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/// Usenet Repost: WOCA Show Report
By David C. Navas
I know others have written about their WOCA experiences. But, I've always
been hungry for more opinions as it helps me to separate opinion from fact.
So here's another report.
WOC Pasadena was held at the Pasadena Center this year, a nice, short, 20
minute surface street commute from my girlfriend's parent's house. I'll have
to remember that next year :) At anyrate, I got to stay at the show for the
better part of Sat. and Sun.
For those who've never been to LA -- congratulations, I don't suggest it.
Imagine your typical suburb stretching several hundred miles. Endless concrete
streets and the attempts to grow small trees and shrubbery -- well, for a
countryboy, it's a sick sight. To get a picture of what LA is all about, just
walk the block around the Center. Quarter way around you've got a Masonic
Temple and a Holiday Inn. In the back, typical California-pre-yuppie
apartments -- "Cordova Park Villa" and "Park Place". Your basic two-story
stretch of apartment complexes.
For those of you with a silly sense of humor like myself, our favorite
technical support will apparently be back in town from Oct. 12-17 for a
special, one week show (yes, that would be CATS). [For those of you with a
slightly blacker sense of humor, "Back to the Past" was also hosting a swap
meet of sorts at the same time that C= was there. I'll avoid the obvious
I attended most of Saturday's keynote and all of Sunday's. I missed the
discussion with Rusty Mills (an Animation Director for Warner Bros.
in connection with Animaniacs). Kermit posted a short on this, you'll have to
read his description. I did see the OpalVision and Axiom demos, the FMV
discussion, and the Toaster4000/John Gross (animator for SeaQuest) talk. On
Sunday I also caught SunRize's Studio 16 presentation. I just wrote Dan
Zerkle some info I had about the OpalVision stuff, so you should see that
show up at some point (probably he'll incorporate it with his own stuff).
Keynotes/FMV Discussions [combined]
On Saturday, the keynote was given by Lew Eggebrecht (V.P. of Engineering) and
Jim Dionne (President of Commodore U.S.). They were answering engineering and
marketing questions respectively. On Sunday, Jeff Porter (Director of
Engineering) and John DiLullo (Director of Marketing) filled those roles. Jeff
Porter also gave the talk about FMV, along with someone from C-Cubed (whose
name I don't have, sorry).
My impressions? Lew is a V.P., and as such (along with being on the road) this
has put him slightly out of touch on some issues. He apparently referred to
Envoy as "Savoy" on Friday, and he also misspoke this on Saturday. This
probably tells you about the relative priorities of networking at the company
as well. Jim and John, from all the bad things they had to say, both came
across as frank and honest. Someone (Dan Zerkle?) said that the keynote
address seemed to have a more hostile audience, however I didn't sense that on
Saturday or Sunday. I would say there was a lot of healthy skepticism -- I've
seen marketing talk about lots of campaigns before, and I know their
probability of happening....
Although John mentioned "dramatic reductions in overhead", I didn't come away
felling that C= is some "lean mean fighting machine" but I think they have
learned a few lessons along the way.
While Lew is great at telling us what we want to hear, Jeff Porter's a guy that
makes the things he'd like to see actually -happen-. I'd watch him for the
real cues for future C= directions.
For the forseeable future, C= U.S. is a high-end company. The U.S. is
responsible for the vast majority of A4000 sales, and C= views this as their
only real market here. As Skip pointed out, the A1200 can't sell against the
cheap 486 machines -- and they (C=) themselves pointed this out. [There was a
lot of grumbling about giving up the "A1200" market, as if there was one here
in the U.S. Although, perhaps mailorder at $400/unit there might be....]
Nevertheless, giving up the U.S. home/business market (that is, the U.S. home
market which is made up of professionals using their computer at home to
supplement their work along with small business markets) would be suicide, so
while they currently don't have the money to pursue this market aggressively,
they do have a reasonable game plan.
Tha plan? Sell the CD32 into the home market. To accomplish this, they have
to redefine their target audience from the home/business market to the
home/game market (entertainment, basically). As this has already been
happening [as far as I can tell] they might have a shot at it. At an MSRP of
$399, it's going to be hard to beat.
Advertising? Not mainstream, not unless some billionaire forks over his estate
or something. Infomercials and appearances on the Home Shopping Network are
being pursued. Apparently C= France is going to have some huge advertising
campain. In fact, from comments in some csa groups, that's already
Future? Once you have a 2Meg Amiga as your base platform, that'll give
developers a huge break for developing software, and I think (though you
realize most of this is my interpretation of what's going on in their heads)
that the CD32 will show what it's -really- capable of only then....
