Special Report on Multimedia: Crucial questions to cut through the hype

ANYONE thinking about converting a personal desktop computer into a multimedia machine needs to ask themselves three questions, writes George Cole. Why do I want it? What will I do with it? And is my machine up to it?

It is very easy to get taken in by all the hype surrounding multimedia and end up spending thousands of pounds on equipment you do not need. For example, if you just use your computer for word processing and spreadsheets, it is hardly worth investing in hardware which lets you digitise and edit moving video on a desktop machine.

It might be a different story if your company produces lots of corporate presentations. If you simply want to play commercial multimedia software on your computer, you will probably need to buy a CD-ROM drive. Look out for drives which have stereo sound outputs and which are compatible with the Photo CD system.

Bear in mind that if you plan to produce your own multimedia programs, you will need lots of additional equipment, such as a video camera, digitiser card and manipulation software. Before rushing out and buying anything, check that your computer can be upgraded to a multimedia machine. For example, the minimum hardware requirement for the MPC standard is a 386SX PC with 2 megabytes of RAM and a 30 megabyte hard disc.

But treat any minimum standard with a pinch of salt and check whether your machine matches the manufacturer's 'recommended' configuration, which is a more realistic requirement. Apple Macintosh users can buy a pounds 99 QuickTime starters kit for playing and creating multimedia programs.

Westpoint Creative, based in Shrewsbury, markets a wide range of video and sound board cards and low-cost MPC upgrade kits, whose prices start from pounds 500 (excluding VAT).

Videologic of Kings Langely also markets various cards and its DVA-4000 digital video adaptor board and MediaSpace, which allows video clips to be stored on a hard disc, can be seen on Marcom's stand at TIME.