Digital Bloating

Without question, enhanced CDs offer more but of what?

There are signs of artistic creativity evident on some enhanced titles, though. Technophile Todd Rundgren, who goes by "TR-i" ("i" as in "interactive"), offers a different presentation for each of the ten songs on his enhanced-only release The Individualist; most notable is the multimedia for "Cast the First Stone," which is a DOOM-like video game that pits you against the likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. If you'd rather express your creative side, the CD allows you to "direct" a Rundgren video, using concert footage filmed from three different camera angles.

And while it's essentially a shamelessly self-promotional disc, the Cranberries' Doors and Windows does have the decency to mask the program's menu-driven structure by creating a virtual world in which you can explore various locations -- in the company of the Cranberries and their famous couch -- in a fashion similar to the popular CD/ ROM game Myst. Want to read the lyrics for "Linger"? They're in one of the books that can be found in the virtual world's living room. Feel like watching some footage from the band's Woodstock appearance? Go to the stage in the pub. And if you're amused by the simple things, you can turn the spotlights on and off in the studio.

Whether the novelty of enhanced CDs will do to conventional compact discs what CDs did to vinyl records is still an open question. On the one hand, enhanced CDs offer more -- regardless of what -- than audio-only discs at more or less the same price. And unlike the case with MiniDiscs and DCCs, consumers won't need to buy elaborate new hardware if they don't want to, since the discs take advantage of what's largely become commonplace: the audio CD player and the multimedia-equipped computer. And the identification data found on all enhanced discs -- information that includes the artist's name and song titles, in addition to the album title and a "snapshot" of the album cover -- has the potential to be used by audio CD players of the near future, enabling them to display more than just what number of the track that's playing. But until (or if) these next generation machines arrive, this particular advantage is no more tangible than all those scary things that AT&T's commercials promise to bring us over the years to come.

On the other hand, almost everything that an enhanced CD offers at the moment can be done better by more traditional media formats. Too, when it comes to music, it's the sound that matters most, and there's really no difference in the quality or accessibility of the music between enhanced and non-enhanced discs.

Really, what it all adds up to is uncertainty. While the enhanced CD may hold its ground, or even replace the conventional music disc, there's also a good chance it'll amount to little more than a gimmicky predecessor to the next high-tech wonder. And considering the accelerated rate at which technology is booming, that next wonder may not be far off. Until then, we're probably better advised to watch videos on TV, read the latest Rolling Stone and yearn for the day when a revolving platter of CDs was enough to impress our guests.

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