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Quick Time 2.5

Apple Notes By Martin Russ
Published November 1996

Martin Russ gets to grips with QuickTime 2.5, explains how Weird Blinking Lights work, and gives his regular roundup of Mac news and useful 'net addresses.

It seems to happen each time a new piece of software is released. Along with all the hype, there are several mentions of supporting releases, which then don't quite make the release date, or which aren't included in the basic release. Vapourware is not an appropriate term for these 'almost but not quite' pieces of software, but perhaps something like 'nearlyware' is the right word.

The predicted simultaneous release of QuickTime 2.5 onto the Mac and IBM PC compatible platforms doesn't seem to have happened — as I write this, the official Apple WWW site has only QT 2.1.1 for Windows. But the MacOS version of QuickTime 2.5 is available: either as a single large .hqx file, or as two HD disk images. You can also find this latest incarnation of QuickTime on the cover CDs of recent Mac magazines.

Nearly Serious

The standard release of QuickTime 2.5 for the MacOS suffers from similar problems as the previous release of version 2.0: the serious music stuff seems to have been only partially included. You get:

  • QuickTime 2.5 extension
  • QuickTime 2.5 Power Plug (for PowerPC‑equipped computers)
  • Sound control panel 8.0.5
  • Sound Manager extension 3.2.1
  • MoviePlayer 2.5
  • QT Musical Instruments 2.5
  • QT Settings control panel 2.5.

This is better than version 2.0, where the QT Music control panel (the equivalent of half of the QT Settings control panel) was not included, which prompted frantic Web searching and lots of email on the developer networks. With QuickTime 2.5, the omissions in the QuickTime Music Architecture (QTMA) are slightly less obvious, since when you install it, you get a control panel which enables you to select the standard Roland cut‑down set of sampled General MIDI QuickTime Musical Instruments. QuickTime movies, which are intended to use these sounds, work exactly as expected. This is fine for basic MacOS users who have no MIDI equipment, but what about us MacOS musicians?

Results... Oh Dear

After the September 1996 issue of SOS came out, an Apple Notes reader contacted me with some questions about QuickTime 2.5, which they had just obtained. He was unable to 'Drag & Drop' AIFF soundfiles to provide new sampled sounds; could not find the Instrument Editor; OMS2.1 was not recognised; and there was little or no documentation. Sure enough, when I tried to do the same with my newly installed QT2.5, I got exactly the same non‑results. Oh dear.

Everything I wrote in the September issue was based on what the Apple evangelist, Jonathan Knowles, showed me on his machine. I now suspect that he had a combination of the basic QT 2.5 release, plus additional developer‑orientated software. So where do you get the additional software? In my email reply to the reader I suggested looking at

www.quicktime.apple.com/

which is the basic starting point for any QT questions. They emailed me back to say that he had heard about

www.QuickTimeFAQ.org/

from Terry Greeniaus, the creator of the QuickTime MIDI Player and QT MIDI Plugin for Netscape. Following through these links produces a wealth of software for doing all sorts of music and MIDI related stuff using QT2.5, although some of it does come with warnings about being unsupported.

About Time

As to OMS, I had quizzed the Apple person very carefully on this point. In the face of considerable cynicism from myself, he had assured me that OMS support was finally included — after all, it was supposed to be in 2.1 and wasn't! Then Opcode released OMS 2.2 (try www.opcode.com/), and lo and behold, QT 2.5 finally recognised OMS. To make the most of OMS, you need the QTMA Views and QTMA Configuration utility programs from the QTMA web site. QT 2.5 also recognised the MIDI Manager and offered MIDI devices via the modem port (which is how my Studio 5LX compatibility was left after last month's testing). I didn't have time to download the latest version of FreeMIDI (1.2.7), but my existing FreeMIDI 1.2.4 was not recognised.

Some of the other goodies that I got from the QTMA web site included experimental 'plug‑in synthesizer' extensions, which can be used to provide a 'proxy' for an external MIDI synthesizer inside QTMA.

The reader also commented on the large difference in the perceived quality between the QT Musical Instruments and an external MIDI module. Even with the improved sample rate (44.1kHz) of the latest QTMA samples and the fast processing offered by the latest PowerPC chips, the external MIDI module still wins. The dedicated hardware in MIDI equipment still seems to have a considerable edge over the general purpose processors found in computers. My examination of the internal constuction of the Yamaha VL70m during my recent review is one such example (see SOS October 1996). The four Yamaha YSS217B custom PLCCs used in the previous generation VL1m physical modelling synth module had been replaced by a single one plus three associated RAM chips in the VL70m, but in each case, all the processing power was dedicated to producing monophonic sounds! The wait for physical modelling plug‑in synthesizers for QTMA may be a long one! Unfortunately, the wait for .KAR (karaoke) file compatibility in QT is already over...

How It Works: Wbl 4014

One of the example programs available at the QTMA WWW site (also as source code!) is derived from software written by QuickTime Music Architecture guru David Van Brink for the electronic performance ensemble Weird Blinking Lights, apparently back in November 1994. The WBL 4014 is a single screen pattern‑based arpeggiator, which offers LFO‑driven parameter changes and lots of pattern storage — well suited to dance, trance, techno, and even drum'n'bass styles of music.

The lack of any instructions may cause some head‑scratching at first, so here's some pointers.

