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Amiga Notes

Paul Austin looks at the latest Commodore release that's set to revolutionise home based audio video forever...

With the growing dominance of the consoles in the games market, the Amiga more than most has been feeling the pinch — hence the large-scale corporate reshuffle mentioned in last month's column.

However, to their credit Commodore aren't just shrinking to survive — they're fighting back with the release of an amazing 32-bit console all their own which, if successful, will not only secure the future of Commodore but also reshape home entertainment.

Entitled the Amiga CD32, the new CD-ROM console is essentially an A1200 with a few startling additions — not least of which is a FMV (Full Motion Video) module which can be added internally to the basic hardware. Although this won't be available until roughly a month after the main units arrive at the end of August, it's already made a huge impression on those present at a recent industry launch.

Much to the approval of the 300 assorted buyers, sellers, journalists and third-party developers, the CD32 is set to retail at just £299 — thereby dramatically undercutting the opposition, as well as providing the world's first 32-bit console system. Like its predecessor, the rather under-powered and somewhat ill fated CDTV, the CD32 can also play standard CDs in addition to Game and FMV discs. If all goes to plan, Commodore believe they can sell between 250,000 and 400,000 of these machines by the end of January '94.

The Amiga CD32.

The unit will come with two games plus twin 11-button joypads, all connected to the top-loading, dual-speed 68020 based console with access to 2MB of memory as standard — a figure roughly 15 times that of Sega's Mega CD.

As for output, the machine again scores well, with S-video, composite and RF outputs alongside stereo audio RCAs, and a headphone jack.

Up to 256,000 colours are available on-screen from a palette of 16.8 million — as opposed to the 64 on the Sega machine — while the Amiga's Workbench operating system will be resident in ROM along with all the additional code necessary to control the CD-ROM itself.

An external keyboard connector plus a full 32-pin expansion bus has also been included, but Commodore refuse to say whether they are developing add-ons necessary to build the console into a computer. If they don't, be assured that the army of third-party developers will. Thanks to the aforementioned bus it's possible to access every aspect of the machine.

As a consequence, everything from hard disks to external floppies should only be a few months behind the unit's initial release — thereby transforming the humble console into a fully-fledged A1200 impersonator, complete with CD-ROM drive as standard.


For musicians and the music industry in general the basic system is a perhaps a nice toy; the really interesting aspect has to be the imminent release of the FMV module.

Once fitted, this miraculous add-on brings the power of MPEG technology into the equation, with its ability to play 74 minutes of VHS-quality video combined with CD-quality audio direct from disc. Alas, the world will have to wait until September for its arrival, but having had personal experience of a pre-production unit in action, I can assure you it will be worth waiting for.

At the launch, the leading lights of the Amiga world were lined up to see the new machine put through its paces. As expected, the basic console was impressive, but the real surprise was the FMV, which quite literally stunned the audience — myself included. The speed and quality of the video/audio combination was simply unbelievable. Fortunately for Commodore, only one month prior to the launch an agreement was reached on a worldwide standard for linear full motion video, entitled Video CD — exactly the format employed by the new console.

Signatories to the new standard include Commodore, Philips, Sony, JVC, Matsushita and Paramount Home Video. The format itself, also known as 'White Book', has the added benefit of a proven track record in the Karaoke market where it has been the chosen format for professional hardware for some time. Obviously, the opportunity to combine CD audio and high quality video on a single disc — which can't be copied — has jangled the cash registers of all the major record and movie companies. As a result, you could barely hear a diminutive Mr. Brookes extolling the virtues of the system during the launch, thanks to the assorted suits smacking their lips with financial excitement.

Besides the corporate fantasies at the prospect of even more cash, the concept of interactive CD-based audio/video could have huge repercussions for the entertainment market in general. Companies such as Warner Bros, were already on hand considering entire film releases, while corporate musos planned music video compilations. Even interactive movies, with the punter deciding "who done it", aren't beyond the realms of possibility. Not bad for an add-on that's set to retail at just £200 — with a free disc included.


Fortunately, Commodore have already confirmed that the CD-ROM technology developed for the new console will come to both the A1200 and A4000. As yet, no date has been fixed for release of either an external or internal drive. Although Christmas has been mentioned, spring '94 seems to be most likely. Better still, in addition to the drive, the MPEG-based FMV module will be available at the same time.

The ability to add FMV could also have repercussions as far as DTV and audio are concerned, with video and audio encoded into the FMV format and spooled through the MPEG chips, providing full motion, full screen audio/graphic playback direct from hard disk.

Although this is merely conjecture at present, if implemented, the Amiga could become the world's first affordable non-linear FMV editing and playback medium — which could make the expensive process of single frame recording a thing of the past.


Commodore have just announced a price cut for the A1200, less than a year after its launch. The machine sees a £100 cut, with its new £299 price tag aimed at helping the manufacturer reach their targeted 250,000 sales this year. "Pricing is a key issue in the home computer field," said Commodore boss David Pleasance. "Following the huge sales of the A600 at £199 and the great success of the A1200/A500 trade-in we decided to look again at the A1200 price point."

David says that the firm want the machine to become a mass market product, and at its new price he expects that process to speed up.

Amiga users can expect more support from Commodore as the firm prepare to quit the cut-throat PC-compatible market to concentrate on the range. The move is part of the massive restructuring programme detailed last month after the manufacturer announced a third quarter loss of more than $177 million.

Commodore's David Pleasance says that by dropping PC products his firm will be able to focus on 32-bit Amiga technology, with all resources going into the machines.

In countries where they are a major PC player, such as Germany, the firm will sell third-party manufactured machines badged with the Commodore name.

Bedford-based HiSoft ((Contact Details)) have extended their commitment to the Amiga market with the recent take-over of Microdeal — the company responsible for the Clarity 16-bit sampler. The move comes just weeks after the firm bought AVR, the makers of several hardware gadgets previously marketed by Microdeal.

"This a logical step for HiSoft," said the firm's boss David Link, "since as a publisher as well as a software house it is natural for us to produce the complete AVR product line in house."

"From Microdeal's point of view it was an inevitable move to consolidate their products under our umbrella since we controlled the AVR hardware, a major part of Microdeal's range."

Products will be produced and distributed from HiSoft's office and existing software contracts have been transferred to the firm. The Microdeal brand name will continue.

Two VGA monitors are now available from dealer Silica Systems ((Contact Details)) for Amigas running AGA graphics — the Commodore 1940 and 1942 (mentioned briefly last month). Both feature stereo sound and sit on a swivel and tilt base. The £299 Commodore 1940 has a .39mm pitch and the 1942, with a pitch of .28mm, costs £399.


Sound samplers, MIDI interfaces, an audio mixer, and sound enhancement units will soon be sold in kit form by Lancashire-based Omega Projects ((Contact Details)). All will be fully documented for the novice and the firm will be offering advice for those people who find that things won't work as expected.

Their first product is Sound Trap 3, a sampler which, the company claims, gives superb sound reproduction. It costs £19.99 plus postage and packing

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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



Feature by Paul Austin

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