Computers for Beginners/Multimedia

Introduction to Multimedia edit

Multimedia is a process of putting many media together. Even people who have never used a computer before have encountered images, music, videos and games. Some of this media is highly similar to their non-computer form, and others are highly unique. Multimedia files, like other files, are stored on the computer and cannot do anything by themselves. They need programmes to open them, and programmers, designers and you to edit them.

Games edit

A game, on the other hand, is an executable file or an application. This means that it is usually (on Windows) an .exe, .com, or .bat file. Games come from the manufacturer. Some operating system versions, like Windows 3.1, had games that come on floppy disks or CD-ROMS. Many of those games were created in Visual Basic or other programming languages or game engines. Many games can also be downloaded from the Internet and are often played there.

Games in the computer world are often as variable as those in the non-computer world. Many games have systems of artificial intelligence to make them more interesting. Many games get much harder as the player goes on, and some users like to cheat or modify the game. There are two sorts of modifications: cosmetic and fundamental.

Playing Games edit

In most games, it is a case of installing and loading the particular game from the Setup file. The Setup file will ask you where to save the game. It will either have its own folder, or be installed in Program Files. Program Files is slightly easier, and having games on the desktop is easiest of all.

Before playing the game, you might like to read the Terms of Service and disclaimers. Most game developers and publishers who release games on a commercial basis are very strict on this. With shareware and freeware, it is desirable, though not required, to acknowledge the developer by paying a nominal amount of money or sending them a postcard.

If your game happens to be limited to a certain amount of play, like 10 days or 28 days, respect that and delete it when you've got your use out of it. Some games will have a limited amount of plays, rather than time.

Wikipedia has a list of freeware games and some links to shareware outlets, which will cover a wide range of the twenty-five year history of personal computing. Each archive has its own procedures and rules, such as limits on how much a user can download at a time. Games are considered to be a relatively heavy use of bandwidth, so use common sense and discretion in regard to where and when you load them on your Internet Service Provider.

In the end, it's all an issue of personal preference-what educates and entertains you. Many successful games immerse their users into another world where they can learn computer-and other-skills.

Games also use images, sounds and often videos-either pre-recorded, or in real time.

Making and Modifying Games edit

As you become more experienced and confident at a particular game (or game principles in general), you might like to know how to modify your favourite game. Many platform-type games, for instance, have various modifications, like how many or how few obstacles are present in a particular level. Text-based adventure games can be modified by changing the foreground and background colours, changing the grammar of commands or by unlocking a certain cheat. Often a user can find extra information in the manual or on a website about the game. Often, too, other people who play games like to share their modifications in public. Thus we have skins (clothes) from the Sims and Sims 2. Simulation games, like the ones from Maxis/Electronic Arts, are often customisable across a wide range of functions.

The simplest way to modify a game is if the developer puts in an editor with the game. This is common with puzzle games, where users like to create their own levels. The editor runs more or less separately from gameplay, so you can load, save and modify features of the game to your heart's content. A useful thing which editors can do is test your created scenarios to see whether and how they are feasible in the context of the game. It might be fun to make the player-character invincible, as can happen in Pacman, and in some roleplaying games. Conversely, the player character can be put in extreme situations like heat, cold, gravity and natural disasters. It is not just the players and their capacities which can be modified; non-playing characters and the environment can be modified too.

The second easiest way to modify a game is to go to the game's menu and look for preferences or options. Each game, and each game-playing experience, is different!

How do you actually create a game? Programmes like Klik & Play (available in a free version on the Internet, but you might like to ask your computer shop to order it) or a graphic user interface engine would make programming easier. They generally create genre-games. Many fan-games-often very sophisticated-have been created through a Klik & Play interface or similar.

A presentation programme like PowerPoint or Impress (part of the suite) might be another option which does not involve buying specialist software. These programmes offer 'click on me' interaction and forms. Something of the same kind of idea was available on almost every Macintosh in the form of HyperCard Player. Windows has similar applications like SuperCard and ToolBook. It is worthwhile to spend a few hours with tutorials. If you want your game to have splash screens and animations, spend time in your graphics programme and then use a client-side language like Flash. If you want to create a hypertext game, then HTML is a good choice. Perl and Python make clean code.

Again, if you can't see and preview what the game is doing, it is not likely to be very successful. Get some of your family members to be beta testers or at least to look at your proposed concept. It can be good to get it on paper, like a storyboard, before putting it to Flash.

It's true that with making a game, you need first to try and then to try again. You might also like to read books on these concepts and techniques to bolster your own practice, and also theses. One example of a good book is Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design [1], and a thesis which describes the processes a class of gifted Queensland students used to create a transgressive computer game for the education market is Doing Serious Work of Just Playing: Computer Games in Subject English by Donna Lynette McGrath of the Queensland University of Technology. Chapter Four is especially relevant [2], as well as the appendices and tables [3]. Both sources introduce the idea of a strong narrative or story to a game.

