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Kodak introduces Photo CD

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


Kodak introduces Photo CD
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

Kodak has announced a revolutionary system for storing and viewing photographs.

The new Kodak method, called Photo CD, turns regular 35mm photographs into computer-readable digital form and stores them on compact discs. The pictures, both color and black-and-white, can be viewed on a TV screen or computer monitor.

Photo CDs will hold up to 100 pictures, Kodak says. A Photo CD player is likely to cost $500 or less.

Kodak announced its new system far ahead of its projected availability. Photo CDs won't be sold for about two years, according to Kay Whitmore, Kodak chairman.

The company is hoping the advance notice will encourage other manufacturers to adopt Photo CD as an industrywide standard.

Sony and Canon have been selling their own electronic photography systems for a couple of years, without much success. The Sony and Canon methods store what amounts to a series of still TV pictures on a tiny magnetic disc. The pictures of the current electronic systems—which are certain to be improved soon—are fuzzy compared to 35mm slides and prints.

But Kodak's method gets around this limitation by concentrating on high-quality conversion of regular negatives and slides. Consumers will take pictures the way they always have—using normal 35mm cameras and film—and will bring their unprocessed film to a Photo CD center at a drugstore, supermarket or camera store.

Then, a device called a scanner will turn the film image into a digital image. Those pictures will be recorded on a compact disc, and the disc will be slipped into a protective envelope and given to the customer.

Kodak says a disc holding 24 pictures is likely to cost "comfortably below $20." The company says Photo CD players could include zooming and panning as well as an edit mode, in which photos can be cropped and made larger or smaller.

Kodak's Photo CD players will be made by Philips, the company that worked with Sony a decade ago to develop the compact disc. A spokesman for Philips says Photo CDs will be playable on CD-I (compact disc-interactive) systems designed for multimedia computer systems.

It's also expected that CD-ROM (read-only memory) players, now becoming widely available for personal computers, will be able to play Photo CD discs with the appropriate software.

Although Kodak is hailing its new system as a way to combine traditional film photography with electronic photo techniques, other companies are likely to challenge Kodak with their next-generation electronic systems.

Film uses silver and other chemicals to create permanent images, a disadvantage in times of dwindling resources—even to Kodak, which is reported to have the world's largest private stockpile of silver.

Electronic imaging systems do not need silver. Because the image starts out in electronic form, these systems are able to produce photographs faster and cheaper than Kodak's two-step Photo CD method.

The idea of storing images as computer data is not new. Images stored in special data formats (called "PCX," "GIF" and other terms) have been enjoyed by personal-computer users for years. These formats already offer an alternative to Kodak's method, and the software necessary to view these pictures is usually free.

Companies in the United States and abroad are exploring other methods of electronic-image manipulation. One such firm, the Syracuse-based Chroma Corp., has even delivered an image system to a defense agency for testing during the Persian Gulf crisis.

Chroma Corp.'s system gets around one of the problems of electronic photo storage—the huge data files needed for each photo—by compressing the data at least 90 percent. The compressed file still holds all the recognizable detail in the original picture.

For more information on the Kodak Photo CD system, call Ron Roberts at Eastman Kodak, 716-724-4513. For more on the Chroma system, call Guy Roe, Chroma Corp., 315-656-9959.


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