  • Select the notes to be arpeggiated on the on‑screen keyboard by shift‑clicking with the mouse. These notes will be reflected by greyed rows in the main grid — click to set a note, and click again to clear it.
  • Store patterns in the letter grids by shift‑clicking.
  • Recall letter grid patterns by pressing the relevant key on the qwerty keyboard, and select the number in the grid by using the cursor keys.
  • The lower red line in the parameter boxes represents the LFO speed; the upper grey line is the controlled parameter; and the lighter line represents the current LFO value. This makes cyclic changes to volume, pan, pitch, and many other parameters easy to set up.
  • The vertical blue slider is the master volume.
  • The long horizontal slider controls the tempo.
  • The 'scramble' keys alter the order of playback of the arpeggiated notes.
  • I couldn't figure out the purpose of the matrix of different sizes of black boxes...

Apple News In Brief

  • NOT A WRITE‑OFF
    Whilst IBM PC compatible owners have been writing off Apple with considerable glee recently, there have been one or two reassuring figures beginning to appear. For example, Apple did not make the huge loss that was predicted for the third quarter — at just over £321 million, it was a quarter of what many analysts expected. But perhaps more interestingly to Apple Notes readers, Apple continue to sell more multimedia computers than any other manufacturer: in the last year they sold nearly 20% of all the multimedia‑equipped computers.
  • SPEED CATCH
    Be careful when you compare prices of MacOS computers with IBM PC compatibles. The current release of up to 200MHz Pentium Pro equipped PCs may appear to look similarly specified to the 200 or 225MHz PowerPC MacOS machines, but the Pentium Pro chip is optimised for the workstation‑orientated Windows NT operating system, and so the performance using Windows 95 is not as sparkling as you might expect.
  • RAM TRACKING
    The price of RAM memory has fallen apparently inexorably over the last few months. As I write, I've just bought a 16Mb SIMM for under £100. But there are many cynics who believe that this low price cannot be sustained, so this could be a good time to start monitoring the prices. One excellent way to do this is to visit the WWW Ram Tracker page: home1.gte.net/mongo1/ramtracker.html

One reason might be the strong hints that MacOS 8 (aka Copland) will need at least 20Mb of RAM.

  • WEB WOOF
    Okay, so I've mentioned OpenDoc before, but I can't remember talking about Cyberdog, which started out as an intelligent agent and appears to have morphed into a complete Internet tool. Brave readers can now test it out via www.cyberdog.apple.com/beta/inde...

It requires OpenDoc to run, so you will need to download that too, but it makes an ideal opportunity to see how the 'documents' of the future might be put together — and that includes music.

  • SOFTWARE WHERE?
    In the past, readers have asked where to get hold of MacOS freeware and shareware. Not so long ago, the answer might have been via mail order from a specialist supplier, but these days two sources stand out: ftp using the Internet, and magazine cover‑mounted CD‑ROMs.

Personally I subscribe to one of the compilation CDs, BBS In A Box, from the Arizona Mac User's Group, because it saves all the hassle of loitering in the newsagent, reading through the Mac mags to see if they have what you want on the CD! My favourite MacOS source is ExMicro: www.innotts.co.uk/exmicro/

On The Net

THE QUICKTIME SOURCE:
www.quicktime.apple.com/

QUICKTIME FAQS:
www.QuickTimeFAQ.org/

QTMA PAGES:
www.srm.com/qtma/index.html

QUICKTIME WEBMASTERS' PAGE:
17.254.3.126/dev/devweb.html

APPLE DEVELOPER PAGES:
www.devworld.apple.com

OMS 2.2:
www.opcode.com/

FREEMIDI 1.2.7:
www.motu.com/

Tip Of The Month

Last month I committed myself to describing what a minimal setup for a MacOS computer should look like. It turns out that this is not that straighforward, and so the next few months worth of 'tips' will be occupied with attempting to describe something approaching the bare minimum.

Firstly, some ground rules. Since most MacOS computers used for MIDI are stand‑alone, I will assume that AppleTalk (LocalTalk) style networking is not used. In fact, mixing networking and MIDI on the same serial ports is probably not a good idea — it causes me lots of problems whenever I try it.

The first stage is to try and sort out the huge number of files, which may well be infesting the System Folder without really needing to be there. Any computer other than a new one with a freshly installed system seems to accumulate 'not so useful' files — sometimes user‑installed, sometimes automatically installed by upgrades (especially System upgrades).

I use two approaches to maintaining the contents of the System Folder: Extensions Manager and a Non‑System Folder. The Non‑System Folder is a folder where I keep all the extensions, control panels, and other files which I definitely don't need or use, but which I may need sometime in the future — it makes sense to keep them all in one place. The Extensions Manager (EM) is a piece of Apple software, which comes with System 7 and allows you to easily manage files like extensions and control panels. EM produces new folders inside the System Folder where it puts the files that you don't want to use: these are called by the same name as the real folder, but with '(disabled)' added.

Our first target is the Apple Menu Items folder, which is where you put anything (a file or an alias) that you want to appear in the Apple Menu on the top left of the screen. The typical contents of this folder include the Puzzle, Key Caps, and Stickies — none of which is exactly essential to the working of a MacOS computer, especially if you want to maximise your processing power for making music. Just about the only things you actually need here are the Chooser, the Scrapbook, and an alias to the Control Panels folder. Everything else goes in the Non‑System folder, preferably in an Apple Menu Items folder inside it.