The Family Album Goes Multimedia

Carla Ridenour is preparing a computer scrapbook for her 1-year-old grand-daughter, Carmen Marie. Entitled When You Were Born, the album contains photos taken just after birth, sound clips of her crying, and a video of mother and baby leaving the hospital. The Eugene (Ore.) grandmother also "morphed," or merged, the girl's first picture with others snapped months apart.

Ridenour is using Echo Lake software from Delrina to help turn her PC into a multimedia repository of family memories. In the low-tech world, people's photos, diaries, and other keepsakes are strewn in shoeboxes and albums all over the house. But now, software programs, scanners, and other devices that work together are organizing the chaos by letting people preserve pictures, video clips, genealogical records, and even cherished voices on their hard drives.

QUICK READ. At the start of Echo Lake--which runs $50 on diskette and $60 on CD-ROM, you enter a cozy log cabin that serves as the program's main menu. Inside are books created by each member of the clan. Open a book, and you'll see a tree ring divided in eight sections: education, career, travel, and so on. In each one, people can keep a written journal or import a multimedia assemblage of pictures, videos, or sounds. Family members can use passwords to hide the books in a wall safe. Those who want to share stories can print them out or dispatch them via diskettes to relatives. An Echo Lake viewer is copied onto the floppy, so recipients need not own the program.

Those who delve further into the family tree will appreciate one of the numerous genealogy programs on the market. Among the best is Family Tree Maker from Banner Blue Software. The $60 CD-ROM holds the names of 100 million deceased people. There are no actual records, just a listing of where to go to find better information.

Family Tree Maker lets you keep tabs on marriages, educational backgrounds, births, deaths, and other data on your relatives. One user traced his family's history with Lou Gehrig's disease. The software is GEDCOM (genealogical data communications)-compliant, so files can be transferred easily to other programs using the format. As with Echo Lake, you can import images and sounds.

To accomplish that, though, you need special equipment. Today's multimedia computers are equipped with sound cards that let you plug in a microphone and record. With a $330 video-capture-board, such as VideoBlaster SE100 from Creative Labs, users can import video clips that may be edited and played back off the hard disk.

SCANNERS. Folks who are dripping in cash can whisk photographs into their computer via a digital camera from the likes of Logitech and Eastman Kodak. The cameras store images in computer files rather than on film. But at a list price of about $1,000, digital cameras are best used for business purposes. A cheaper and better bet is a scanner. Storm Software has a simple $269 product called EasyPhoto Reader which plugs into the printer port on your computer. Color photos are scanned into a motorized feeder, then EasyPhoto software organizes thumbnail copies of your pictures into a gallery. You can resize, rotate, or crop the pictures and add titles. Photos can be dragged and dropped into a Windows word processor or other programs.

Play Inc. recently introduced a nifty $200 device called Snappy. The size of a cigarette box, it plugs into the parallel port and connects to a camcorder, VCR, or television. When you see a picture you want to grab, click "Snap," and Snappy freezes the image. Snappy comes with morphing and paint software that lets you manipulate images.

But you don't need separate gear to get photos into your PC. Seattle Film Works (800 445-3348) and Konica Quality Photo (800 669-1070) will transfer film onto diskettes. Both charge about $4 on top of the regular processing costs for a 24-print roll, or $6 for 36 images. The disks include programs that let you resize and crop pictures. Kodak has built a free software utility into Photo CD disks that also lets consumers recast images. Processing cost: about $1 per picture.

Even for memories you don't intend to store on computer, a PC can come in handy. Gold Disk's Video-Director Home software lets users edit videotapes. The $50 program comes with a cable that connects a camcorder, VCR, and PC. You mark the start and end of sequences and drag and drop the scenes into any order you desire. Scenes are then copied from camcorder to VCR. Alas, you're on your own in getting others to watch the results.

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