Imagine an ordinary looking compact disc player that plays all the latest hits via a simple remote control wand the size of your TV remote.
Nothing new there.Now imagine putting a small joystick on the remote wand. Imagine connecting the disc player to your television set like a VCR. Imagine having photos, movies, cartoons, computer games and much more on a CD disc. Imagine sliding it into the slot and opening a whole new world of interactive play and learning on your TV screen.
That's Compact Disk-Interactive. You don't have to imagine it any more. CD-I took its official bow at the spring Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago (June 1-4). Commodore, Sony and Philips all demonstrated working CD-I players, which they plan to get to dealers by fall.
We thought that Philips' Magnavox division showed CD-I's potential the best. We may be a bit prejudiced. One of our sons wrote the programming for the Magnavox demonstration disc that you'll play with soon in your local stereo store.
What's so special about CD-I? It links your two favorite home entertainment machines and turns them into a computerized multimedia center without your having to know anything at all about computers.
A CD-I disc looks just like a CD music disc. Slipping it in the player gives you the same high-quality digital sound.
CD-I discs also contain computer instructions. Commodore's discs at the CES show were mostly computer games revised to run on CD-I. With the remote wand, you can select what to see onscreen next.
But CD-I brings the added dimension of photos and movies under computerized control. The little joystick lever on the remote control lets you move objects on the TV screen. You can cut a real pie. You can get a close-up of a real running water faucet. You can click on that movie to get a schematic drawing of the faucet.
The better CD-I discs from Philips subsidiary American Interactive Media (AIM) open a whole new world of learning and enjoyment.
Treasures of the Smithsonian takes you to visit all 12 Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, D.C., without leaving home. The disc's first picture is a map showing all 12 museums. You move an onscreen pointer with the joystick and click a key on the remote control to choose a museum to explore first.
We selected the science museum. We "walked" our pointer past several exhibits and stopped at a telegraph key. Clicking on that was like picking up an exhibit phone. A voice told us the history of the telegraph. Then it invited us to learn Morse code. We pointed and clicked on some letters. The speaker beeped their Morse code equivalents.
Another "road" took us to see an African thumb piano. We could "play" it and hear its sound by moving the pointer and clicking. We can see already how travel information on CD-I can make travel books and videos instantly obsolete.
Another AIM disc, Time-Life Photography, is as good as taking a photography course. One section explains where to aim a light meter for the correct exposure. It shows a photo onscreen of a man and a boy sitting around a candle.
As you move the light meter to different places, the resulting snapshop changes in intensity. The voice-over explains what's happening. By doing and seeing, you learn where to point a light meter to get the best picture.
Cartoon Jukebox is entertainment for the kiddies. As it plays nursery rhymes through your hi-fi speakers, it shows charming cartoons on TV.
But wait, there's more. Any child old enough to click a remote control can stop a cartoon and recolor it. One click turns the wand into a paintbrush. A tiny onscreen hand selects a color. Move the brush to any part of the screen, change colors and watch a blue lamb gambol with Mary next time through.
ABC Sports Golf was the most popular disc in theMagnavox CD-I player booth. We had to fight our way through all the executive types clustered around. The lucky wand-holder was controlling an on-screen golfer, correcting his stance and aiming his club.
We've played all the best golf games on computer. They don't hold a candle to this one. This player looks real. That's because the disc's programmers produced him from videotape pictures of a real person.
The golf course looks real, too. It's generated right from videotape of the famous Palm Springs golf course.
Your hand on the remote controls every shot. There are real water traps, real crosswinds and real crowd noise on the CD-I disc. All that's unreal is the fact that you can't lose all the balls or break golf clubs.
AIM also has several Sesame Street titles in the works. One helps kids compose their own tunes, and another helps them write their own stories. Educational programs on CD-I have the potential of flunking all the rest of today's programmed learning tools. But of course, there will also be bad CD-I discs produced.
Games on CD-I will make Nintendo type games look like baby stuff. But don't throw away your Nintendo kits and Sega joysticks just yet. CD-I players will cost from $1,000 to $1,400 when they go on sale this fall.
The good news is that the "street" price will be halved before the 1990s are half over. And CD-I titles, which initially list at $20 to $50, will cost as little as $10 before long.