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Apple Notes


Kendall Wrightson offers a guarded welcome to Apple's new DSP equipped Macs and reveals yet more drastic price cuts across the entire Mac range.

Despite a total lack of music related features, the Apple Macintosh has made a huge impact on the music industry. This accomplishment is a perfect example of the Mac's enigmatic (and some would say increasingly tenuous) appeal, particularly as its major European competitors — the Atari ST and Falcon — provide built in MIDI ports, the latter also boasting 16-bit, stereo digital audio facilities.

Until recently, Mac owners wishing to run MIDI applications had no option but to purchase a separate MIDI interface. However, an increasing number of MI manufacturers have begun to build Mac compatible serial ports into their instruments. On the digital audio front, the Mac cannot provide pro audio quality without additional hardware such as Digidesign's AudioMedia II NuBus card, or a SCSI device like Yamaha's CBX-D5 (but where is it?). Until now...

MAC AUDIO GOES 16-BIT



One year short of the Mac's tenth anniversary, it's a relief to see a pair of Macs — the Centris 660AV and the Quadra 840AV — offering the potential to record, replay and process broadcast quality, stereo digital audio. I've chosen my words carefully here since I'm working from Apple's spec sheets rather than practical experience. It's more than likely that the AVs will support hard disk audio recording, but just possible that recording is RAM based, which would limit recording time to RAM capacity.

The AVs' penchant for handling full-bandwidth, real-time stereo digital audio is due to the inclusion of a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip. Manufactured by American telecommunications giant AT&T, the Centris 660AV's 3210 DSP runs at 55MHz while the Quadra 840av DSP clocks in at 66MHz.

The deal to use AT&T rather than Motorola DSPs — the latter make all Mac microprocessors (and the Falcon's DSP) — is one of many 'technology alliances' forged by Apple over the past 18 months. In return, Apple will gain access to AT&T's telecommunications network, a necessity if the Cupertino kids are to provide the vast array of communication facilities desired for future Macs and PDAs like the Newton MessagePad.

The AV audio specs claim a pro-sounding 16-bit resolution and 48kHz sample rate but audio I/O facilities are less exacting. Separate audio connectors are provided for analogue I/O, (though ADC/DAC specs and connector types are unknown at present). However, Apple has not implemented a standard digital audio I/O protocol such as AES/EBU or S/PDIF. This is an odd omission — S/PDIF is found on CD players costing under £300. More significantly, the AVs offer no Falcon-like DSP bus to facilitate digital audio multitracking add-ons.

As Apple has stated that that future versions of QuickTime will read Longitudinal Time Code, it's a shame that Apple hasn't built an LTC reader into the AVs. (There is a precedent for such a facility in the shape of Yamaha's C1, a PC Clone that appeared in 1988.) Apple has also intimated that QuickTime will offer some kind of MIDI support too, but here again, Apple has passed up the opportunity to include built-in MIDI ports.

GEOPORT & PLAINTALK



Apple is making full use of the DSP chips in the new AVs: In addition to their digital audio potential, Apple (and third parties) will offer software modules (Personality Modules or PODs) that can configure the DSPs to perform additional tasks. One of Apple's first PODs will make the DSPs mimic a modem. Thus, both AV Macs sport a 'GeoPort', for direct connection to phone lines. Apple's 9600bps modem POD will provide telephony (direct dialling from numeric data), E-mail and FAX facilities for around £100.

Apple has also written a DSP POD called PlainTalk to provide speech recognition and text to speech conversion. Formerly known as Casper, PlainTalk understands only North American accented English — Europeans won't be talking to the AVs until a localised version becomes available later this year.

GeoPort and PlainTalk are perfect examples of Apple's penchant for innovation, a talent that has opened new markets and created whole industries (DTP being the most obvious example). With PlainTalk, Apple is creating an easier and more exciting interface in the hope of enticing technophobes into purchasing their first computer.

Voice command and response will also serve to distinguish the Mac from Windows PCs, a task that will become even more important from next year when both Apple and IBM computers will be based around the PowerPC RISC processor.

NICHE



Apart from new users enticed by the delights of voice command, the AV Macs have been designed to satisfy the needs of specific market sectors. For example, the DSP in the Quadra 840AV can assist in graphics acceleration, running drawing, painting and photo retouching applications faster and building 24-bit colour PhotoCD images in seconds instead of minutes.

The new Macs also tackle video conferencing with the inclusion of S-Video and Composite I/O jacks. A LAN-based video conferencing application called ES:F2F is included with the Quadra 840AV, and Apple intend to sell a tiny monitor-mounted video camera for around £100. DeskTop Video of the professional full frame, constant rate variety is not an AV speciality — at least not without additional hardware. However, with sufficient hard disk space and an EDL generation application, the AVs will serve as cheap non-linear, off-line editing machines. As there seems no end to the fall in prices of computers and mass storage devices, a cheaper AV Mac could offer tapeless home video editing (in QuickTime movie format), creating a potentially huge market.