Wikipedia also has many links to tools that will help us make and modify games. Type in particular concepts or genres into your search engine, or bookmark relevant sites in open directories and archives.

Another good way to program a game is to use a Logo-type piece of software. This is particularly used in educational settings, and has a moderate balance between graphics and instructions with a learning curve similar but slightly more difficult than KlikPlay.

If you're really ambitious, you can use 3D or Virtual Reality. However, please remember these games need graphics cards and are not available to the majority. The same is true of games like Active Worlds and Second Life. Much graphic fun can be created with sprites. Create squares, circles and isometric images first!

Images edit

Looking at pictures is fun. They spice up time at the computer and make boring text fresh and exciting. But before you view pictures, you should know what you're looking at.

File Types edit

Compressed Formats edit

jpg or jpeg - Most realistic photos are in this format. Almost every digital camera uses the jpeg format for their pictures. It has great compression and supports enough colors to suit most people's needs. The only draw back is that it uses lossy compression, which means that pictures saved in jpeg loose quality. Line art looks really bad in jpeg, but there are other formats for that.

gif - An easy and common format for creating animated images on web site. Commonly, used for advertisements. It only supports 256 different colors in any given image, thus it often looks grainy. Gif images have a lossless compression, so pictures saved in this format do not lose quality unless they have more than 256 colors.

png - Another popular image type on the Internet. It was created to be an open source replacement for gif's, but it doesn't support animation. This format like jpeg's allows for enough colors to create a realistic photo.

mng - An image format that has potential, but isn't used frequently. Mng has a lot in common with png and is made by most of the same people. The advantage of mng is that it also supports animation like gif's.

Uncompressed Formats edit

Images that aren't compressed get really big. The most popular format is bmp.

Vector edit

Every picture format described so far are raster. This means that they are drawn using different colored dots, or pixels.

Vector images are different because they are drawn with mathematical or vector images. For example, a circle is described using a mathematical equation instead of a whole bunch of dots that are placed to look like a circle. Because of this, you can zoom in forever and the vector circle would not lose quality. Most clip art is some sort of vector format. The main one is that if there was a circle, diagonal line, or something similar, one could zoom in forever and the picture wouldn't

Here are some popular vector formats:

swf - A proprietary format used by Macromedia Flash. Most animated movies on the internet use the swf.

svg - A basic and widely used format. It's not used for animations with sound.

Popular image viewing software edit

Some of the popular image viewers are:

Google Picasa edit

This viewer has a good user interface and is easy to use. Besides being free of cost, it provides good basic image editing features also.

Windows Media Player edit

This comes in built with all Microsoft Windows OS. Although not so rich as the Google Picasa, it is a good alternative.

Music edit

Music is a great way to change the mood while working on the computer. With music on your computer, you can make customize CDs, create your own jukebox, and listen to a wide variety of radio stations from all around the world.

File Types edit

Lossy Formats edit

Lossy compress music, discarding data in order to compress the file to something much smaller than lossless compression and the original PCM stream. The resulting file will sound inferior to the original. Lossy formats can be compressed to varying sizes, with smaller file sized having lower quality.

  • MP3 -The most popular lossy compression format, and the one that is synonymous with digital music. It is supported by all major DAPs and multimedia players.
  • OGG Vorbis - A higher quality codec than MP3, it is also free, but with limted support from DAPs. It is supported by the Rio Karma and most iRiver DAPs.
  • WMA -
  • AAC - The format used by iTunes, but with FairPlay DRM. The iPod is the only major DAP to support it.
  • Real Audio -

Uncompressed Formats edit

Uncompressed formats store music in the PCM format, the same used by the Red Book audio CD format. For 2 Channel, 44.1 kHz 16 bit audio, this takes up 1378Kbp/s compared to 192Kbp/s for lossy formats like MP3.



Lossless Compressed Formats edit

Lossless compression shrinks a music file, without a loss of any sound, and can be decompressed back into the original file. However, at around 75% of the original file, they take up more room than lossy compression formats.

FLAC - A patent free format by the Foundation, who made Ogg Vorbis.

Apple Lossless (MP4) -

Shorten (SHN) - A lossless file format written by Tony Robinson.

Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless (WMA) -

Listening edit

There is a wide variety of audio players available for free off of the Internet. They usually support Audio CDs and MP3s. Often they also support proprietary formats as well.

iTunes - Apple's popular audio player which supports listening to CDs, converting audio CDs into a jukebox, making custom CDs, downloading songs off of Apple's iTune store, and listening to streaming radio stations. iTunes also supports listening to music off other computers running iTunes through a local area network (LAN) and uploading songs to popular MP3 players including Apple's iPod.

