that is how easy it was to express your ideas.

These words suffice to emphasize the importance of the motivation you might get out of the material, to be susceptible to as Brancusi phrases it the rethorics of the material, even when you are an academic.


(a) personal events(b) gadgets


example(s) -- personal memex

Just imagine that your would store all your photographs, SMS messages, emails, and in addition to that record your physiological condition, using body-wearable sensors. These data can then be uploaded to your PC, and later to a mass storage server, so that they can be used in your medical dossier, to improve your performance in your favorite sport, or to augment your memory when recollecting stories about your holidays or travels. Impossible? Not at all, Disk space will be cheap. Your body may act as a network to connect the body wearable devices, and, after all, most of the gadgets do already exist! Besides, the idea is not new. See section 2.2 for early visions of the memex.

research directions -- the information society

There is no doubt about it, we live in an information society. But do we know what an information society is?

In  [History] (p. 187), the functions of the media are summarized as

functions of media

information, education, entertainment

So, perhaps, we could better state that we live in a media society. So far, in the latter part of the previous century, television has dominated our lives, and observe that (following Ernie Kovack, cited from  [History]):


television is a medium 'because it is neither rare nor well done'

Back to the main issues, what is an information society? According to  [History]:

information society

the new term 'information society' gave form to a cluster of hitherto more loosely related aspects of communication -- knowledge, news, literature, entertainment, all exchanged through different media and different media materials -- paper, ink, canvas, paint, celluloid, cinema, radio, television and computers.

From the 1960s onwards, all messages, public and private, verbal and visual, began to be considered as 'data', information that could be transmitted, collected, recorded, whatever their point of origin, most effective through electronic technology.

So, from the varieties of perspectives we have discerned, including technological perspectives, societal perspectives and psychological perspectives, we must investigate the problem of communication:


  • what -- content
  • who -- control
  • whom -- audience (how many)
That is, simply, who says what to whom in what channel with what effect?! The remainder of the book will, however, will treat these issues mainly from a technological perspective. In the chapters that follow, we will enquire after the technological assumptions that make an information society possible.

(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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