Kendall Wrightson offers further comments on Apple's AV Macs, brings news of some new Macs, and wonders if MiniDiscs will provide a solution to the removable storage problem.
Apple's new "multi-media Macs" (the Centris 660AV and the Quadra 840AV) are perfect examples of "peripheral migration" — that is, the flow of external hardware from outside to inside the computer. In the AV's case (hah!), both motherboards boast a Digital Signal Processing chip: a proud, sensual and significantly cost effective fact for everyone except fax/modem and digital audio peripherals manufacturers.
As an example of the latter, Digidesign could be accused of protecting AudioMedia II sales in announcing that Sound Designer II will not be ported over to support the AV's AT&T 3210 DSP. The tapeless recording kings claim that the AV's audio is "sub-AudioMedia II". More tangible is the AV's lack of digital I/O — AudioMedia II offers S/PDIF.
With Mark of the Unicorn and Steinberg yet to make firm decisions, Opcode alone are heirs to the title of early adopters, having made a firm commitment to support the AVs in the form of Studio Vision 1.6AV. The AV-friendly version of Opcode's pioneering integrated MIDI sequencer/tapeless recording application, is slated for January '94 release (mcm (Contact Details)).
Unlike a standard Mac, an AV running Studio Vision 1.6AV will not require additional hardware, making the Centris 660AV cheaper than an AudioMedia II-equipped Centris 650. However, without digital I/O, it's impossible to bypass the AV's DACs or make digital domain backups to DAT (the most cost effective backup solution).
With only two AV Macs available. Opcode's 1.6AV market is, for the time being at least, somewhat limited. Future DSP-equipped Macs will be PowerPC models. However, in theory at least, Opcode should be able to adapt their 3210 DSP code to PowerPC based AVs fairly easily, since the AV DSPs have their own independent operating system called Apple Real Time Architecture.
ARTA's independence ensures that telephony, modem and fax operations are essentially independent of the AV's 68040 microprocessor. However, it has emerged that despite the 3210's raw processing power, it's not possible simultaneously to play back CD-quality audio and use fax/modem facilities.
Opcode's rivals have been justifying their non commitment on the grounds that the AVs were designed principally for the graphics community. This is supported by the (lack of) digital I/O and audio quality issues referred to earlier, plus the fact that 3-D image rendering and filtering functions can be accelerated greatly by utilising DSP idle time. Apple have understandably made much of this fact, and far less of the AV's audio possibilities.
Further facts to emerge regarding the AV's hardware include details of I/O connections: the AV's Sound In/Out connectors are of the fiddly, undersized stereo minijack variety, while the GeoPort mentioned last month refers to the AV's telephone architecture, rather than to a rear panel port. Telephone connections are made via an enhanced 9-pin modem connector, the additional pin supplying the necessary 5V to adaptors that can, for example, accommodate the electronics required to connect a Mac to a phone line (standard PBX and ISDN adaptors are available).
Incidentally, the new AVs have a problem with many of the copy protect systems employed by the major MIDI and digital audio applications — i.e you can't install them! However, AV-friendly updates should be available by the time you read this.
Compact Discs are appearing as data carriers for a wide range of applications, including CDTV, CD-I, Sega Mega CD and most recently CD FMV (Full Motion Video) — a digital, 5-inch disc alternative to CD Video/Laserdisc. However, these applications all operate with read-only CD-ROM technology. Recordable CD-ROM and CD-R machines cost around £4000, with blank media retailing at £20 or more.
Despite the fact that fixed hard drive capacities have risen to the order of gigabytes, multimedia demands removable storage. The immediate solution is still rewritable optical storage, though at present, the neatest solution — IBM/Sony's 128M 3.5-inch drives are still over £700, with blank media costing around £30.
Sony's MiniDiscs — still yet to take off in the consumer electronics arena — are far smaller and are also theoretically capable of storing 120MB or more. While this doesn't begin to rival CD's 550MB capacity, 120MB on a tiny disc costing £10 is a rather fabulous possibility.
