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%% Videot's Delight! By Mike Hoffman %%
%% Videot1@AOL.COM %%
Okay, so I've been asked to write a column for Amiga Report.
At first, I thought: "What about? I'm no writer - I'm not even an Amiga
expert in any sense of the word."
Then, as I began to think more and more seriously about it, I thought,
"Why not? Look at what's going on here: this is a magazine by, about,
and for the Amiga community! What a great idea - a magazine without
paper, distributed freely among the residents of a great community,
within which live the very authors of the magazine itself." I was
recruited by one of its insiders, practically a nieghbor of mine, on
a local BBS. It doesn't get much better than that... so, I thought about
it, and here I am writing.
My handle probably influenced the request: I'm known in most places as
Videot, a name which gets as many confused questions as it does positive
responses, which shocks me somewhat, considering that many Amigoids are
well aware of the video capabilities of their machines. I'm often referred
to simply as "video," as though I added the "t" to avoid duplicating
someone else's handle. Such is not the case: I am VIDEOT - all the letters
belong there. It's pronounced VID - EE - UT, *not* "Video Tee"! It denotes
someone who is very much "into" video in all aspects: I have a laserdisc
collection, several VCRs, a number of televisions of varying sizes, and a
good number of camcorders has passed in and out of my possession in the
past eight years (from linear stereo VHS to VHS-C to S-VHS to my current
baby: a Sony V-5000 Hi-8 camera and its companion GV-300 pseudo-Hi-8 Video
Walkman. I produce, with a partner, four cable-TV series that add up to
five and a half hours of original programming each month in the Chicago
area. The shows range from hour-long blocks of videos (supplied by record
companies) with in-studio host wraparounds to "unplugged"-style acoustic
performances by Chicago bands to interviews with celebrity musicians from
all over the world.
All of this costs me very little (except for whatever equipment I choose
to purchase for personal reasons - I could sign out everything I need from
the studio, but I prefer to own my own equipment) and makes me nothing. I'm
not in it for the money, or even for the chance to meet celebrities. I'm in
it for the love of what I do - I'm carrying my "videot" label to the
extreme: no longer satisfied merely watching television (and, with what's
on these days, who could be?), I need to create my own programming in order
to feel good about myself.
Unfortunately, the studio where we produce our shows only has a very
weakly-endowed Video Toaster, so it serves very little use on our shows.
It has the bare minimum RAM, HD space, and processor speed. It can only
store five or six framestores and takes several minutes just to load one
At home, however, I have MONSTER TOASTER, at least as 2000s go: I'm sure
I'll get a lot of flames for this, because I personally know people with
better systems than mine, but I'm happy knowing how well this one runs as
opposed to the one at the studio, and even the one at work (where we had
the best setup I'd ever seen until I bought my own!)
I was introduced to someone who was selling his Toaster 2000 system in
order to move up to the 4000, and bought a nice little system which, after
a few upgrades of my own, now stands as follows:
A 33-mhz 68030-based A2000, 20 meg RAM + 2 meg Chip RAM; 46-meg HD (for
booting), a 1.2-gig HD (for Toaster & serious apps/storage), four floppy
drives (2 internal, and a dual-floppy external left over from my A-500
days), and a CD-ROM drive.
I won't try to kid anyone: I'm not a gold-plated hacker. I didn't even
create my own sig block - I had a sysop on one of my BBSs create one for
me. I do, however, know enough about computers to know what it takes to
make one work well, and I have enough common sense to take advantage of
"for sale" signs wherever possible. So, to those of you who are chip-heads
out there, I can only say "more power to you." I respect people who can
dream of circuits and sawtooth waves, and who get as much out of watching
an oscilloscope as I do watching Ren & Stimpy or Rocko's Modern World. But
I will say this much for myself: I don't take my handle for granted. I
worked hard to be known as Videot, and would dare say I can out-edit any
MMU-designer or out-produce any wedding videographer this side of Silicon
Valley. I've paid me dues. I've shot dozens of weddings, retirement
parties, and Bar Mitzvahs. I've interviewed bands both famous and
infamous, and I've got the scarred XLR cables and the dents in my tripod
to show for it. And I love it all... the smell of the oxide, the whiff of
ozone from the fried sound board, the stinging pain of grabbing the
business end of a quartz-halogen spotlight too soon after turning it off.
I've even had one explode in my hand. It wasn't pretty.
But all this really has very little to do with the Amiga, does it?
