An old disk's new tricks


THOUSANDS of employees of the US food chain Burger King are noticing anew look to their training programme this month. Instead of using video tapes and paper based tests, workers will use Compact Disc Interactive (CD-i), a format developed by the Dutch electronics group Philips and the Japanese companies - Sony and Matsushita.

CD-i was designed as a consumer format, but failed to sell. Now it is finding a new market in training, education, point of information kiosks, background music systems and in a large scale home shopping trial in Europe that will allow consumers to order goods online.

A CD-i player links up to an ordinary television set and is operated by a remote control handset rather than a keyboard. CD-i disks can store sound, text, graphics, animation and VHS quality moving video. The disks - can hold up to 16 different soundtracks.

The technology is impressive, but its initial marketing was flawed, says Tony Feldman, a London based multimedia consultant. "CD-i was based on one very good and one very bad idea," he says. "The very good idea was to create a computer ... that was disguised to look like a domestic appliance. The very bad idea was to imagine that it would be used by a nuclear family sharing a rich, interactive experience together in front of their television screen in the living room."

CD i was launched in the US in 1991, and in Europe the following year, but sales of consumer CD-i players have been disappointing. So much so, that last summer Dixons, Britain's leading electrical retailer, dropped the format.

"We haven't abandoned the consumer market, but our new sales strategy is to go out to the professional sector and make corporates aware that CD-i is still around and still a viable product," says Ian Knight, corporate sales manager of Philips Media Systems. Whereas a CD-i player costs about £400, a multimedia PC costs about four times as much.

Calculations like that one encouraged Burger King to opt for CD-i, says Kevin McNamara, the company's director of worldwide training.

"We reviewed training technologies ranging from CD-Rom to satellite network and Internet training, but found CD-i to be by far the most cost-effective."

Burger King plans to use CD-i in most of its 9,000 restaurants worldwide by the end of this year, and is putting 10 of its existing video tape training programs on to CD-i disks. Other companies using CD-i training programs include Chrysler, Sears Roebuck and McDonnell Douglas.