Multimedia is the term used to describe two or more types of media combined into a single package—usually denoting a combination of some or all of the following: video, sound, animation, text, and pictures. Multimedia gives the user the opportunity to influence the presentation of material. The selection and manipulation of various aspects of the presentation material is the interactive aspect of a multimedia presentation. Interactive features could range from a question-and-answer function to choosing from a menu of particular subjects or aspects of a presentation. One application of multimedia, for example, involves presenting the user with a "what if" scenario, in which the choices the user makes affect the outcome of the presentation. This affords the user a degree of control, not unlike directing a motion picture and having the opportunity to make changes to the plot at various junctures.
The advent and ascension of the personal computer as well as the development and proliferation of CD-ROMs have played significant roles in affording business the ability to affordably create multimedia computer presentations. Potential uses of multimedia that were previously confined within the province of computer science experts are now within the reach of a large segment of the business and public communities. Today a relative neophyte can potentially create a polished multimedia presentation with a computer and a commercially available presentation program. As computer-processing power increases and the capacity of data-storage media like the CD-ROM or DVD-ROM formats continues to grow, the ability of the average user to create multimedia presentations will grow as well.
The CD-ROM and its successor, the DVD-ROM, store data in the form of a binary code. The binary code is placed onto the discs by a stamping process that impresses lands (flat areas that represent the zero in binary code) and hollows (pits that represent the one in binary code) onto the surface of the disc. When the discs are placed into a player or computer drive, the playing mechanism spins the disc and flashes a laser beam over the surface of the disc. The reflected light patterns caused by the embossed data contained on the surface of the disc are then decoded by the reader/player and translated back into audio and video. The storage capacity of a CD-ROM disc is 635 megabytes, while the storage capacity of a DVD-ROM disc can be as great as 5.2 gigabytes. Since sound, graphics, and other visuals take up considerably more data space than text alone, the increased storage capacities of the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs have played an integral part in making the use of multimedia more commonplace. The durability, portability, and relatively low manufacturing cost of the discs also play a critical role in their proliferation. While the Read Only Memory (ROM) format is still the most common for both CDs and DVDs, today recordable disc drives are widely available to enable users to "burn" data (write, erase, and/or rewrite data) to a disc on their own.
Multimedia devices have an almost innumerable variety of applications. They are used in home-entertainment systems and can be extremely powerful educational tools. Educators, for example, have been exceptionally creative in combining some of the exciting elements of video-game applications with select features of educational material. By doing this, the concept of "edutainment" was created. The goal of using the multimedia edutainment approach is to entertain the user so effectively that the user remains unaware that he or she is actually learning in the process.
Multimedia can also offer critical services in the business world. While information can certainly be conveyed adequately by the singular use of still pictures, video, film, audio, or text, multimedia potentially multiplies the degree of effectiveness, in no small part due to the added entertainment value and the extent to which the viewers feel a part of the action. Such benefits can't easily be matched by the application of a singular medium. The effectiveness of teaching, selling, informing, entertaining, promoting, and presenting are all dependent upon one factor: the ability of the presented material to hold the attention of the desired audience. A dynamic multimedia presentation can usually be more effective than earlier methods at accomplishing this task with an audience that was raised on television and motion pictures. The computerized multimedia presentation offers the added benefit of cost-effective flexibility, allowing easy editing of the basic materials in order to tailor them to specific target audiences.
Training, informational and promotional materials, sales presentations, and point-of-sale displays that allow for customer interaction and communication both within and outside the organization are all common applications of multimedia in the business world. Multimedia presentations for many such applications can be highly portable, particularly in the cases of the CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and videotape. The equipment required to produce these presentations is relatively commonplace or otherwise easy to access.
Perhaps the vanguard application of multimedia is virtual reality, a combination of video, stereo, and computer graphics that attempts to create an interactive three-dimensional environment that immerses the user within the simulation. Virtual reality has been employed in a wide range of practical applications: to train military troops, to streamline manufacturing and architectural design processes, to create simulated test environments for industry, and as a form of public entertainment.
One should still keep in mind, however, that even if rendered in a highly advanced multimedia format, an ineffectual presentation is still an ineffectual presentation. One should remain focused on the message being conveyed while shaping the choice and use of materials in accordance with that message.
Jeffrey A. Moga
Revised by Deborah Hausler
Li, Nian-Ze, and Mark S. Drew. Fundamentals of Multimedia. New York: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Mayer, Richard E. Multimedia Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.