More words of wisdom re your ST from Martin Russ...
The 'Falcon' is not vapourware! The 68030-based Atari computer is apparently still under development, and is not expected to be released until sometime in 1993 — perhaps at the next CeBit exhibition in Hannover.
Atari prices continue to change — you can now buy a basic half-meg 520STE for £269 in the special limited edition STart pack, although for almost any musical use you will need to add in some more memory (SIMMs, to at least 1MB of RAM, which will set you back £20 or so). At this price, and with the ease with which you can add RAM, the STE makes upgrading an old ST look less attractive.
Mega STEs and TTs are now available, and come with 1.44MB HD floppy drives as standard. The early problems with cartridge port compatibility have apparently been sorted out for the major packages, and the latest Steinberg Cubase adverts actually feature the individual and unusual styling of the Mega STE.
The Take Control stand at the MIDI Music Show was demonstrating Music DTP V2.1, a program for publishing music. But the monitors they were using were perhaps even more interesting: A4 portrait sized and larger. The Reflex Graphic System lets you use professional monitors with a Mega ST, and also with an STE by using a special adaptor. Many of the well-known music programs are compatible with large screens, and the difference it makes to producing music can be enormous. The Reflex board costs just over £300, and monitors start at about £400. Take Control/Titan Designs also sell the AVR Pro-Sound samplers, and the Virtuoso, Prodigy and Rave sequencers from The Digital Muse (Take Control/Titan Designs: (Contact Details)).
The TT comes with the latest version of the ST Operating System: TOS 2. Upgrades to this new operating system for older STs (STs with TOS 1.0, 1.2 or 1.4, STEs with TOS 1.6) should become available in the UK soon, and there are a whole host of new features. You can now have seven windows open at once, instead of four; this is especially useful with larger screens. You can alter the desktop pattern, just as on the Macintosh, but you can also edit the background window colour (and many other colours besides). Icons can be re-arranged to fit the window width (another Mac look-alike) which avoids all that scrolling left and right. There are keyboard short-cuts for most menu operations (at last!). You can print files by dragging them to the printer icon. You can select icons and then scroll the window without the icon becoming unselected. Programs can now be assigned to the function keys. You can create your own icons to replace the normal ones.
As sampling continues its move from being a professionals-only tool to a consumer-oriented, games computer plaything, the question of copyright seems ready to come into prominence again. Now that many pros are obtaining permission to use samples and crediting the original owners of the copyright, you might have thought that things were becoming more stable, but recent raids on ST Public Domain libraries have shown that ST-based audio sampling and video digitising may be under close scrutiny too. Most of the targets were apparently digitised picture slideshows with looped music samples, as found in most PD libraries, often just called 'demos' and often featuring a few stills from a film with part of the soundtrack. Paramount Pictures have certainly been tightening up on the rights to the Star Trek name and associated copyrights recently, which directly affects some other types of PD computer programs. Not only are lists of facts, quotes and character biographies under threat, but recently proposed EC database legislation could make the basic organisation of such information copyright as well.
8-bit sampling on the ST is on a par with telephone quality, and so the first generation of 'slideshows with music' were quite crude. The development of 12-bit, and more recently 16-bit, sample add-ons have provided high quality sampling capability. Video digitisers have also progressed from blurred monochrome to reasonable quality colour at affordable prices. Taken together, these provide a limited multimedia capability for the ST, which is excellent for making your own music videos, but not so good if you steal someone else's pictures and music. I was not so impressed with a recent magazine advertisement from a software security company, which used a clip-art picture of a well-known cartoon pirate with no acknowledgement!
MIDI Files are another grey area for the law. Using a MIDI File to generate a public performance of a copyrighted piece of music is obviously illegal, and so presumably is using that MIDI File to produce a score by loading it into a notation program. It has been argued that the problems of producing anything even remotely like the original performance from a MIDI File mean there is no copyright problem. But with General MIDI the resulting performance from a MIDI File may well be very close to the original, so this ought to change the copyright position. Owners of successful pieces of music may start to look at the copyright licensing of General MIDI compatible MIDI Files much more carefully in the future. This can also apply to ordinary sequencer users: have your own MIDI Files been 'published' by the mere act of saving them onto a disk? And if so, are they protected by copyright? At what point do computer-produced beeps become infringements of copyright? There seem to be lots of questions and only a few answers.
Nothing in computing stands still for long. The original STs came with single sided 360kB floppy disk drives, and some years ago double sided drives began to be fitted as standard. Upgrades from single to double sided cost somewhere between £50-100 for most STs. In order to allow compatibility with the original STs, all software came on single sided disks until recently, even though most STs have had double sided drives for some time. Single sided disks hold only half the amount of data as double sided ones, and so you need twice as many disks to store programs. Recently some programs have started to be supplied on double sided disks only, though single sided disks are available on an exchange basis. This could be a good time to upgrade to a double sided drive...
The arrival of 1.44MB HD drives changes all the rules again. With four times the storage space of the original single sided disks, these also have the same type of format as IBM PC and Mac 1.44 disks, which ought to make file exchange easier. Upgrades to older STs are likely to be quite complex, since the disk controller chip needs to be changed. Drives holding 2.88MB are the next step, although these are probably some way off for the ST. Just keeping up with the recent changes in disk drive formats promises to keep ST owners busy for some time to come.
Feature by Martin Russ
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