In March 1991, Apple President Michael Spindler was asked which computer company Apple feared most. His reply was "Nintendo". With CD-quality audio, QuickTime and a built in CD-ROM, a cheap AV could offer a glimpse of Apple's future strategy for competing in the games/entertainment arena However, despite the innovation, potential and cost cutting, for the musician or sound engineer, the new Macs are something of a disappointment. It's a shame that Apple's innovative panache hasn't been directed towards the music industry. How about MIDI, digital I/O, LTC, a 32-voice synth chip. (The latter would be ideal for games purposes too — make that deal Roland!). Are we really that niche?

MIND THE GAP

Though the new AVs include the hardware necessary for stereo 16-bit/48KHz audio, it will take some time for publishers to create applications that utilise this ability. For example, Digidesign could write a version of Sound Designer for the Centris 660AV/Quadra 840AV utilising the AT&T DSP. It's likely that with appropriate software, the AVs are capable of multitrack tapeless recording. However, with only one set of audio outputs, additional hardware (NuBus or SCSI) will be necessary to provide simultaneous multitrack audio outputs.

Apropos of gaps, that lacuna left by the demise of the PowerBook 160 will be filled by the new PowerBook 165, identical in all respects to the 160 apart from its processor speed — 33MHz instead of 25MHz — and its price.


STOP PRESS! YET MORE PRICE CUTS

The arrival of the AVs and the PowerBook 165 have necessitated yet more price cuts, varying from 14% to 38% and effective from August 3rd.

LC III 4/80 £849.00
LC III 4/160 £969.00
IIvx 4/80 £1367.40
IIvx 4/230 £1537.40
IIvx 5/230CD £1775.50

CENTRIS
610 4/80 £1067.05
610 4/230 £1291.25
610 4/230CD £1602.50
650 4/80 £2012.50
650 4/230 £2198.00
650 8/230CD £2436.50
660av 8/230CD £1950.00
660av 8/500CD £2260.00

QUADRA
800 8/230 £2701.50
800 8/230CD £2993.75
840av 8/500 CD £3250.00
840av 16/1000 CD £3900.00
950 16/FD £3666.25
950 16/1000 £4581.68

POWERBOOK
165C4/80 £1445.00
165C 4/120 £1745.00
165C 4/120 (w/express modem) £1975.00
180 4/120 £2445.00
180 4/120 (w/express modem) £2675.00
Duo 210 4/80 £999.00
Duo 230 4/80 £1245.00
Duo 230 4/120 £1345.00
Duo 230 4/120 (w/express modem) £1575.00
Duo Dock £650.00
Duo Dock (230MB HD, FPU & VRAM) £950.00
MiniDock £320.00
Floppy Adaptor £85.00
1,44MB Ext. Floppy Drive £99.00
Duo 210 4/80, Duo Floppy Adaptor, 1.44MB Ext. Floppy Drive £1050.00
Duo 210 4/80, Duo Dock £1385.00
Duo 230 4/80, Duo Dock £1650.00
Duo 230 4/120, Duo Dock w/230MB HD, VRAM and FPU £1950.00


CENTRIS 660AV AND QUADRA 840AV SPEC

CENTRIS 660AV: Centris 610 style Box
2SMHZ 68040 Lite with built in FPU and 55MHz AT&T 3210 DSP
Built in Ethernet
High performance SCSI
Up to 68MB RAM using 72 pin SIMMS
1 NuBus slot (supports 7-inch cards only)
1 5.25 bay
1MB Video RAM built in drives thousands of colours up to 16-inch, 256 colours on 21-inch displays
PRICES: Centris 660AV 8/230CD £1950; 8/500CD £2260; Centris 610 Upgrade £1149.

QUADRA 840AV: Quadra 800 style box
40MHz 68040 (with built in FPU and 66MHz AT&T 3210 DSP)
Built in Ethernet
High performance SCSI
Up to 128MB RAM using 72-pin SIMMS
3 NuBus slots, one offering a digital audio connector
2 x video input ports, 2 x video output ports
1 x 16-bit stereo I/O port
1MB Video RAM built in drives thousands of colours up to 16-inch, 256 colours on 21-inch displays
VRAM expandable to 2MB allowing 24-bit (millions of) colours on a 16-inch monitor
PRICES: Quadra 840AV8/500CD £3250; 16/1000CD £3900; Quadra 800 Upgrade £1149.


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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Sep 1993

Topic:

Computing


Previous article in this issue:

> Atari Notes

Next article in this issue:

> PC Notes


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