Insight: Technology logo CDTV

CDTV PUBLISHING * £39.99 * 0628 770088

The fact that it's got 526 Mb of data stored away and uses a unique technique for loading quarter-screen video footage and audio might not mean anything to you but the fact that this is one of the best-conceived and best-presented CD titles yet to appear should certainly make you sit up and take notice.

That 526 Mb is claimed to be the largest amount of data yet stored on a useable Amiga CD title, but it's what it's used for that's significant. Optonica have taken the time and trouble to produce a series of lavish illustrations - most of the work done in-house by their own artists - to come up with a disc that actually makes the most of the Amiga's strengths, rather than pointing out its weaknesses.

This is the first in a planned series under the 'Insight' name. It's a reference work very much in the Boys Own or Look and Learn tradition, which essentially means it's a kind of technical guidebook to the electrical and mechanical apparatus you might come across in daily life. It's not necessarily biased towards a younger viewer, but you can't help but feel it will appeal to the curious youngster.

The authors have picked out 262 'topics' (items for investigation) ranging alphabetically from the aerofoil to the X-ray machine via internal-combustion engines, jet skis and typewriters.

Each and every topic is covered by text describing how it works and has an animation illustrating the principles. There's also a slideshow of digitised photographs for each topic, accompanied by narrated background information such as history, and for 35 of the topics there is also a quarter-screen video clip.

Simple enough in itself. Where this disc scores massive points over those reference works that have come before it is in the thought that has gone into the concept and in the detail of the execution. The idea in itself is considerably more valid than most CD reference works.

Like the books of this type that are common among eager-minded youngsters, it has an informative purpose - and yet its real appeal is as a darned-good browse. Plus, it's perfect for the sort of technically aware child that will use a CDTV or CD-driven Amiga anyway.

We've made the point before that you might as well use the strong points of the Amiga to good effect in the presentation of CD titles. Optonica have done this beautifully in option for Deluxe Paint animations to illustrate the workings of the various devices and gadgets that this disc covers.

Quite apart from looking better than digital photos, the animations have an appropriate style and feel, very reminiscent of the classic 'how it works' books of earlier generations.

The numerous photographs are well digitised and clear, the text and narration is for the most part informative and interesting. The video clips are still a little unsatisfying but, working within the limitations of the medium, they have made a decent job of integrating quarter-screen video into a polished presentation.

When you're using the disc, you're quite aware that it's been sensibly and simply organised for ease of use, the topics for example, are selected from a straightforward alphabetical list. You could say that's uninspired, but it works.

It's not a title that entirely lacks faults. Occasionally, the editorial direction wanders a little off the straight and narrow. But these lapses are few and are compensated for by the high quality and high information value of the disc as a whole.

Insight: Technology logo CDTV Top Rated

£33.99 - OPTONICA/COMMODORE - 0628 770088

Mention multimedia to most people and they will either look at you as if you have said a dirty word or just fall asleep as you speak [which happens a lot to our News Editor, Tony Dillon, funnily enough - Ed]. It is not that multimedia is boring or anything, it is just that no one really seems to know what it is or what it is supposed to do.

For the record, multimedia is 'the integration of graphics, video, sound and text under the control of a computer in order to perform a specific task'. I know this because it is written in my computer dictionary, but it hardly makes the pulse quicken, does it?

However, where multimedia gets really interesting is the way in which sound, video, graphics and text are combined. Over the next few years, we are in for something of a revolution in the way that information is presented, and it is all thanks to our good friend multimedia.

For instance, instead of pushing around a shopping trolley in a supermarket the size of Wembley Stadium, imagine being able to browse through a virtual reality shopping mall via your TV, picking out the goods and services you need at the click of a button.

Another application could be the interactive travel agent where a prospective holiday maker slots in a CD disc into their player, selects a choice of holiday destinations and settles back to watch an audio-visual presentation of each area. There could also be a number of more specific text menus listing anything from the best local clubs and pubs in which to swing your paints to details of where to find a childminder to take care of the kids while you have a good time.

Another area where multimedia could make a big impact is in education. There is nothing more boring than a book full of text, especially if the subject is something that is difficult to get to grips with in the first place. Realising the possibilities presented by Commodore's new CD32, Optonica have come up with a multimedia guide to the way things work. Insight Technology, the first in a series of titles, is a fascinating title which manages to combine video, audio and text to provide a truly exciting and innovative technology reference disc.

Taking its lead from everyday objects, Optonica have set out to explain how each object works. From guns and video games to water-wheels, robots and helicopters, the disc is an intriguing look at technology at work. The choice of subjects is presented in an alphabetical list which can be scrolled through until the desired option is highlighted. Once you have decided on a topic that interests you, merely press a button on the control pad and the relevant entity will be displayed after a few seconds disc access.

Each entry consists of descriptive text, annotated diagrams and a number of digitised pictures. There is also a 10 second narration accompanying each topic with some sequences including some primitive animations using colour cycling. Although the sound quality of the narration is not brilliant, it is easy to understand what is being said. My only complaint is that there is not enough of it! Picture quality is excellent and it is obvious that a great deal of care has been taken in the photography and subsequent scanning of each object.

A number of entries are also accompanied by video footage, complete with sound. Occupying roughly 1/8th of the screen, these last for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. Although it is nice to watch these additional clips, the choice is a little inappropriate at times, suggesting that Optonica were not all that fussy in what they decided to include. For example, on a section about submarines, all you get to see are some dials and a machinery which might be from the engine room or bridge of a submarine, but it is difficult to tell. Surely some exterior shots of a submarine plumbing the ocean depths would have been more appropriate in this instance!

Overall, Optonica's Insight Technology is an interesting addition to the growing number of CD32 releases. Although the number of topics is not vast, there is enough here to stimulate both adults and children, and it is ideal tool for learning how everyday objects work.