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Computers Mixing Sound With Sight Are on the Way

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IN August, four boxes arrived with some of the most interesting bells and whistles in the computer industry. Besides the traditional desktop case, monitor, and keyboard, I found two black speakers, a weird triangular antenna, a tiny clip-on microphone, a remote control, and a tangle of wires to hook up those gizmos to the back of the computer.

In short, this was CompuAdd's multimedia computer.

Multimedia is the combination of sight and sound. CompuAdd's computer - sans TV tuner - overwhelmed me. I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Four months later, I find myself in the same predicament.

It's not that I dislike multimedia. It's just that, as a user, it's not yet part of my computing culture.

For example, CompuAdd does a beautiful job of integrating disparate technologies into one machine. A single program, based on Microsoft Windows, allows me to record my own sounds onto the computer's hard disk. A click of the mouse lets me tune in my favorite radio stations. Another click, and I can play the internal CD-ROM player. That's nifty. But why turn on a computer to listen to the radio?

I could see the usefulness of the sound mixer if I were preparing some kind of presentation. Specialized users - such as TV graphics people - use such tools heavily. Multimedia for the rest of us will come slowly.

What piece of multimedia will arrive first?

Sound, says Satish Gupta, vice president of strategic marketing and development for Media Vision, which sells the boards that turn a PC's beep into music and speech. Just as people got used to telephone answering machines, he argues, so will they become acculturated to PC sound effects.

Computer-game makers are rushing to include audio - not just sound effects but speech - in their products. Specialty software and hardware companies are developing products to make the computer more useful to the blind. (National Braille Press in Boston has published a new guidebook on the technology.) More mainstream educational and business software is also moving in that direction but at a slower pace, Mr. Gupta concedes. With sound-board prices down from $1,000 to about $200 or $300, he predicts more


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