Handout for workshop at CALICO 96 in Albuquerque

The ABC of Multimedia Production

By Kent Andersen

Introduction

This presentation is to cover four different aspects of multimedia productions

Hardware:

Before plunging into multimedia production, you should have the right tools to do the job. Personally I only work with IBM compatible computers but, of course, Apple computers are equally good, however because of my ignorance I cannot recommend any hardware for the Apple family.

The basic computer:

A good starting point for your production is to get a "plug and play" (standard set by Microsoft to work with Windows 95) Pentium based computer preferably with at 133 MHz processor or better. Put in as much memory as you can afford, 16 MB RAM is just acceptable but 32 MB is probably three or four times better, a large hard disk of more than one GB is mandatory, personally I use two hard disks, one for applications and one for data files like video, sound, pictures etc. You will also want the computer to have a "plug and play" 16 bit sound card and a CD-ROM drive (quadro speed or better). Finally the computer should have a fast video card to handle the vast amounts of graphics usually found in multimedia projects.

Hardware for video capture

Again you should look for "plug and play" hardware. Using a lot of time (often days or even weeks) to make a system work takes all the joy out of multimedia production.

Before choosing a capture module you must decide which kind of video files you want to produce i.e. Video for Windows / QuickTime, MJPG or MPEG. If you want to produce laser video discs, you don't need a capture module and Digital Video Interactive (DVI) is more or less obsolete.

Video for Windows (AVI files) and QuickTime are compression methods that even allow 386 based computers to play videos without extra hardware. Video for Windows and QuickTime can be compressed with different algorithms like INDEO from INTEL, Fractal compression and Video 1 from Microsoft. Today the videos are scaleable and especially the INDEO video has many facilities for making an interactive application. It's possible to playback a 240 * 320 pixel video on a Pentium, 180 *240 on a 486 computer5 and 120*180 on a 386 based computer.

MJPG video is hardware dependant i.e. the end user must have a MJPG playback card in his computer in order to watch the videos. The quality is generally somewhat better than Video for Windows and MJPG allows a high frame rate on even slow computers. Another feature is the high compression i.e. the files become much smaller than .AVI files. MJPG capture cards are capable of capturing very high quality video with a high frame rate and are therefore often used for capturing raw video which are then by software compressed into .AVI files or MPEG files, the latter to save money on buying the much more expensive MPEG video card.

DVI video is like MJPG video i.e. the end user must invest in video playback cards. The standard seems to be obsolete.

MPEG video is currently the highest quality (apart from laser video) video for multimedia. Playback of MPEG video can be done through software or with hardware. Software playback is possible if the end user has a Pentium computer. With hardware, even a 386 computer can playback full screen video in VHS quality. Due to the very small size of MPEG video files, i.e. the high compression, it's possible to send real time MPEG video through networks and it's even possible to watch real time MPEG video on the Internet! There are currently two MPEG definitions MPEG I and MPEG II. MPEG II exceeds the quality of VHS video tapes.

The prices for capture cards starts around 300 USD for an .AVI card (Video for Windows), 1200 USD for a MJPG capture card to finish well past 20.000 USD for a real time MPEG video capture card.

Video for Windows and QuickTime video files apparently don't need very expensive capture cards. There are a number of possible brands of which I personally only know the "VideoBlaster" card from Creative Labs and the "Smart Video Pro" card from INTEL.

MJPG video capture boards are approximately four times more expensive than an .AVI card, however as it's possible to convert from one type of file to another through software the MJPG offers a cheap but acceptable way of producing MPEG and .AVI files. Personally I use a Miro capture card from Miro Computer Products.

MPEG video capture cards offer real time compression of a very high quality, but also at a very high price. The potential buyer of a MPEG capture card is a producer who has to produce a lot of video files and who does not want to spend time on software compression which often is very time consuming.

Sound Capture Cards

There are numerous brands of good sound cards and it seems difficult to tell one from the other, so unless you have special needs like MIDI music or hardware based voice recognition, all you have to buy is a "plug and play" 16 bit sound card which is "SoundBlaster" compatible. The prices start around 100 USD.

Capturing Pictures

There are several ways of getting a picture into a multimedia program. The highest quality is obtained by having your films processed as CD-ROM, but if you choose that solution I recommend you have the films developed on paper also or at least to print them out on a printer, as that makes it easier to get a good overview of the pictures.