Well, okay, you've got me there. As I said before, I had no idea what to
write about. Sure, I've had my minor triumphs with the Video Toaster. I've
read the ads for the non-linear, tape-free editing systems, and - like the
other videots out there (sorry about the non-capitalization there, I like
to reserve that for myself) I would love to take one of them for a test
drive. I'm looking forward to the Video Toaster Flyer and hope it doesn't
become another Real-Soon-Now product like OpalVision's video add-ons.
Other things I'd like to see are the video-card expansion systems I keep
seeing in those Amiga World ads - I think the worst two words in the human
language are "Coming Soon." Like the new Star Wars trilogy: Coming Soon
has such a painful connotation! I want it *now*!
I was reluctant to write about what I already know because chances are you
know it, too. I could write one of those "auxilliary articles" about the
merits of using the right microphone type and placement, or about
three-point lighting, or the evils of backlighting, and I will if it is
what you want. I know there's always a need for that type of thing - I
work at a high school as the AudioVisual Technical Assistant, and not a
week goes by when a teacher asks me a question about video and I wonder
how they ever were allowed to buy a camcorder in the first place. If
you'd like, I could discuss the rule of thirds or the benefits of proper
headroom, or the merits of a good tripod. You tell me.
But my suggestion is that I would like an opportunity to tell you about
things you might not know - why non-linear editing is such a great
concept, why letterboxed pictures actually give you *more* picture and
not less, what is Video Toaster 3.1 really like, what can the *average*
user do with the Toaster or another 24-bit card... things you might not
have had a chance to discover for yourself.
As I said before, I'm no writer. I'm not a journalism graduate, or even a
journalism *student* for that matter. My larval stage in computers came
around the same time it did for my video desires: in high school. I got a
Vic-20 at age 13, and was hooked ever since. Commodore computers came and
went for me, and in 1986 I got my Amiga and realized that computers were
great for video, and - as I simultaneously discovered my aptitudes for
video editing and effects, I worked on learning all the Amiga had to offer
and how to incorporate it into my video "work." I got into cable
production right out of high school, where I'd already spent all my free
time in the school TV station - I was station manager as a senior. I got
a job in data processing and spent all my free time working on programming
at the studio. My college was the school of hard knocks, and my diploma
airs all over Chicagoland in the form of those music shows I mentioned
earlier. Production values are king with me, and I love working on these
programs more than anything else. And the more I can do with my computer,
the better, although opportunities to put it to use there are limited. I'm
working on getting a grant to put a Toaster-based editing suite in the
building. The one episode I edited using my own Toaster as the switcher/CG
was among the best work I've done, and - if the promise of the Flyer is
fulfilled sometime soon, I can see a day when the show will be edited
right here in my bedroom/office. That would be only fitting, since the
Amiga answers the phone & fax for me already (PhonePak).
Wow, for a non-writer, I sure can pound it out, can't I?
Now that you know all about me, I'd like to know more about you: what do
you want me to write about? I'd be just as happy doing editorials as
reviews - and I'm equally inexperienced at writing tutorials and essays on
good vs. bad production values, so what the heck? Take your chances and
start throwing topics at me and I'll see what I can come up with.
I want to be an honest and impartial writer, so the best way to start (I
suppose) is to write about what the readers want to read about, not what I
want to write about. So hit me with your best shot & let's see if I'm
really worth reading!
FIRST GLANCE: Toaster 3.1
Well, fellow videots, I have *finally* received my Toaster 3.1 upgrade
and installed it, to find that while its size (a mere six discs) is
comfortable, its benefits are of equally small stature (for the most
Don't get me wrong - I am certainly not flaming 3.1! The CG upgrade alone
is well worth the effor of installing it (more on that later) but there
are a few things I, personally, would love to have seen. Here is what I
have discovered in a day's playing:
I'll steer clear of that which I don't know, and 3D is still very much
within that category. The ample paper support for this upgrade (NewTek
must be spending a small fortune on printing and postage costs for this
one, folks) includes an entirely new tutorial on the modeler software,
so those of you who have what it takes to venture into that area will be
pleased to know that they have a new teacher.
For what it's worth, I believe NewTek ought to include a bigger binder
with the next upgrade. Mine's full!
The documentation screams about new effects - May's "Amiga World" says
there are "several new effects in the switcher." Really? They're certainly
not in the 3.0 bank! I should have taken a picture of my old switcher, but
the only changes I'd be willing to testify to are the restoration of a few
of 2.0's cooler effects (the split-globe fly-in and the "Death Star"
destruction, among others, with new and improved Croutons) and the overall
restructuring of the 2.0 bank: it's loaded with the best 2.0 effects and
most of the best 3.0 effects, making project "Sys2.0.New" a very nice
selection of effects, laid out much better than the 3.0 bank.