Musicmatch - Musicmatch similar audio CD features as iTunes. Plus, it has its own Music store. One unique feature it supports is the ability to stream any song in the Musicmatch library for a monthly fee.

RealPlayer -

Winamp - Compared to the jukebox style music players, Winamp's GUI is simple and takes up very little screen space.

Windows Media Player -

Video edit

Media Types edit

A media type is how one would store video if they wanted to share it with other people. For example, a DVD is what most new movies are stored on.

DVD-Video - The popular format that replaced VHS as the standard for hollywood production movies. This standard is only produced by manufactures of large movie companies. Home users can not produce this format of video. Video is encoded in MPEG2. Audio can be encoded in PCM, MPEG2 Audio, Dolby Digital, and DTS. However, the DVD spec requires that a DVD contain a PCM or Dolby Digital sound track. Up to 8 audio channels may be used.

DVD-R and DVD+R - A popular format for home made DVD movies. These disc play in most standalone DVD players. These disc can be single layer or dual layer. The single layer are relatively inexpensive and can hold 4.7 GB. The dual layer are very expensive and can hold roughly twice the information.

DVD-RW and DVD+RW - A similar format to DVD-R and DVD+R expect it is rewritable.

DVD-RAM - A format that requires a special drive and isn't real popular. It can support single layer 4.7 GB disc and 9.4 dual layer disc. Like DVD-RW and DVD+RW, it is rewriteable.

VCD - A low quality video disc contraining 1374Mb/s MPEG1 video, the same bitrate as audio CDs. VCDs can be burned onto regular CD-Rs and CD-RWs with a CD burner.

SVCD - Similar to VCD but with slightly higher quality at the cost of not being able to store as much video.

File Types and Codecs edit

A file type is the video itself. For example, if someone had a .mpg file on their computer, that would be the file type. When they put in on a DVD-R disk, they are using DVD-R as the media type.

Uncompressed video is very large. Because of that, many compression formats have been developed. Every file type here is a compressed format. Better yet, every file type here uses lossy compression. This means that in order to make the file smaller, quality is lost. Because of this, it is not a good idea to convert from one format to another because more quality will be lost.

Codecs edit

MPEG-1: Used for Video CDs, and also sometimes for online video. The quality is generally less than that of VHS. Includes the MP3 standard. Stored in a MPEG file.

MPEG-2: Used on DVD and in another form for SVCD. When used on a standard DVD, it offers great picture quality and supports widescreen. When used on SVCD, it is not as good but is certainly better than VCD. Unfortunately, SVCD will only fit around 40 minutes of video on a CD, VCD will fit an hour. Stored in a MPEG file.

Windows Media Video (WMV): Microsoft's proprietary format. It can do anything from low resolution video for dial up internet users to High Definition video to view on an HD TV. files can be burnt to CD and DVD or output to any number of devices. It is also useful for Media Centre PCs. Stored in a .wmv.

RealVideo: Developed by Real Networks. A popular codec in the earlier days of internet when bandwidth was scarce. Now less popular because the required player adds all kinds of unnecessary extras, and monitors usage behavior.

Sorenson 3: A popular codec used by Apple's QuickTime. Many of the Movie trailers found on the web use this codec.

Cinepak: A very early codec used by Apple's QuickTime.

MPEG4: The latest MPEG codec can be used for internet and on disc like WMV.

DivX & Xvid: Types of MPEG 4. Usually stored in an AVI or OGM file.

File Types edit

A player that can play a certain file type will not be able to play that type of file with a codec it can not play.

AVI: Used with many different codecs. Can also store uncompressed video. Uses the .avi extension.

OGM: A file format similar to AVI supporting soft subtitles. Uses the .ogm extension.

MPEG: A file format used to store various versions of the MPEG codec. Uses the .mpeg or .mpg extension.

QuickTime: Strickly speaking QuickTime is not a codec, but a file format, API set, and media player developed by Apple. It supports many popular codecs. Some of the more popular include Cinepack, Sorenson 3, and MPEG-4 Video. QuickTime also supports a plug-in architecture that allows other popular codecs such as MPEG 2 and DivX to be added by the user. Uses the .mov extension. And one more product developed by Apple. That is iTune. Used for Downloading MP3 Musics from Various sites. it can easily access to Download Musics Easily.

Watching edit

Media Player Classic -

QuickTime -

RealPlayer -

VLC media player (VLC) - A free cross-platform multimedia player than plays almost anything you give it, including DVDs.

Windows Media Player -

Glossary edit

Links edit