IIMS 94 contents
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Multimedia laboratory

Cliffe-Wong Meow Chan
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore
The setting up of a low cost Multimedia Laboratory is described. The laboratory was initially set up to teach a short course in multimedia to 31 Advanced Diploma students in 1992. It is equipped with two popular platforms used in multimedia, namely the Macintosh and PC compatible. The paper discusses the rationale behind these configurations and also gives an overview of the various hardware and software tools used in building a number of student project prototypes.


The Advanced Diploma in Information Systems and Software Engineering (AD-ISSE) course at the Centre for Computer Studies was designed to ensure that the curriculum is able to keep abreast with rapid developments in information technology.

A unit, Information Technology (IT), was thus identified to complement other 'core' units. With its aims and objectives thus established, IT becomes a 'catch all' unit for incorporating any significant and emerging topics/trends pioneered by academic/industry initiatives. Flexibility is thus provided to offer three or four topics depending on what is current.

In 1991, as certain technologies showed promise, it was decided to give more focus and depth of treatment rather than cover too many areas superficially. Three topics, Professional Issues and Code of Conduct, Expert Systems and Multimedia (MM) were taught then.

When MM was first introduced in 1991 there was no hands on learning in the module. Working in groups, students wrote investigative reports based on product brochures, periodicals, books and visits to vendors, exhibitions and organisations which use MM applications. The teaching approach was somewhat restricted and it was difficult to verify the contents because there was no first hand experience in using and evaluating the various MM technologies.

1992 was the 'year of multimedia' in Singapore. In every exhibition and conference, multimedia attracted much public interest. In CCS, the CD titles displayed also attracted similar attention during the open house event. Multimedia has indeed arrived. It was foreseen that Singapore's IT employment market will soon be looking for MM specialists. It was therefore important for IT students to go through the process of building MM applications. With this in mind, the setting up of a MM Lab, which houses the technologies to build multimedia applications, was undertaken in July 1992.


As MM is still in its infancy in Singapore, very few organisations are as yet ready to invest in these fast changing technologies. The MM team (comprises of one teaching and one technical staff) faced much difficulties in evaluating and proposing suitable mix of technologies as there were few contemporaries they could turn to.

A number of criteria were used to guide the initial set up of this MM lab. These criteria are explained in the following sections of the paper followed by a review of the results.

One of the very important criteria was that students must be given maximum exposure in terms of the popular platforms used in multimedia. In the fast track MM world, there has not been a standard platform to support MM applications. On the other hand, it was seen to be of paramount importance to expose the students to the prominent players in the field. Popular multimedia platforms such as Macintosh and PC compatible were thus chosen to form the backbone of the MM lab. With different platforms, students were able to explore the various technologies used in building MM applications. Groups of 3-4 students each were formed to build assigned MM projects using the platforms assigned to them. Although the assignment duration was short, the students were able to share the experience gained among themselves.

The second criteria was that the equipment including the hardware and software purchased must be able to last at least 3 years to ensure the investment well spent. As a result, the hardware and software purchased must be of the latest technologies and reasonably reliable to stand the test of time and competition from other vendors. The technologies proposed were thus new, high end and expensive. For example the Intel's Action Media II capture and delivery modules were chosen for the PC compatible platform. Today, with many other video cards flooding the MPC market, it is still the best card around in terms of quality of video it captures and delivers. As for the Mac, the choice of special hardware such as Video Spigot and software MacroMind Director was a matter of fact.

The third criteria was that the budget must be within S$50,000. In addition to the MPCs, the lab must equip with other essential accessories in order to function properly. Therefore, a colour scanner which can be shared by both the Mac and PC compatible platforms was purchased. A 650 Mbytes Magneto Optical drive was loaned to the lab for a one year duration. This switchable drive serves as an extended storage device for both platforms.

Based on a maximum number of 18 students enrolled on the part time mode (13 on full time mode) and groups of 3-4 students per team, the MM module needed at least five sets of multimedia machines at any one time when both courses were in session. It was decided that three sets of PC compatibles (since the department was able to spare three 486s) and two sets of Macintoshes fit the requirement. The bulk of the budget hence went to the purchase of the two high end Macs.