It's also possible to get ION cameras, i.e. cameras that record the pictures on a little floppy disk which can then be read into the computer through a special interface card. However I find the general quality of the pictures inferior to pictures taken with e.g. a NIKON camera, which costs about half of the money needed to buy a ION camera.

I prefer to work with pictures on paper which I then scan into my computer with a scanner. A scanner good enough for most purposes costs from around 1000 USD including software for processing the pictures after scanning.

CD-ROM recording

Unless you want to distribute your multimedia programs on a network, it's necessary to put the data and programs onto CD-ROM. A CD-ROM recorder is now available for around 1000 USD. I consider a CD-ROM recorder a must in multimedia productions. Of course it's possible to make tape or diskette backup of your work which is then sent elsewhere for CD-ROM recording, but it's too inefficient for serious use.

When the finished program is to be distributed, the number of copies probably determines if it's better to have the CD-ROM produced elsewhere. The cost of producing 100 CD-ROMS with two colour print and in jewel boxes is approximately 1000 USD, but the price steadily decreases per unit when the number of CD-ROMS increases, e.g. 1000 CD-ROMS is approximately 3500 USD

Software

Authoring systems

There are many good authoring systems available and it seems difficult to advise which system is better than the other. I have decided to use Multimedia ToolBook from Asymetrix. ToolBook is a true hypermedia authoring system and is available for Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Windows NT which means that programs written in ToolBook version 4 can run on most modern computers including Apple Power PCs. Multimedia ToolBook also comes in a CBT version (Computer Based Teaching) which has a lot of pre made facilities like multiple choice, drag and drop, special hotword utilities and much more. For the beginner, or even for any serious language teaching multimedia author, this seems a very good package which will take most of the hardship out of the authoring job. ToolBook comes with a free runtime module, i.e. you can publish your work without having to pay royalties. Multimedia ToolBook version 4.0 is approximately priced 1100 USD. The full CBT version of ToolBook 4.0 is priced around 1500 USD.

Video formats

The choice of video format is not just a matter of quality but perhaps even more a matter of quantity, i.e. which types of computers are available to the target group. It might be tempting to choose MPEG video which is the video of the future, but remember that 90% of the computers still cannot play MPEG video. Whenever possible you should make two versions of your programs so you can cater for users both now and in the future. At least remember to keep your original data like video in a premium quality like raw video, then you can compress them in coming formats in future versions of the program.

Sound

Nowadays most multimedia programs use the windows sound files with the extension WAV. However, the quality of the sound recordings differs a lot depending on the recording parameters. You have a choice of 8 bit or 16 bit sound files, 16 bits giving the best quality, also the sampling rate must be chosen, you can choose between 11KHz, 22KHz and 44KHZ. 11KHz takes up less space on a CD-ROM but the quality is not very good, however 11KHz is often used on digital video because of the limited size of the file. Finally, you have to choose between mono or stereo. When I produce multimedia programs I usually make a rough calculation to find how much space is available on the CD-ROM for the sound files, I then let the space determine the sampling rate. Of course, the demand for quality differs from program to program depending on the issue being taught.

Pictures

Like with the sound files it's necessary to find a format that caters best for your needs. Some authors insist on millions of colours in high quality pictures while others, like myself, are satisfied with 256 different colours. It is possible to compress the pictures using different compression programs some of the formats are GIF, TIF, BMP and JPG, it is also possible to get fractal compression with very high quality. Before deciding which format to use, it is advisable to check on royalties that have to be paid for the use of certain compression techniques.

Types of exercises

Computers have been used for language teaching for quite a number of years. It seems, however, that only a limited number of types of exercises have been "invented." Often the students would even be better off with the same exercises on paper.

Vocabulary Training

There is not any record of this, but I believe that the first type of exercise for language training on a computer was some sort of vocabulary training program. The user was presented with a foreign word or phrase that had to be translated by typing in an answer that was then controlled against one or more "correct" answers made by the author. The weaknesses of this type can be the lack of context and also the number of correct answers that are limited by the imagination of the software author. The vocabulary training exercises have been refined over the years, e.g. they can control the input letter by letter and thereby prevent the user learning a misspelled word.

Fill-in Exercises

This type of exercise has also been used for a number of years. Usually a word has been replaced by a box or line in a text, the user is then supposed to type in the missing word. This type ot exercise is related to a context and it works much like a "Cloze test" the critics, however, claim that the exercise works more like an IQ test instead of teaching/training a foreign language.

