And now in glorious multimedia

Forget plain old audio; the latest development is the enhanced CD, says Steve Homer

The CD-Rom parted company with the audio CD in the Eighties; now the two are moving towards each other again. A new type of disc, the so- called enhanced CD, can be played on an ordinary CD player and will fill the room with music. But if it played on a computer or CD-i machine, it will also fill the screen with pictures and video. The point is that an audio CD with 50 minutes of music is only partly filling the disc - there is enough space for about 200 megabytes of data as well, and musicians have been busy finding ways of filling it.

The most ambitious enhanced CD so far has probably been the Cranberries' Doors and Windows. This will play on Windows, Macintosh, Dos and CD-i platforms. With the disc you go on a game-like wander around rooms, with the Cranberries peeking at you through windows and saying enlightening things like "I like Guinness".

However, most enhanced discs are being created by bands aiming only at the Mac and the PC. Sony, Philips, Microsoft and Apple have all agreed a standard to be called CD Plus which is being co-ordinated by the Recording Industry Association of America. If the format takes off, watch out for CDs in the shops with extra facets to them. Some will have simple things such as lyrics, bands' discographies, photographs and so forth, while others will invest in serious multimedia add-ons, including videos.

Best of all for us more conventional folk, future CD players should be able to display the names of tracks, albums, artists, liner notes and lyrics. It is not just "new" artists such as Aerosmith, Mariah Carey, Skinny Puppy and the like who are experimenting: Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Mike Oldfield also have enhanced or multimedia CDs planned. "Enhanced CDs are another creative avenue for artists to explore," says Steve Stewart, manager of the rock band Stone Temple Pilots. "We can do things with them that fans can't find anywhere else."

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