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American Amiga Lightwave & Toaster

Amiga Notes
Published October 1994

Paul Austin brings you the future of the Amiga from the American angle, plus all the latest news from home and abroad...

Attending shows is part and parcel of any consumer magazine. As you'd expect, such gatherings generally follow the same format — kiss hands, shake babies, chase‑up gossip, hassle for product and so on. With this in mind, I packed a bag and headed off to Florida to attend the world's biggest computer graphics extravaganza — Siggraph 94. Equipped with the stiffest of upper lips, I battled through glorious sunshine and on to the show.

After the obligatory trip to the press office, it was time to hit the stands and slip into show mode. However, it was at this point that the usual format went out of the window. Within minutes, I found myself answering rather than asking the questions. Even the biggest guns on the American Amiga scene were desperate for all and any news. Just prior to the show, the Management buy‑out rumour had hit. Now, everyone previously secure in the knowledge that Samsung, Hewlett Packard or Superman would save the day was back to square one.

Obviously, being one of the few limeys in attendance, I was an obvious target, but alas, I was as much in the dark as everybody else. After explaining as much, the conversation invariably turned to research and development. Would support for the Amiga continue? Amazingly enough, the vast majority of people I talked to had no hesitation in saying yes — providing the new look Commodore could get its act together! To be honest, I fully expected the vast majority to say enough's enough, we're packing up and moving on to the PC or Macintosh. Obviously, even the biggest names won't find it easy to change direction at the drop of the hat, but it was the underlying willingness to stay with the machine that took me by surprise. The will is there, and so is the demand for machines, but as it stands, there's simply no more high‑end Amigas left to buy — both home and abroad.

According to gossip, production of A4000s won't start until November at the earliest — assuming the corporate capers are sorted out. And as far as R&D on new machines is concerned, god only knows. However, there is a faint glimmer of hope. Although there's been no official announcement, it appears that Commodore have doubled the wages of the engineering department at West Chester R&D research facility, no doubt in an attempt to keep the remaining staff until the long‑awaited announcement is made. I suspect, however, that it's going to be a long wait for the mythical A5000, with its RISC‑based CPU and Windows NT compatibility.

Raptor Rendering

Despite all the gloom, one of the high points of the show was the first official look at the Raptor II and Raptor Plus rendering engines. Both units use RISC technology to bring workstation performance to the Amiga, using Windows NT as the basic operating system, while linking to the Amiga via an Ethernet connection. This move towards compatibility between formats could well prove the saviour of the Amiga as the premier videographic desktop platform. Another massive announcement at the show was the launch of Lightwave on both PC and SGI formats. Although seen as yet another nail in the Amiga coffin by some, I feel it can only help the cause in the long term. If NewTek want to maintain and develop a foothold in both the PC and SGI markets, they'll have to work hard in the R&D department — the fruits of which will also be applied to the Amiga version.

Admittedly, the PC market may be massive, but it's the Amiga that dominates the video market, quite simply because PCs are useless for videography. They don't like, nor understand video, and to teach them costs an absolute fortune in additional hardware. They may be fast, but will that really inspire videographers to trade their existing Amiga systems? I don't think so, especially when you can out‑render an SGI for a fraction of the price by simply adding a Raptor to your existing kit.

Basically, the only thing that will kill the Amiga off is Commodore. The willingness to develop and buy the machine is there. All Commodore have to do is get themselves sorted out before it's too late — because if this farcical situation isn't resolved soon, many developers will be forced to look elsewhere, whether they want to or not. The future of the Amiga hinges on one key factor. If the new‑look Commodore can't get the range back in production before Christmas, the situation will look very grim.

Fortunately, the likelihood of the Commodore bid being accepted seems more and more certain. According to a reliable source, a manufacturing deal is already in place to start production of the entire range in mainland China, while R&D will remain at West Chester. Let's hope the red tape is kept to a minimum, and the announcement is made so we can all get back to business.

Damage Limitation

To boost morale among dealers of the Amiga range, David Pleasance, managing director of Commodore UK, has sent a letter to reassure them (and us) that there is a future for the company. What follows is an excerpt from the letter:

"We have raised the necessary finance, and believe we will be successful in our bid to purchase this business. If we are, we will give priority to our core business, the UK, and ensure that the loyalty that has been shown to us will be rewarded.

