Digital delights

Some 31 million people are expected to own CD-ROM drives by the end of the decade, opening up an exciting area for the design and content of CD-ROM discs. Fay Sweet experiences some innovative ones on offer

SBHD: Some 31 million people are expected to own CD-ROM drives by the end of the decade, opening up an exciting area for the design and content of CD-ROM discs. Fay Sweet experiences some innovative ones on offer

It seems just five minutes ago that we were heaving heavy boxes of vinyl records into the loft having been seduced by the dainty little CD and the clarity of its sound. Then came CD-ROM books – among the first was the charming (and quickly dated) Microsoft Musical Instruments from Dorling Kindersley. So many pages! And it played music from more than 200 instruments! This really was the multimedia dawn.

The rise and rise of the CD-ROM is dramatic. Worldwide sales of CD-ROM drives are predicted to treble to 31 million units by the end of the decade. According to recent research conducted by consultancy BIS Strategic Decisions, some 9.6 million drives worth $2.4bn (̼1.5bn) were sold last year. That figure is expected to increase to 12.8 million drives this year. And the situation on the street certainly seems to be proving BIS right Рthe catalogue of back orders from Christmas was so large that for the first two months of this year it was virtually impossible to buy a drive off the shelf in the London area.

Meanwhile, for those lucky enough to already be in possession of a CD-ROM drive, the disc market continues to spawn exciting offspring. The latest arrivals include a batch of firsts newly hatched for the designer. Picture libraries have been investing heavily in digital technology and have produced a variety of slick discs. These have to be a smart alternative, in monetary terms at least, to the fantastically expensive printed catalogues currently produced.

Of less practical use, but an intriguing first nonetheless, is a CD exhibition by the Royal College of Art’s Professor of Art Michael Heindorff. Mostly for fun, we also mark the arrival of the first 3D Atlas on disc from Electronic Arts.

Coming up later this spring will be an international typographic collection РInternational Type Foundries Рfrom FontWorks. Stars appearing here will be T-26, Emigre, The Font Bureau, Carter & Cone, Alphabets Inc, Red Rooster, Mecanorma and the Russian Type Foundry. The CD, which contains some 115 type families, will be tucked into the pocket of an accompanying book. Retail price is expected to be about ̼95.

And look out for the first paper catalogue on disc. Pioneering paper merchant MoDo is in the process of committing its Paper Selector documents to disc. “The idea is that specifiers will be able to use the disc interactively for buying,” says Tim Forster of MoDo. “And along with details of the MoDo papers there will be plenty of additional, more general information about papermaking, the use of different paper types and how to size up and order economically.” Forster adds that real paper samples will accompany the digital data.

SBHD: Gallery CD from the Image Bank

Designed by Alistair Scott (formerly of CID and now at AMX digital) ú36 + VAT. Tel: 0171-312 0300. Mac-compatible

This is the second CD from Image Bank, but unlike the first it uses the latest compression technology to accommodate a massive variety of imagery – 6973 still photographs and illustrations plus 70 film clips.

Like the Banks disc this comes in a folding cardboard carton, but to spare the user having to wade through the lengthy Read Me text on screen, there is a clear, user-friendly instruction booklet tucked inside the sleeve.

While the disc contains only a fraction of the Image Bank’s 20 million images, this is a massive chunk of work and is thankfully very easy to navigate. There is lots of key word and category cross-referencing and quick browsing, but it is worthwhile being specific when calling up topics. I entered a request for trees and was offered 699 images – they ranged from those with only the most tenuous tree content (a couple of background twigs) to full-blown rainforests. Also included were some 60 tree illustrations. Images can be seen at full screen size, or at 6, 12 or 48 images on screen. Order numbers are given under each.

The one thing I missed from this disc – though perhaps it’s there and I just didn’t find it – is an index. Of course, 7000 images would be impossible to show easily, but I would have liked some overview of the CD’s contents right at the start.

The low-resolution images are ideal for layouts and can be saved to your hard disk. For print quality material you pay as you use – orders can be placed through an Image Bank office where they will be ready for collection in about ten minutes. The fee is negotiated on the spot. Moving imagery is available only through the London office and takes two hours to prepare.

