There are a whole array of catch-phrases that haunt the Amiga, all vying to make a basically simple machine as big a mystery as possible. Old favourites include 'multitasking', and of course a myriad of chips with names like 'Paula', 'Gary', 'Denise' and so on.
All too often these, along with assorted acronyms, are liberally spread over acres of glossy A4 in order to cover the tracks of countless confused orators. In fact what all the talk and typing boils down to is that the Amiga is essentially a socialist machine.
This may appear a rather curious thing to say, but it's all true. For example, the Paula chip is solely responsible for the Amiga's internal sound and nothing else. The same applies for the entire family, as each handles a specific task.
Apart for being a highly commendable social arrangement, this has the added bonus of relieving much of the pressure on the hard-working CPU (Central Processing Unit). In effect, this leaves the CPU to make final decisions rather than being forced to do all the hard work alone. Thus multi-tasking, and in turn multimedia, have the ideal home. Machines such as the Mac and PC do make brave, if rather sad, attempts at emulated multi-tasking. Alas, the basic structure of both of these machines is geared directly to number crunching, and doesn't naturally allow the kind of adaptation that's second nature to the Amiga.
The Amiga's second strength is its compatibility with video. Because the machine provides a standard 15Mhz video-legal signal, complete with a sync pulse, it's made for the job. In simple terms, this translates into the ideal vehicle for DTV (desktop video). When this is combined with its socialist approach to processing, you have the perfect multimedia machine.
Flexibility and easy combination with various media is at the heart of the rather over-hyped and under-explained concept of multimedia. In short, multimedia is the ability to interact with the user through numerous media — music, words, video, animation, sound or just about anything else. This interaction is at the heart of ScalaMM 200. With a combination of clever programming and forward thinking, manufacturers Scala have managed to combine all of the above into a simple, user-friendly interface.
For the majority of users, the only way ScalaMM 200 will ever be stretched to its limits would be in the event that you win the pools win and buy far more video and assorted multimedia hardware peripherals than is good for you. As a result, I, along with our illustrious editor, attended the recent UK launch of the new Scala, mainly to see the program in full control of the huge array of hardware which the Scala marketing machine claims awaits potential users.
I wasn't disappointed. At the launch, an A3000T complete with 8-way serial expansion connected an array of additional hardware which included a laser disc, CDTV, Canon Ion still video player, and a wide selection of the all-important MIDI instruments.
After a brief sales pitch, the show began, with the software throwing everything from animation to CD-quality sound into the pot, plus occasional blasts of MIDI, digital video, Amiga samples and soundtracks. Although full of enhanced features and Amiga-exclusive improvements, such as animation spooling direct from hard disk, sound module support, and complete control over internal samples, it was the program's external skills that the Scala bosses really wanted to impress on the attendant corporate buyers.
As mentioned above, fully exploiting MM200 is an expensive business and points directly to the corporate marketplace that the program is designed for. Obviously there's no need to employ the full repertoire of Scala options; in fact, it's very unlikely that most users will ever need all that the program can provide. Nevertheless, even if you're happy to exploit just a few of the program's abilities, there can still be a hefty price to pay for total control of all its internal options.
For the average user with relatively limited means, the £395 asking price is probably more than enough to restrict experimentation to the program's internal talents, for a while at least. With amazing animation spooling, sample and module sound, designer fonts, stylish backdrops, a selection of original wipes and fades and, of course, direct playback of MIDI data, you can produce amazing audio/video presentations and stylish DTV without any additional hardware at all.
Unfortunately, there's one area which the budget user minus an A3000 won't be able to explore, the area in question being the program's additional wipes and fades. Another 25 brand-new effects have been added on top of the existing selection offered by its predecessor. Alas, the A500, A600, A1500 and A2000 are shipped with just 1 MB of chip memory, as opposed to the 2MB of the A3000 — and, as you may have guessed, 2MB is required for all the new effects.
Theoretically, it should be possible to overcome the problem by installing a DKB MegaChip 2000/500, which adds the necessary 2MB to the rest of the Amiga range. I tested the theory and installed the chip. Unfortunately the new wipes still refused to work.
I mentioned this to Scala UK, who have subsequently raised the point with the programmers. They, in turn, have promised a revised edition, which will allow full use of the additional wipes with the MegaChip installed. The moral of this story is: first check the suitability of your system before sending the cheque.
