The 22nd of February 1989 was not a good day for Apple Computer Inc. Following a lengthy campaign to promote the Mac as the sound and vision multimedia platform, the Beatles record company, Apple Corps., issued a writ stopping Apple in its tracks. The Corps claimed that polyphonic sound chips inside the Mac II transgressed a 1981 agreement preventing the silicon wonder kids from linking the 'A' word with all things audio. (I'm sure that, like me, you will appreciate how a more musical Mac could damage Apple Corps' business. Not.)
The ensuing legal arguments dragged on for almost three years, during which time our Californian heroes were legally prohibited from discussing the Mac's immediate or future audio prowess. Meanwhile the computing world moved on: Steve Jobs' NeXT computers arrived replete with Motorola 56000 DSP chips, and Atari continued to flaunt the ST's built in MIDI ports. The Mac's sonic development progressed too: new audio features appeared, but Apple kept quiet.
So after last November's out of court settlement, is Apple Computer free to speak its mind at last? No way! Polite enquiries to Apple headquarters in both the UK and US were greeted with a spectacular digital silence; it seems the terms of the settlement are to remain secret.
Despite sealed lips, however, there's plenty of evidence (and rumour) to suggest that Apple are now at liberty to endow the Mac with the sonic capability it so richly deserves. Our first witness is the audio recording facility built in to every new Mac since 1990 (apart from the Classic and the PowerBook 100). Many people use their Mac mics to record silly alert sounds, but Apple's longer term intention is that we might begin to embed audio recordings — 'voice mail' — into documents, over networks, and via phone lines (Word 5.0, Microsoft Mail/Quick Mail support voice mail now). At present, voice mail is being used rather like audio Post It notes, but with larger interchangeable mass storage devices, faster networks and new digital telecommunications links (such as BT's ISDN), voice mail could become a viable alternative to text documents.
Another Mac hardware development is the stereo audio port fitted to the LC, IIsi, and the Quadras. The Quadra 900/950 also provide line-in connectors, so that audio from (say) a SCSI CD-ROM player can be routed internally, though signals are still mixed to mono. Note also that Apple have plans for new models with built-in CD-ROM drives which may well, like current Apple CD-ROM drives, provide a regular CD audio output.
On the software front, it is more than two years since Apple released the MIDI Manager system extension (INIT), allowing multiple MIDI applications running under MultiFinder or in System 7.0 to communicate via a soft Patchbay. Though heavily criticised for its copious bugs and sluggish performance, MIDI Manager was a significant development, being Apple's first tangible demonstration of commitment to the burgeoning Mac music community.
At a System Software Forum in April, Apple announced a new range of System Extensions, which included QuickTime and Casper. QuickTime — available now from Apple dealers for £99 — is a system extension that synchronises audio to compressed colour video, allowing the playback of 'movies' on any colour 68030 Mac screen (see MacNotes June 92). More recently, Apple claimed that future versions of QuickTime will support 16-bit stereo audio.
Another proposed QuickTime upgrade will provide support for timecode and MIDI, leading to Stateside rumours that future Macs will sport MIDI sockets. Though only a rumour, a dedicated MIDI port is a logical choice for a multimedia machine and, of course, MIDI software support is already with us in the shape of MIDI Manager. A recent upgrade to the MIDI file dump specification may also assist the case for built in MIDI, since it supports the transfer of non-MIDI data such as Mac/PC binary and text files.
And what of Casper? Still at the development stage, Casper is the code name for Apple's voice recognition technology. Current VR add-ons such as Voice Navigator and Voice Express allow Mac commands to be executed under voice control, though direct voice input to word processors is not provided. Another drawback with current systems is the need to train the software to understand individual voices. Apple clam that Casper overcomes this significant limitation.
All current Macs process audio at a resolution of eight bits, with record sample rates of up 22kHz and playback sample rates of up to 65kHz. The only way to get 16-bit 44.1/48kHz stereo audio in or out of a Mac is via additional hardware, but if Apple is to maintain its lead in multimedia, we can expect to see top-end Macs offering full bandwidth stereo audio, (maybe with built in S/PDIF or AES/EBU), on board DSPs, MIDI, and timecode support within a year.
How much Apple Computer had to pay Apple Corps for the privilege of designing audio facilities in to their computers we may never know. Still at least it's over — we assume.
Apropos of claims and counter claims, Mac Notes May '92 included the following statement referring to C-Lab's new Notator Logic Mac sequencer: "In addition, MIDI data is transmitted through the Mac's serial ports faster than any other application — even via MIDI Manager". This statement, based on information in C-Lab's product literature, is incorrect, and should read "MIDI data is transmitted through the Mac's serial ports at maximum speed — even via MIDI Manager". All Mac sequencers transmit MIDI data through the Mac's serial ports at the maximum speed; Notator Logic is no faster. Apologies for letting the statement through unchallenged.
Feature by Kendall Wrightson
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