"Our budgets include a significant level of advertising, which we will use to the very best effect. The Amiga CD32, Amiga 1200, Amiga 4000 and CD1200 will be produced and sold during the Christmas period. It is anticipated that if all goes to schedule, we will be delivering product around the first week of November, possibly the second week.

"It is our belief that by far the majority of retailers will be out of current stock by the end of September or early October, so there will be only a short delay before new bundles arrive. Rest assured, our plans include the best packs we have ever offered. I know these are trying times for us all, but I give you my personal word that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we not only keep the Amiga family alive, but also lift the brand up to its rightful place at the top of the market".

Passport To A Pal Video Toaster

American‑based company Prime Image have released the Passport 4000, after signing an agreement with NewTek (makers of the award‑winning Video Toaster). The company claim that the device offers digital video signal handling capabilities such as conversion between international video standards (including PAL, SECAM, PAL‑M, PAL‑N and NTSC 4.43).

This means that all British video companies and individuals who have been waiting for the PAL version of Video Toaster can now have access to the power of NewTek's television standard product. The Passport 4000 also offers time base correction and synchronisation, and adds AT bus expansion slots for the Amiga 4000.

Bill Hendershot, founder and president of Prime Image, commented: "Prime Image's customers around the world have let us know that there's tremendous pent‑up demand for the Video Toaster, in diverse video format applications. Given this demand, and the video standard conversion technology that PI has pioneered, it's a natural fit for Prime Image and NewTek to work together."

Passport 4000 costs $6,750 for the basic unit, with two additional PAL input channels increasing the price by $2,950. For more details, contact Bobbie Hendershot on 010 1408 867 6519.

Crackdown On Porn Pirates

Following the recent discovery of pirated CD software valued at 10 million pounds, ELSPA's crime unit, headed by John Loader, has recovered over 200 CD‑ROM discs and writing equipment from two addresses in Manchester. The software, worth £500,000, has been examined by both ELSPA investigators and the Greater Manchester Obscene Publications Department. "Not only does illegal activity pose an enormous threat to the commercial interests of the UK's legitimate computer games software industry", stated Loader, "but it highlights the increasing problem of production and distribution of illegal, pornographic software throughout the UK."

If you have any information that should receive the attention of the crime unit, phone John Loader in confidence on 0386 833810.

Internet Expansion

With the information superhighway starting to take shape, CompuServe have begun testing a new service that allows members to participate in discussions on USENET. This access should allow the user to enter thousands of discussion groups on a huge variety of differing subjects. Once testing has been completed, CompuServe members will be able to read and contribute to the USENET News groups. "CompuServe recognises that our members want to augment the wide array of products and services available by expanding their information horizons on the Internet as well", said Charla Beaverson, Internet project manager at CompuServe.

Also recently introduced is the on‑line support directory. According to CompuServe, the service provides a comprehensive and useful database, with over 800 hardware and software companies available for consultation about anything from printers and hard drives to monitors and MIDI. Jim Hogan, director of product marketing, said: "Support Directory makes it very easy for members to get help with their hardware and software problems, and make informed buying decisions". For more information, contact CompuServe on 0800 289378.

Diary Dates

  • October 6‑9, 1994.

BBC Big Bash.

Venue: NEC, Birmingham.

Future World area of this show promised to contain the latest computer games and virtual reality.

Amiga News In Brief

    With 166 exhibitions under their belt, the All Formats Computer Fairs are continuing their regular tours round the country. Covering the latest in ST, Amiga, PC, shareware, games and even 8‑bit products, a full rundown of shows can be obtained from Bruce Everiss on 0608 662212.
    After the success of the Virus Checker Compilation Disk, Craig Holmes has launched a subscription service for Workbench 2 & 3, which provides customers with the latest Amiga anti‑virus software as soon as it is released. Upon subscribing, customers are then entitled to free telephone software support. Six updates (which are mailed to you on their release) cost £14, and 12 updates cost £25. For more information, contact Craig Holmes on 0902 305209.
    Premier Developements are primed to release three sets of shelves for the Amiga market. The intention is to have a family of seven Desktop Workstations to match the requirements of users. At present, the range includes two versions — a double‑shelved unit and a single level version. With the double version, the monitor is mounted on top, with a shelf underneath for peripherals, and a storage space below for either a computer or keyboard. Prices range from £31.29 up to £38.85, and the shelves can be bought from a computer retailer near you. For further information, phone John Germany on 0487 823684.