"Empty-text"/Cloze-Exercise

This type of exercise is not used very often though it is simplicity itself. To make an "Empty-text" exercise you take every 10th word from a text and put into a word processor. The user's job is then to write a story (instruction, essay) using those words. This type of exercise makes the students use their creative minds as they "page" through their active vocabulary to construct a story. Originally this exercise was used in drama training.

Multiple Choice

This type of exercise is usually used for controlling the student's knowledge. The student is presented

with a number of answers to choose from. In itself, the multiple-choice exercise does not train anything, but it is useful for testing the student's understanding of a text, video, or sound sequence.

Find the Correct Sequence

In this type of exercise, a story is cut into a number of pieces that are then mixed up. It is the student's job to find the correct sequence. The story can be a text, a sound sequence, or a video clip. One of the advantages of this type of exercise is that authentic "texts" can be used because the student does not necessarily need to understand everything to decode the message and then find the correct sequence.

Adventure Games

Solving an adventure game can be a complicated task. However, adventure games made for language teaching can be a refreshing exercise. The student is presented with a situation which he can then deal with by typing in commands. Depending on the situation and other circumstances (like the sequence of words used in the command), the computer responds to the student's input, thus creating a surrogate conversation.

Hotwords

This is really not an exercise but more of a help tool for the student who is reading a text. By clicking on a hotword (or otherwise signalling an interest in the word) a student can get a translation, an example of the use of the word, a video clip, a pronunciation, etc.

Listening Exercises

This was one of the first steps into the world of multimedia. The student uses his computer as a tape

recorder. The computer can either have digitised speech on the hard disk drive or it can control a

laser disc player or a compact disc. The advantage is the immediate access to the sequence, unlike a tape that has to be rewound.

Pictures and Graphics

The computer's ability to display high resolution pictures and graphics is often used in exercises. The

student is instructed to click on a particular part of the picture, and when he does so, the computer

registers where he clicked and then responds accordingly.

Drills

The "good old fashioned" language laboratory drills are transferred to a computer system. The drills can be text or sound based where the computer replaces the laboratory tape recorder. In the future, voice recognition software will also check the student's answers.

Video

The computer can play a video sequence either from the hard disk drive, from a CD-ROM, or by controlling a laser video player. With a combination of subtitles and video, the student is given a maximum of information which can be used in many kinds of exercises.

All the mentioned exercises can (and ought to) be combined in multimedia language teaching systems. Learning a foreign language can sometimes be a tedious task, but by carefully drafting the lessons with a mixture of exercises, the students find the lessons interesting and perhaps even entertaining.

Planning

It is necessary to do a lot of consideration before starting on a multimedia programming project and

finally, the project should either improve on the learning methods or decrease the overall costs of

foreign language teaching.

Selecting the Right Materials

This is probably the most important part of the project. The materials should have the right level of

difficulty, be interesting to the future users, if possible contain some humour, and be visual - remember that texts are usually better on paper! Also it might be ideal to look at existing materials that could be repurposed. Finally check on copyright. Some years ago, IBM sponsored a project using interactive video called "Murder auf Deutsch." Unfortunately, the background music was copyrighted and the finished project had to be shelved!

Platform

It is also important to choose which platform to use (i.e., CD-ROM, DVI, CDI, MPEG, laser disc, bar-code, programming, and hardware [Mac or IBM]).

User Interface

The layout of the computer screen is very important but it is also important to choose between using a keyboard, a mouse, a press sensitive screen, etc.

Help

Identify who could help you through a project (e.g., technical assistance, programming, video recording, project management).

Marketing

Investigate how to get financial aid for the project (e.g. EU and other government funds). Odense Technical College (Odense Tekniske Skole) is interested in finding new partners for future projects.

Presenter's Biodata

Kent Andersen is a member of the MultiMedia Group at Odense Tekniske Skole (OTS-MMG) in Odense, Denmark. He has been working with computer assisted language learning (more than 10,000 lessons using CALL) and programming since the early eighties. He has produced a large range of commercial and public domain software (authoring systems, interactive video, adventure games, grammar games, multimedia software for deaf students, etc.)

Contact Information

Kent Andersen

Bygge & Anlæg

Odense Tekniske Skole

Allegade 79

P.O.Box 220

DK 5100 Odense C

Denmark

Phone +45 6591 5080

Fax +45 6591 6154

E-mail: ka@ots.dk

or ots-mmg@inet.uni-c.dk

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