Will it work? I think it'll sell CD32s, I don't think it'll help the
home-Amiga Market. Technology comes down too fast from the high-end around
here. The A4000 really has to come down, not the other way around. But, who
The star of WOCA was definitely the CD32. When the excitement begins to wear
off, I suspect that we'll start moaning about the quality of the very first
games -- time will tell, For this thing to be initially successful, some very
high quality games have to be introduced. The Sonic clone looked good, the
football game also looked very professional, and the pinball game was a
favorite at the CBM booths as well. Jurassic Park, for all it's low-res CDXL
animations from the movie looked rather silly, actually. Perhaps a gaming dude
might care to comment? Games are definitely not my thing.
Apart from that, though, the box itself seemed well-designed for its purpose,
and frankly, it was "cheap". I saw one kid oggling the VCD/FMV video and his
question was "how much?" Which gets at the key of the issues here -- one, it
has to look good (and VCD -definitely- does :)) two, it has to be affordable,
and at $600 for the VCD32 (name made up, cost estimated), and only $399 for the
base unit (MSRP) I think this box has a real chance to grab significant
In fact, I'd take even odds on C= being able to sell 5million in the next
12months (although I'm fairly sure they couldn't fill that demand ;)). If C=
is making any significant money off of this at all, they're going to do quite
well. Also, at ~$3/disk sold, they're also going to rake in money from each
and every game sold -- a tactic Nintendo and Sega have used as well, although
C='s seems a lot more fair (based on disks -sold- as opposed to -produced-),
and a bunch cheaper.
The Welcome Screen on the CD32 is quite cute -- it has a nice sound startup,
and the graphics look a lot like Chicago O'Hare's underground walk-tunnel that
connects two of their terminals. In the center, a "shiny" CD with a few gaudy
rainbow patterns w/color cycling -- but overhead and underneath, a bunch of
curvy rainbow-colored streaks that rush toward you -- grow in intensity, dim,
fade to black, etc. A nice touch, I thought.
Aside from the gaming aspect (which is not my area of interest or knowledge
anyway), the really significant thing being shown for the CD32 was the VCD
(Video CD/Karaoke) attachment. This little box (I've heard estimates of cost
between about $180-$250 -- I'd side on the high-end of that, actually) will
literally blow your mind when you see it. High fidelity sound and video coming
realtime from a teeny audio CD player. It's astounding, and I definitely want
Yes, it was being shown -- they had one disk with three different titles -- a
Bon Jovi music video, and two European (yes, PAL) videos -- one French, one
British [I think]. The French clip was, well, bizarre :), the British clip
was very good, though. Nice lightning effects along with some CGI -- which was
kinda ironic, I thought....
Apparently, these were older versions (the cards have been hitting the road
along with C= officials pushing this concept, more about that later), which
contained a number of rendering glitches (the system seemed to lose sync
pretty often), and the pause, ff, etc. functions were not working on the unit
they had, though apparently all of the above is working in the labs.
VCD is MPEG1 -- a 352x240x30fps compressed video standard which is interlaced
and horizontally doubled before being output. The bitrate for this format is
1.15Mbps, or slightly under the 150k/sec a normal-speed drive runs. While VCD
is playing, between 70 and 80 percent of the CPU is available, and the Amiga
screen is genlocked over the VCD output. So it's quite possible to do some
-very- interesting HAM8 effects over the VCD graphics. I hope we see stuff
like that in the future.
Along with MPEG1, MPEG2 also exists. This is a higher bandwidth standard
operating between 4-9 Mbits/sec -- even more for HDTV. This one is for the
cable companies, and Jeff Porter has been very interested in this area as it
Speaking of Jeff Porter, yes, he's been hob-knobing with the best of them in LA
trying to drum up support for the VCD format. It helps, of course, that this
is not a proprietary format -- it's been adopted by nearly every serious CD-
player company on the market. All of these contacts are enabling him to help
shape current markets in the US, which I see as a real positive move by C=. I
hope he stays....
Another thing Jeff has been pushing is Photo CD support. He's been
aggressively pursuing this for fourteen months -- we're talking wading through
the US legal system, don't expect miracles.
At anyrate, apparently there has been some commitment to do the Star Trek
movies along with Indecent Proposal (why this movie? beats me). I'll
definitely be getting ST II -- heh, heh. Unless the cost is prohibitive.
