This year is likely to see various multimedia platforms 'slug it out' in the market. One of these will of course be the Multimedia PC (or MPC) standard. The MPC specification is essentially a 386 (or better) PC with a super-VGA display and a CD ROM running Windows 3.1. On the face of it, MPC looks to be well placed against it's main rivals, namely the Phillips CD-I and the Commodore CDTV system. Technically all three systems are broadly equivalent but as the MPC is based on existing PC hardware it has a much greater potential audience as almost any PC running Windows 3.1 can easily be upgraded to the MPC standard.
It's interesting to look at some of the figures for the PC market. According to Microsoft, over 10 million copies of Windows 3.0 were sold world-wide before the release of the 3.1 upgrade in April 1992. Since then they've been shipping 1 million copies of the new version a month and although some of these will be upgrades it is reasonable to assume that a fair proportion of these will be for new users. Since I've heard that Windows suffers from a 4:1 piracy rate, this means that there are at least 40 million Windows users globally and, as the UK has about 10% of the world market in PCs, there are around 4 million users in Great Britain. All these users are potential MPC users, especially as the prices of CD-ROM drives continue to fall.
If we look at sound cards then — according to Westpoint Creative, the Creative Labs UK distributor — there are something like 100,000 Sound Blaster sound cards of which about a quarter are the full MPC upgrade (ie. with a CD-ROM) and sales are currently running at 8,000 a month. Whilst the Sound Blaster is the undoubtedly the market leader in this type of sound card, when you consider the other vendors and 'grey imports', you could easily double these figures. All these figures point to MPC Windows being a successful multimedia platform.
EZ MIDI Pro is a new DOS based sequencer for 286 PCs (a better) from Computer Music Supplies (CMS) who are perhaps best known for their PC MIDI interfaces. The package is a 128 track sequencer and supports multiple MIDI ports, SMPTE/EBU timecode and multiple time signatures. It appears to have everything that you'd expect to see in a professional sequencer except (surprisingly) a tempo track. The program is obviously in the same tradition as Voyetra's Sequencer Plus and Twelve Tone's Cakewalk in that it is a track-based (or linear) sequencer with added track looping facilities. It also has a built-in generic System Exclusive (SysEx) librarian that can record up to 32 banks of SysEx data. Each bank can contain up to 103,000 bytes of SysEx data and the banks can be automatically sent off to your MIDI sound modules when you load the song.
Probably the most interesting feature of EZ MIDI Pro is its ability to use the PC's extended a expanded memory to store your MIDI data, allowing you to load a large number of song files. This feature lets you avoid any delay that may be caused by the sequencer reading the next file from the disk. Although parts of the software look a bit 'klunky', EZ MIDI Pro looks like it might be a good choice for anyone who wants to try out PC-based sequencing fora reasonable cost. Turnkey are bundling the software with a CMS 101 MIDI card for £140, although the program also supports the Key MIDIator, Adlib and Sound Blaster MIDI ports. Contact Richard Fincher at Turnkey (Contact Details) for a free demo disk, a you can download the demo from the 'route66/progs' area of CIX (Contact Details).
Steinberg have followed up their release of Cubase Windows with a cut-down version for the PC called Cubase Lite which retails for £99. Cubase Lite is essentially a 16-track version of the program with a reduced set of features, and looks to be a good way of getting a taster for Cubase without breaking the bank. Steinberg have also been beavering away correcting the problems that users have been having with Cubase Windows, the latest version is 1.0.1 and is lot more robust that the review version that I had. Registered Cubase Windows users can get a free upgrade by calling the Cubase support line (Contact Details), once again showing the advantages of getting software from the proper UK distributor rather than the cheaper 'grey imported' versions.
In last month's column I took a quick look at Microdeal's PC Master Sound, a budget sampler for the PC. Since then, they have sent me an updated version of the software which can save the sample files in Windows .WAV format. This means that you can now use this package to record and edit your own Windows system sounds, which should be of special interest if you use the PC speaker driver or the Covox Speech Thing as your sound replay device. PC Master Sound costs £49.95 and is available from Microdeal (Contact Details).
Westpoint Creative have announced the Wave Blaster add-on to the Sound Blaster Pro 16. This enhancement is a separate daughter board that plugs into the latest 16-bit sound card from Creative Labs and adds a 32-note polyphonic, 16-bit wave table synthesizer (using Emu electronic). I would guess that the synth is essentially an Emu Proteus, as found on the Multisound, however unlike the sounds on Turtle Beach's Multisound card the Wave Blaster sound set has been specifically designed to be General MIDI compatible. The board also includes an Advanced Signal Processor (or ASP) chip which will be able to implement voice recognition and other advanced features... when the software becomes available. The Wave Blaster board should cost under £175 which — when added to the cost of the Sound Blaster Pro 16 — means that you get a professional multimedia sound card for less than £500, about half the current list price of the Multisound card. Westpoint Creative can be reached on (Contact Details).
Feature by Brian Heywood
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