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DVD experts invade city SIGCAT: The world's largest CD users' group will display the latest technology this week at the convention center.


If you think that CD-ROM in your computer is just good for playing games or listening to music, stop by the Baltimore Convention Center this week for an eye-opener.

The SIGCAT Foundation, the world's largest CD users' group and a key player in the advance of digital technologies, starts its 7th annual conference and exposition here today.

Unveiling new advances in CD technologies, SIGCAT will present Web-connected CDs, recordable and rewritable CDs, and the quantum leap to the next generation of discs, the DVD-ROM.

SIGCAT, an acronym for Special Interest Group on CD Applications and Technologies, is the brainchild of E.J. "Jerry" McFaul, a native Baltimorean and computer scientist for the United States Geological Survey.

In 1985, while working for USGS (the map people), he was one of the first to recognize the potential of audio compact disc technology for storing other kinds of information.

He and other engineers wrote the standards for a new computer peripheral - the CD-ROM or compact disc-read only memory. The CD-ROM x could store up to 650 megabytes of information, about 2,000 times the capacity of the 5-inch floppy disc which was in use at the time.

Those standards for storage and playback - hammered out in endless meetings of government and industry scientists - made it possible for manufacturers of CD-ROMs to make devices that would work on any computer.

"I was in Virginia in the '80s when CD-ROM hit. Now that Maryland is in the forefront of DVD, I guess I'm just bringing it all back home," McFaul said.

Today, DVD-ROM drives promise to revolutionize data storage and entertainment. With an capacity of 4.6 gigabytes of data on a disk the same size as a CD, they're starting to appear as standard equipment on some multimedia PCs and as stand-alone movie players for home TV theater systems.

One of the reasons Maryland is in the forefront of DVD development is Crofton-based Ralph LaBarge of NB Digital Solutions, who specializes in mastering movies for the new medium. At SIGCAT, he will demonstrate Creative Labs' DVD Experience Theatre, a large-screen, high-resolution video projection system with special Hollywood effects.

While the CD-ROM was originally devised as a playback medium, SIGCAT will showcase a new generation of equipment that lets users record their own CDs - starting as low as $400 for units that slide into desktop PCs.

You'll see new and innovative uses for recordable CDs, including compact disc based training (CDBT). There will be do-it-yourself discs to help everybody from jet airplane mechanics to volunteer firemen.

The latest developments in Web-connected CDs will also be ZTC exhibited. While critical data on a Web site can be updated instantly, a connected CD can store graphics, audio, video and interactive text that doesn't change much but takes a long time to download over low-speed connections.

Some popular audio CDs are also being marketed this way - you need a Web-connected CD to reach a particular group's Web site, where you'll find offers for tickets, trinkets and other items.

Virtual reality CDs will also be on display. For example, the Texas tourism bureau created one with major attractions that users can "walk through" and link up to a corresponding Web site for the latest information. Free copies will be available starting Tuesday night.

The SIGCAT conference runs through Friday. The free public Expo will begin tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. and continue Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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