And that's really the problem for this format. Although the cost of cutting a
CD is 1/10th the cost of cutting a laserdisc, the actual MPEG encoding costs
an arm and a leg. Laser Pacific in LA and Pacific Video Resources in SF will
kindly take a D1 or Betacam source (preferable) and transfer it to MPEG for
the low cost of $50-$600 (respectively) PER MINUTE! Don't try this at home,
However, these costs should drop considerably when C^3 finally releases their
encoding chip which is supposed to happen (finally) on Oct. 4th. Encoding
boards should then only run a couple of thousand, instead of in the tens to
hundreds of thousands of dollars for a high-end workstation, and the shear
volume of encoding should also help bring the price down. Time will tell.
So what's the quality really like? Well, the audio sounds as good as Sony's
MiniDiscs (the compression used is similar in nature), and the video hovers
somewhere around SVHS quality (less than laserdisc).
"Sounds great, where/when can I buy one?"
Hah, can't fool me, you're asking marketing questions again :)
The box is already shipping to Europe. Because C= deals solely with
distributors now, they only have a feel for what the distributors are buying,
so the initial success is hard to determine. Until then, the official line
is that they're being sold as fast as they're shipped. What that really
means is that the distributors in Europe are buying them as fast as C= can
make them (which is between 20-22k/week). Hopefully by October/Novemeber,
we'll be able to see whether this demand continues or not.
It's been reported in various newsgroups that France is making some rather
large marketing moves, though the British, for all Dave Pleasance's talk,
have been relatively quiet. I haven't heard news on the German (or other)
fronts. Hopefully someone can fill us in on what's happening over there.
As for the US, the box is supposed to ship in limited quantity starting in mid
October running until January, when C= will (assuming Europe went through the
roof trying to get their hands on the thing) become aggressive with the
American consumer market at the January CES. Jim Dionne said that the
strategy is to attempt to get the box into everyhere that the Sega CD is
sold. That's -very- aggressive indeed.
As for coverage, infomercials and Home Shopping Center have been considered,
but there's doubt as to whether a real TV ad campain could be run due to the
financial problems at Cmdre.
So what's the deal with Cmdre's financial situation anyway? Well, it sucks
basically. Lots of words have been used -- "high dollar value",
"collapse of the PC margin", "reduction in overhead", but it all comes down
to the fact that C= is on very shaky financial grounds. As with real
evolution, Cmdre is being asked to evolve or perish, CD32 is their attempt
to avoid the latter in favor of the former.
As others have fairly well covered these aspects, I won't go into too much
Lew still claims that the main pursuit of Cmdre engineering is producing
products quickly. And I think we can safely say that its one of the larger
criticisms that that's exactly what they aren't doing. While CD32 has had a
fast track, the rest of engineering has screached to a halt. AAA is supposed
to have been demonstrated in-house blitting images around. Bugs have been
found, fixes will be proposed, and the current schedule sees completion of a
second round of AAA chips by January. Assuming that the chips are then bug
free (which -I- consider unlikely) systems would be available around 3rd
quarter next year. I don't expect them even then -- but one can always hope.
Besides AAA, there's very little other good news on the high-end front.
Networking has been pretty much sold off, the DSP work has been suspended and
will remain like that until January. RTG (almost certainly with the quitting
of Chris Green) has hit a dead-end, they -hope- to have it in AAA machines. I
wouldn't hold my breath.
As for RISC, despite the blathering and rumours of way-cool RISC machines,
reality is that they haven't picked a chip yet, nevermind put an OS on an
actual prototype. The current favorites are HP/PA and RISC. The HP
apparently has a very nice price/performance point, although MIPS is running
NT -- which is still, apparently, some kind of wise choice in Lew's mind. I
imagine MIPS will gain further favor with the success of the Screamer and
NewTek's association with C=. However, I'm none too pleased with NT as a
choice operating system. The current hope is a RISC platform in '95. I
think it's wiser to expect it late in '96 if that, from a software perspective.
Lew was stressing that he couldn't emphasize enough the importance of AmigaOS.
However, I'm not sure he himself believes that yet, I'm not sure he grasps the
software side of the Amiga yet, but at least he's done chasing the Alpha! :)
Neither Alpha chips nor PowerPC chips are likely to wander into the Amiga
platform anytime soon.
As for the CISC world, Motorola already has plans beyond the 68060, and C=
will follow Motorola's lead for now.
Is it really that bleak on the high-end development? Yes, it is. Any
future developments in the high-end (aka the U.S. market) are dependent on the
success of the CD32. So for now, a lot of us are sitting and crossing our