The only other system configuration theoretically capable of displaying the new effects would be an A500 Plus or A600 with a 1 MB expansion in the trap-door, giving the necessary 2MB required for the extra wipes.
Alongside the extra chip RAM, you'd also need at least a couple of megabytes of fast RAM, a hard disk and accelerator. In the case of the A600 you'll have to wait for the release of the accelerator, while A500 Plus users would be well advised to take a close look at the GVP A530 hard disk, RAM and accelerator combination.
Although the wipe and fade problem does cast a cloud over the package, these features are only a part of the overall system, and any prospective investor would be mad to write off the whole system because one of the options isn't universally available at the moment. Even without the new wipes, the rest of the package still leaves its contemporaries for dead in almost all areas. This is primarily because so many new features have been added, not least of which is control of external devices, the addition of sound, whether it be via MIDI or via the Amiga itself and, of course, the DTV essential of overscan.
Like its predecessor, MM200 still boasts the best and simplest interface of any Amiga package and now makes life embarrassingly simple, thanks to the new shuffler option; this produces thumbnails of the entire show, which can be dragged around the screen — and subsequently the script — with the trusty mouse.
Another pleasant addition is the option to record the timing of the script manually by simply activating the option and using the mouse to initialise transitions. These are then automatically recorded by the software and become a permanent feature of the new script.
The final new feature of the standard interface is that of sound. Unlike its predecessor, the new software has impressive support for sound, with 8SVX, IFFs, SMUS, Soundtracker and DDS songs all being ideal sound sources. And no matter what the source, Scala offers full control over volume, fade in/out, balance and playback speed. As mentioned earlier, sampling is supported directly from within the software, with options available for generic, SoundMaster, GVP DSSI and GVP DSSII samplers, in mono or stereo and from either mic or line inputs.
Although the original Scala supported animation, the new Snapload option now spools animation direct from disk, vastly expanding the program's potential as an animation tool. During the presentation the option was employed to spool an entire digital video quarter-screen Pepsi commercial direct from disk (with an accompanying soundtrack, of course) — something which would have been impossible on the old Scala without a huge amount of additional RAM.
Although enhanced animation, the addition of overscan, and internal sound is wonderful news for the vast majority of users, Scala — the company — are obviously pinning their corporate aspirations firmly on the most revolutionary addition to the new program, namely, Scala EX. This is the system at the heart of the presentation mentioned at the beginning of the article, which allows the control of external devices via serial connection.
Like all the major Amiga power packages, Scala has adopted the modular approach, which allows expansion without constant upgrading of the main program. Thanks to the EX system, Scala hope to add any multimedia application to the existing environment by simply issuing a new EX module. Six such modules come as standard with many more on the way. New modules are already in the pipeline, including Elan video control and SMPTE timecode.
Again, to enhance the program's multimedia appeal, additional interactive options have been added via Scala's famous buttons, which now have the ability to affect variables, which could then be used to compile data via Lingo, Scala's own proprietary multimedia language. All such data could then be retrieved at a later date, giving the package a new lease of life as an interactive market research tool.
It's even possible to start one script from within another — via the Lingo ARexx combination — run DOS applications, and send ARexx commands. As a result, almost any Amiga-based application could be employed as part of a presentation.
As you may have guessed, Scala is now firmly on the ARexx bandwagon, and has the option to save scripts as ARexx programs which can then be run from — and in concert with — any other ARexx conversant software.
In short, the package has all the options that multimedia users have been waiting for, but not without stretching the machine to its limits and in some cases beyond. Nevertheless, with features such as Snapload for animation, the EX system for expansion, optional overscan, plus complete control over audio, Scala MM200 is the kind of easy-to-use power software that many serious musos would be mad to overlook, especially if your work leads you into corporate presentation or DTV.
As mentioned earlier, the package retails at a heart-stopping £395 excluding VAT. Though expensive in Amiga terms, this is nothing compared to the price of PC or Mac presentation software, which often runs into the thousands and yet still falls woefully short of this truly amazing program.
Scala MultIMedia MM200 is available direct from Scala UK Ltd. If you require any additional information, contact either Barry Thurston or Dennis Philips on (Contact Details). Next month we'll continue the tour of multimedia, with a look at ShowMaker, the Amiga's alternative, MIDI-friendly presentation system.
Feature by Paul Austin
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