With the rest of the budget, it was not possible for the lab to acquire a camera and a VCR which were essential during the video sourcing phase of the project. The MM lab was indeed very lucky as these equipment could be loaned from one of the support departments in the Polytechnic. Better still, the Polytechnic library was persuaded to purchase three copies of IconAuthor (the authoring software) for the PC compatible platform.

By the time when both courses commenced in September 1992, the MM lab was equipped with the resources as shown in Appendices 1 and 2. While the first purchase in 1992 which cost a total amount of S$47,944 was sufficient for the immediate use, it was borne in mind that there is a continuous search for better and cheaper MM software and hardware which are fast available in the market.

Spin off benefits of the resources

A number of students (4 out of the 13 full time Advanced Diploma students) have since continued their fascination with MM by proposing their final year individual projects based on their MM experience. Without this MM module and the MM Lab, this would have been impossible.

Although the MM Lab's resources were specifically used for the Advanced Diploma (AD) assignments, it was also able to support a small number of Higher National Diploma (HND) projects at the same time. To maximise the use of the MM Lab a booking form was designed to avoid clashes with the AD timetable. The availability of the MM Lab had encouraged and given opportunities for a number of interested staff and their HND project students to gain an insight into the world of MM.

While the students were busy with their assignments, some of the MM Lab's resources were also used to demonstrate the capabilities of MM during the CCS open house and the 1993/94 AD-ISSE student briefing exercise. A cost effective MM Lab was thus set up in CCS.


The capabilities of the lab have managed to train the first batch of 31 students into competent Multimedia programmers within three months. Altogether nine prototypes were developed. The Mac titles include:
  1. What a Wonderful World which focuses on Air, Land and Water Pollution;
  2. Polytechnic Orientation which focuses on the introduction of one particular department in Ngee Ann Polytechnic;
  3. CBT on Television Lighting which serves as a Mass Communication lecturer's teaching aid;
  4. Corporate Organisation's Annual Report which focuses on giving high power corporate presentation.
The PC compatible titles include:
  1. Chinese Wedding Guide which focuses on Chinese wedding customs especially on exchange of gifts between the couples' families;
  2. Movie Selection System which focuses on giving short previews of videos available in a video rental shop;
  3. Yamaha Music Course Guide which focuses on the courses conducted by the school;
  4. Marine and Maritime Business Database which focuses on the introduction of various companies stored in the database ;
  5. CBT on Multimedia which focuses on course material related to 'Introduction to Multimedia'.
Of these titles, six of them are now used by real users in one form or another. These users include a company specialising in trade exhibitions, a music school, Department of Mass Communication, and the Centre for Computer Studies in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

"Roast pigs, pigs' trotters and laying out the bridal bed have long been associated with traditional Chinese weddings...", one of the more outstanding prototypes - the Chinese Wedding Guide caught the attention of the press during the recent software exhibition at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. This was developed by four part time students spending 400 hours using one of the PC compatibles and IconAuthor authoring software. One of the students even used her own wedding video for the project. The story was featured at the HOME section of The Straits Times, dated 22nd September 1993. Since the package is a potential shopping guide for services ranging from gown hiring to honeymoon packages, a software company has expressed interest in marketing the software. A hotel Banquet Manager has also expressed interest in exhibiting the software during a bridal fair.

The Centre has come to realise the potentials and attractions of such resources in providing the students an opportunity to incorporate their talents through the use and exploration of Information Technology. It is now planning to set up at least two more MM labs and introducing Multimedia as a main stream subject into a new course which will commence in 1994.

Appendix 1

(A) PC platform (3 systems available to 4 students per system) (B) Mac platform ( 2 systems available to 3 students per system)

Appendix 2

(C) Other hardware and software shared by both platforms

Author: Mrs Cliffe-Wong Meow Chan
Teaching Associate, Centre for Computer Studies,
535 Clementi Road, Singapore 2159
Tel: (65) 460 6872 Fax: (65) 469 0490

Please cite as: Cliffe-Wong, M. C. (1994). Multimedia laboratory. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 102-104. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/bc/cliffe-wong.html

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