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Microdeal Video Master

For the Atari ST

Grab yourself an image with this new add-on for the ST


Ladies and gentlemen, the Atari is about to go multimedia. Sample and see, with Ian Waugh

This is the Sequencer and one of the clips which was NOT used


Video Master is, according to the blurb, "an integrated multimedia video and audio sampler". Simply put, it lets you combine digitised video clips and audio samples to produce a movie or presentation. You can even sync the audio to a degree. We're not talking Cinemascope or promo videos here, but the package lets you put together computer-based video and animation displays at a price you won't believe.

The Video Master box contains an L-shaped cartridge which plugs into the ST's cartridge port and includes audio and video phono sockets and Contrast and Black Level controls. The cartridge is connected to your VCR or video camera which, hopefully, will have a phono video out so all you'll need is a standard phono-to-phono cable. If not, it will probably be worth investing in one of those video lead packs which contain enough plugs and sockets to connect just about anything to anything else.

The program runs in low resolution although it's essentially a black and white display (more about this in the boxout). The Contrast and Black Level controls are used to optimise picture quality - the Contrast doubling as an audio volume control while sampling. Audio need not come from the video source and you can record the audio separately. In fact, you can often get better results this way.

The main screen shows the picture in the top left quarter and has an 'oscilloscope' waveform display for the audio along the bottom. There are four pop-up cards or menus - Video, Audio, Sequencer and System - which select various program operations. These are in the top right of the screen so the video and audio displays are always visible.

When recording the video you can select frame rates from 25 down to 2 per second. This is essentially a trade-off between smooth animation and memory. A single frame takes about 8K of RAM - and disk storage space. Also, the more frames you display per second, the shorter the movie.

The program splits the RAM into video and audio areas (perhaps it's doing too much work to assign them dynamically) which you can reconfigure if you don't require much audio, for example. A 1Mb ST with about 800K of video RAM will hold about 80 frames which should give you 10 seconds of playback at eight frames per second - or four seconds playback at 20 frames per second. Although by no means essential, a hard disk and extra RAM is very useful.

Here we are in the Editor, editing the grabs of the complete screen dumps of the program. Er, can I go back to singing now?


To record a clip you simply click on record and start your VCR or roll the camera. The window shows the scenes you are recording and the frame counter advances across the screen with each frame recorded. Click on Play to play it back - dead easy! After recording, you can 'scrub' through a sequence by dragging the frame counter slider with the mouse.

The Audio card lets you record samples, edit them and then save to disk for use in other programs, or import samples from other sources into Video Master. Sampling follows the usual computer-based sampling procedures; a listen function lets you monitor the incoming sound, you can use markers to highlight and isolate sections of the sample for editing and you can do an audio scrub by dragging a marker over the sample.

Recording rate is variable from 1-16kHz. 16kHz is high enough for reasonable quality - okay in a mix, as they say but a few Hertz short of ideal. However, you can get away with much lower sampling rates if you're recording speech or trashy music. As with the video frame rate, it's a trade-off between quality and RAM - although audio uses far less RAM than video.

Da di dah, da di dah, da-da-da-da-di-di da di dah

Edit functions include Reverse, Clear, Delete, Fade, Volume and Squash which compresses samples albeit with a slight loss of quality. Video Master supports, AVR, SPL, IFF and raw sample formats and a Flip Sign function may make foreign sample formats useable.


After recording the sound and video, there are lots of edit options to help you put these into a final audio/video sequence. The Video Edit screen lets you scroll through the frames as if they were on 35mm film and you can also remove unwanted frames and load more in from disk. The load process shrinks standard ST pics to quarter-screen size - nice - and you can define blocks of frames for bulk editing.

Once you've got the video and audio into the program and organised the clips the way you want them, your next step is to sync them together. This is done in the Sequencer and basically involves assigning video and audio clips to up to 24 keys on the ST's keyboard and then pressing the keys in the order you want the clips to playback.