Like the CD, the MiniDisc would be an audio industry solution to a mainstream computer problem, and the advantages could be as significant as those delivered by CD. For us, the advantages are perhaps clearer: digital audio applications could offer the possibility to write audio to MiniDisc uncompressed (for work in progress and archival) or in compressed audio format to permit playback in any MiniDisc machine. Sony claim that MiniDisc will win out over DCC eventually. Perhaps the Japanese giants could assist the adoption of MiniDisc by introducing it to the computer industry?
In addition to Newton Message Pads (lowest street price is around £539 excluding VAT), attendees to this year's Apple Expo at Olympia should see the first sightings of a 20MHz, 68040 Mac in an LC case, not surprisingly called the LCIV. Apple also plan to release '040 versions of the Colour Classic and the LC520, the latter a US education machine that looks like a mid-morph-cross between a Classic and an LC.
Two new PowerBook Duos will also be launched — the 250, offering '030, 33MHz performance and a 4-bit greyscale screen (like the current 230), and the new 270, which will be Apple's first colour Duo. Apple also has plans for six new 'Performas, the 460 being a 33MHz LC III, and the new 475 and 476 being variations on the LC IV.
TSC/MCM's Expo stand is likely to witness software upgrades from Passport including Pro 5, Trax and a version of Encore 3.0 specially priced for the education sector. Passport will also offer Music Time — a lower priced, low calorie version of Encore. Also on display will be Digidesign's long awaited Mac version of Session 8.
The latter made its first public appearance at the Mac World Expo in Boston, a show that also saw a NuBus card version of Kurzweil's K2000. According to my source, the card attracted much interest and sounded great. Kurzweil are trying to find a third party manufacturer to make the board.
"With the entire Mac range migrating to 030 or 040 processors and the successful industry approval of QuickTime, Apple's multimedia dream is finally coming true."
With the entire Mac range migrating to '030 or '040 processors and the successful industry approval of QuickTime, Apple's multimedia dream is finally coming true. Apple's latest triumph is to overcome multimedia's data storage problems. Rumours suggest that the Cupertino marvels are subsidising the true cost of their CD300 (external) and CD300i (internal) CD-ROM drives in order to seed (and accelerate) the market for CD-ROM titles (an increasing number of which include QuickTime movies). Apple have also made the CD300 Photo CD compatible, and will launch P-CD compatible 24-bit digital cameras later this year. A plug & play P-CD-ready portable CD-ROM (the PowerCD) is upon us (street price around £349 ex VAT), and a PowerBook with integral CD-ROM is a distinct possibility.
Apple has launched two more printers — a laser and a portable bubble jet. The Personal LaserWriter 300 is a small-footprint, energy efficient device that weighs in at 15lbs and offers a 100-sheet cassette, 39 true type fonts, GreyShare image enhancement and will retail for less than £600. Looking very like a PowerBook, the new sub-£300 Portable StyleWriter can print up to 60 pages per battery charge at 360 DPI, 500 pages per cartridge, and offers 39 true type fonts. Finally, TSC ((Contact Details)) have secured a truck load of Apple Colour Printers. Reduced recently from £1995 to £995, the company are offering said device for just £599.
The perfect monitor for the new AVs is, according to Apple at least, the very pert looking AudioVision 14, a 14-inch colour display offering integral microphone and full range, tuned port bass reflex monitors. The speakers are positioned underneath the display, offering 90dB SPL at 0.5m (at 90Hz). The AudioVision also provides connections for external speakers/headphones, plus audio in/out connections. The AudioVision 14 is expected to retail for around £500, a price that will include control panel software and a single integrated cable for connection to the Mac. Apple has also launched a pair of near field audio monitors, a powered speaker and satellite speaker design called, not unreasonably, the AppleDesign Powered Speakers.
Feature by Kendall Wrightson
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