SBHD: Drawn To Seeing

Works in pencil on paper by Michael Heindorff. Published by the Royal College of Art in a limited edition of 200 signed copies at ú14.99. Tel: 0171-584 5020. IBM-compatible only

A world first! This disc is described as an art exhibition catalogue, but it is also the exhibition itself. Drawn To Seeing includes over 70 drawings by Michael Heindorff, senior tutor in Painting at the RCA, plus a collection of essays. A flyer announcing the disc was broadcast on the Internet.

This is something of a curiosity in that cutting-edge technology has been used to store low-tech pencil drawings and scanned in, typed essays. Heindorff’s enthusiasm for the medium is that it is “a communication with unprecedented scope and reach for learning and teaching. The particular benefit is in geographically remote enthusiasts being able to visit the exhibition, in CD-ROM form, long after the drawings have been taken down from the walls.” Having approached this low-tech/high-tech idea charged with more than a little cynicism, I found the on-screen result to be charming and winning. The disc will be of limited practical use to the designer, but it is sure to act as inspiration for others who want to use CD-ROM.

SBHD: 3D Atlas from Electronic Arts

Tel: 0171-722 7595 ú54.99. Designed by The MultiMedia Corporation Mac-compatible

A neat, easy-to-use reference CD. The work divides like a regular atlas into sections such as political, geographical, environmental and the like. It also drops in features such as cities, rivers and mountains at the click of the mouse. A zoom facility lets you zip around the globe and then peer at individual countries in close-up. There are also text pages giving brief descriptions of each country. But the highlights include the flypasts over mountains ranges including the Alps and Himalayas and a round-the-world travel quiz.

This disc is a little light on information, but it does contain excellent graphics.

SBHD: Image Collections from FontShop

From ú85 approx. Tel: 0171-490 5390. Mac-compatible

Using the CD as a means of type storage is nothing new to FontShop, but this is the company’s first collection of photographic and experimental art images on CD.

The range of work is enormous. In addition to FontShop’s own imagery there’s work from eight international libraries. Users browse through introductory “taster” discs from each library – these contain most of their images at low resolution but have a handful of high resolution images thrown in for good measure.

Once images have been selected then the high resolution data, which is stored on a separate disc, can be purchased. For example, a lifestyle image chosen from the Aztech Sampler is then bought on the Fashion/Advertising/Lifestyle disc which will include dozens of additional shots. Because the system works royalty-free, the disc-owner will have unlimited use of the selected lifestyle image plus free access to every other image on the disc.

The taster discs I tried were easy to use, but, because they’ve been designed for each library, they don’t have standard navigational patterns. To make sense of this offer, Font-Shop might consider a master disc introducing all eight collections and perhaps, in time, could devise standards for the octet to follow.

SBHD: Abstracts 1: Blue Cactus Series

By Michael Banks ú495 + VAT. Tel: 0171-722 5550. Mac-compatible

Certainly one of the smartest- looking new CD-ROMs, this collection of 100 pre-licensed unlocked images is stuffed with juicy Banks imagery. To Banks fans a number of the images will be familiar – there are a good few record sleeves and corporate brochure shots which have already been seen widely. Nonetheless, this is good stuff and, as one might expect, beautifully presented.

The disc is sold in a three-panel fold-out cardboard cover which also contains a stapled-in brochure reproducing many of the shots and explaining how Abstracts works. Essentially, you get 100 abstract shots for unlimited use with no territory limitation, no print-run restriction, no limits on repeat or multiple usage and no restrictions on electronic and digital manipulation. The shots have been scanned in at high resolution to allow high quality output to film separation and excellent print results at up to A3 size.

Using the disc is easy. Because there are just 100 images stored it is possible to view them all in thumbnail size shots. For closer inspection they can be called up on the “lightbox” – which is, in fact, black but throws the colours out good and bright. Selections can be made in a random slideshow or by attribute, category (there are 11 section headings) and alphabetically. Once a selection has been made, it’s possible to download the file directly or use the low-resolution option for layouts.

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