This is Monty's friend Dennis the Cat who does backing vocals

The process is easy enough, although ensuring smooth audio playback (if you're trying to sync a song to video, for example) can be a bit involved. However, you can record in step time and the sequence can be tidied up after recording. In order to minimise the amount of space needed, each clip can have a different frame rate and sample playback speed. You can also use loop functions to give you more playing time. When it's all done, you can assemble a standalone player routine using the Vidi Play program. This requires you to write a short control script in a text editor - though there are only six basic commands.

Video Master can work with full screen pictures, but this requires an exceptionally clean video signal. Doing a full screen grab - especially in colour, using the filters - is not a task for the faint-hearted.


Okay, so it's a little basic. And certainly Steve Spielberg has nothing to worry about. But dammit, this thing is fun! What did I do with it? Well, my first project was to record Monty (my Bernese mountain dog) singing 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You)'. No it wasn't easy - temperamental these singers - and it was made more difficult because he only opens his mouth to bite and I was running out of postmen. But that's another story.

After a lot of hard work trying to get the mouth and the words in sync I had a clip a few seconds long which was far from perfect - but even in its imperfection it was hilarious!

Okay, so let's get serious. In most audio/visual presentations, the audio track makes considerably more of an impression when linked to pictures. So even if the visuals aren't 24-bit quality, a good soundtrack can have a large compensatory effect. It's a little strange, then, that the digitiser was packaged with an 8-bit sampler instead of one of Microdeal's 16-bit jobbies - although you can load in samples created with Replay 16 (reviewed in our December '92 issue), Replay Professional or one of three other samplers. You can even record the audio using one of them - though Video Master, naturally, only works with the Video Master cartridge.

As video clips take up so much space, some form of compression routine would have been useful, especially for handing your work out on floppies. But really, at the price it's difficult to fault. Microdeal have done it again - another piece of fun kit at an unbelievably low price. Low cost multimedia on the ST starts here. Okay Bryan, let's go for another take - and try to keep in sync with Monty this time.

THE LAST WORD

Ease of use Mono easy. Colour shmolour!
Originality A first at this price!
Value for money Buy it and believe it
Star Quality Shine on...
Price £69.95
More from Microdeal, (Contact Details)

Colour me sepia

The standard video display is in black and white (actually 16 shades of grey) although you can tint it red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow or sepia (this is excellent for atmospheric 'old photo' effects).

You can record in colour in two ways. Both require the signal to be split into three - red, green and blue. One involves the use of a separate RGB colour splitter and is the preferred option - although whether or not you choose to go down this road will depend on your enthusiasm and determination to record in colour.

The other method involves taking three shots of the same image placing red, green and blue filters (which are supplied) over the lens. You need to keep the camera and source rock steady and get the lighting right; a tungsten lamp will produce a yellow tint, for example. And if you're using a camera with automatic exposure control it may overcompensate for the filter.

The system is rather cumbersome for stills and you'll certainly have to rule out any action shots. However, the facility is there and full marks for including it. A couple of sample pictures (in Spectrum 512 format) show how effective colour can be. The demo movie supplied also contains coloured action shots of Roobarb the dog - he can run but can he sing?

The system can also produce pictures with up to 4096 colours but due to restrictions on the ST they can only be displayed in 16 colours, or, using Spectrum 512 mode (built into the program), 512 colours. Falcon owners get a special version of the program which can digitise full colour pics in 4096 colours in True Colour screen modes. Start saving.

You can save a quarter-screen image to disk in Degas, Neochrome, Spectrum and IFF formats although they are expanded to full screen size with a resulting blocky look. However, you can edit them and alter their palette. There are Import and Block Colour facilities, too.

Clearly, for most users, colour will be something to experiment with. Most serious action work will be done in black and white or with tints.



Previous Article in this issue

4T/FX and d2d Edit

Next article in this issue

Emagic Notator Logic


Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Music Technology - Aug 1993

Quality Control

Gear in this article:

Software: Graphics > Microdeal > Video Master


Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> 4T/FX and d2d Edit

Next article in this issue:

> Emagic Notator Logic


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