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Analytic 14 Looking back - seven years of El.pub (Part 1)

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Contents
Introduction
Context
Digital content R&D
The impact of new technology
The place of hardware
R&D focus and projects
Comment

The impact of new technology

If we look at the different parts of the media world - books, newspapers, magazines, films, TV, music, and so on, we find that the impact of new technology has been very different in each area.

The impact in the book area has been in creation through the growth of word processing and easy graphic manipulation, and in the use of e-commerce methods in enterprise management and distribution. There has been no success in moving readers to e-books although some reference material (such as the encyclopaedia) is now largely distributed and accessed on CD or DVD-ROM using desktop computers and to a lesser extent via the web. Buying books through the bookstore, where one can see and handle the book, is preferred to online buying and there is no sign that instant print is about to change wholesale distribution.

The same is true to a large extent of newspapers and magazines, although there has been a significant shift in the working methods of journalists due to the ability to file stories and pictures immediately from the field through e-mail and the web via mobile phones and satellite connections. High bandwidth connectivity also allows printing to be carried out locally, cutting distribution costs. News publishing has been in decline for a long time mainly as a result of people using the radio and TV rather than paper as their news source.

The impact on film has been enormous at the level of creation and production. Digital processing of images has transformed the special effects industry freeing the creative side to show almost anything that is imaginable. Even more important has been the use of digital processing to reduce or eliminate many of the problems in editing and continuity, lighting and post-processing. The digital camcorder is beginning to replace the use of film for recording, as the technology improves in quality. Videotape and more recently DVD has transformed the business model through the selling and renting of film productions for home viewing on TV sets.

The TV business, and indeed radio, has benefited from digital processing in the same way as the film, but with additional benefits. Online content management is possible as is the immediate transfer of news footage via satellite phone. Blue screen techniques enable background and foreground to be mixed in the computer for live transmission. Quality of picture is being transformed by the transmission of digital signals rather than analogue. Digital transmission is also allowing many more channels to be transmitted by satellite or cable over the same bandwidth using compression techniques.

The impact of the web has probably been greatest in the information market. Most of the companies selling information have moved from proprietary networks to the web. The move has been motivated by three factors, the increased market that is available through the web, the standardisation of many components through the use of HTML and freely available browsers, and the ability to outsource many costs through the use of specialist networking companies like Akamai and through using off-the shelf software for web publishing. At the same time the web has made an enormous amount of information freely available, such as company reports and product specifications that were previously provided through specialist companies. Information providers have to concentrate on adding value rather than simply collating information.

In addition to news and business information there are other types of information that are important such as scientific information, government information, educational material and SIG (special interest group) information. The web has opened new opportunities in these areas that have had a more revolutionary impact. The low cost publishing opportunities that the web affords have enabled universities and research organisations to make their publications available free to anyone who has web access if they wish. The material extends from research papers to course material. Museums and galleries can also make images and descriptive material freely available online at low cost. Governments in countries with a high level of penetration of Internet access use the web for collecting administrative data such as tax liabilities, for making information about services available and for opening new services in areas such as education, employment and health.

In addition to changes in ‘old media’ business made possible through technical progress, there are some entirely new business opportunities. The most striking is certainly the development of electronic games although distance learning will probably be the most important in the long term. Although electronic games started with programmes on mainframe computers to keep operators awake through the night shift, the personal computer and microprocessor caused the videogame to become popular and simultaneously to allow the electronic arcade game to appear. Since the late 1970s the importance of the videogame in driving PC technology for the general public cannot be underestimated. Colour graphics, sound boards, interactivity, memory size, processor speed and graphic processing capabilities, exchangeable media to load content, have all been introduced and improved to enable the latest games to be played. Their use in business applications has always followed their introduction for entertainment. Recently the US National Centre for Supercomputing Applications has been experimenting with using clusters of Sony Playstation 2s as supercomputers for physics calculations (http://arrakis.ncsa.uiuc.edu/ps2). Games are generally designed about a year ahead of the market release and for a target machine platform that is expected to be available after discussion with the hardware manufacturer. As specialist console hardware is generally ahead of general purpose PCs in technical capability the PC manufacturers are under constant pressure to catch up.

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