Other documented improvements are the shortening of framestore-to-disk
write time (now promised under 10 seconds) and less screen-flashing.
But my favorite improvements are in the CG.
Some fonts have been repaired, the manual update now spells out the
character sets for the two object fonts (Symbola 40 & 80), and there are
new color fonts: "Sans Marble," which is a salmon-and-black-colored
texture font which even looks pretty nice on the CG editing screen (but
might suffer from unreadability when rendered against dark backgrounds -
and, for some reason, seems to look terminally transparent when keyed),
and "City," a nicely-colored (blue with pink diagonal, er, plaid?) font
which - unfortunately - bears a vague resemblance to the old "Wedge" font.
It would never *pass* for Wedge, but it immediately brought to mind the
ugly, blocky, serif look of the Toaster 1.0-circa font.
But speaking of color, my favorite attribute to CG 3.1 is the fact that
the user can now assign a gradient color to non-ColorFonts. The face color
and border color, top and bottom for each character, can now be adjusted.
For example, if you like a letter to start as hot pink at the top but
gradiates to dull gray along with a border that gradiates from neon green
to royal blue, go for it! You can even do one character at a time within a
word, whole words, lines, or sentences. This also applies to boxes (which,
while I'm on the subject, can now be added to rolling screens). Oddly
enough, this new coloring ability *also* applies to the borders of
Finally, can someone tell me if this next part has always been the case? I
noticed that when I have the color control portion of the CG active (where
one adjusts the face, border, and shadow color & alpha channel) I was
still able to mouse down to the text area of the screen and select the
character/word/line on which I want to work. I don't seem to recall being
able to do that before, or maybe I just never tried.
What this all adds up to is that now, *every* font can be a color font.
Granted, no texture - but think about how easy it would be to make gold-
or chrome-chiseled fonts! A light-over-dark yellow or gray with the
opposite arrangement (dark-over-light) border - wham! Instant class. I
am really happy with this addition.
On the down side, real ColorFonts are still not allowed in roll or crawl
pages, and although boxes *are* permitted (on rolls but not on crawls),
boxes *cannot* share a line with text. So what's the point? I thought
boxes are for putting text in! At the very least, though, a very skinny
box can act as a line (a feature which was last available on v. 2.0).
Brushes are still not allowed on either roll or crawl pages.
I'll readily admit that I haven't even touched on LightWave 3.1's new
features. I do know that quite a few nice features have been added there,
not the least of which is a set of new objects and, I believe, some new
fonts and the ability to stop LightWave from rendering to the frame buffer
while it works (saving a second or three per frame but obviously a ton of
time if you're rendering enough frames to fill, say, a TV show).
It also can render text (including a message of up to 20 user-defined
characters) into an animation (in low or medium res) so you can be like
VH-1 and have your name in the corner - say, for demo reels or to prevent
illegal use ("MMMK Video Prod.," or something like that.) Considering the
fact that this type of text is used for piracy control, it is a
proportionately ugly font - it looks like Topaz 24 to me.
My biggest disappointment: there has been *no* substantial change made to
ToasterPaint since, well, 1986! (Remember DigiPaint?)
Seriously, though, when are we going to get a real paint program here?
Toaster paint, at best, is "functional" and yes, it does have a lot of
nice features, if you want to learn the keyboard controls & the finger
aerobics necessary to obtain them. Personally, I don't like jumping
through hoops to find a great feature. A nice little menu system or a
better user interface would be enough, really! It's silly to say, but I
doubt there is even a need for many new features: just make the ones we
have more obvious! I've learned a lot of great shortcuts just from
watching people who have experimented (or - shriek! - read the manual)
than I've ever discovered on my own. Sure, I like playing with texture
mapping, but even a simple set of pull-down menus with keyboard
equivalents would be enough to teach me what is available and get me
started on the road to keyboad-induced ToasterPaint nirvana.
So, if you want a functional upgrade with some very nice new functions and
a few minor new bells and whistles, dive into 3.1. It's free, so you quite
literally have nothing to lose except a few minutes' installation time.
The letter attached to the manual addendum hints of big things to come
from NewTek - I certainly hope that a substantial ToasterPaint upgrade is
one of them (and the NAB-touted "Toaster Flyer" is the other!), but for
now we'll just have to wait and see.