Contents | < Browse | Browse >

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
%% The Retina Z-III Board                             by  Jason Compton  %%
%% Part 2                                          jcompton@bbs.xnet.com %%
%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Part Two:  Eye to Eye With the Retina

Wow.  That's a lousy pun.  I hope at least nobody's used it before.

At any rate, this week I'll tell you how the Retina actually PERFORMS.

RetinaEmu and Retargeting
-------------------------

The entire Retina mechanism is activated by a program called RetinaEmu.
This is the program that wakes up the board and tells it to start targeting
opened screens to the Retina display hardware unless specified otherwise.
At its heart is an emulation of the Workbench screen.

So how does that look?  Well, you can put it in 8, 16, or 24-bit color depth.
You can put it in a variety of screen sizes: I stick with the 800x480, 8-bit
depth setting, but it can go higher.  It looks good.  The window updates are
snappy and smooth, the pointer is flawless...in general, it's a formidable
display, better than the delaced view on my 3000's native display.  It is
an ideal place to run programs that have Workbench capabilities but are
otherwise impractical for use: for example, Terminus flickers when it scrolls
on my 3000's display.  Through the Retina, however, it is fairly smooth and
has a bare minimum of flicker.

If you choose to open a Retina screen for a program, be aware that you
MAY be in for some problems.  Some programs just don't come out looking
quite right, like Terminus (which gives a nasty light blue-green border
instead of basic black).  Other programs, like Final Copy II, choke if you
try to increase their color display by more than they like-32 or greater.
Placing Terminus on a public screen, though, greatly improves appearance.

The resolution for any new screen is the default, set in the RetinaEmu program.
You can set defaults for 8, 16, and 24-bit screens, in any of the resolutions
available for the particular mode (quite a few!).  I have had great success 
with this, even on programs that are not terrifically programmed or programs
that still date back to 1.3 compatibility (DirWork looks funny in 1024x768, or
1200x800).

The resolution for these screens can be changed too, through RetinaEmu,
which lists screens it has to open by their name, and recognizes them
internally by this list of items, in the order it checks:

Public Screen name
Window name
Program title

This means that just about everything will register.  You can edit and change
the set resolution at any time, but it won't take effect until that particular
screen is opened again.

As I've said, the overall result is very pleasing.  Windows move crisply,
smoothly, and often in lots and lots of colors.  Screens can be thrown into
new, bizarre screen modes, although their reactions will vary.

Some programs that rely on heavy video-banging won't work well in
their new environment...emulators like the Spectrum, A64, and PC-Task
come to mind.  But for native Amiga applications, it's very effective.

RetinaDisplay:  Show me some pictures!

RetinaDisplay is the packaged program that is responsible for displaying
pictures directly to the Retina.  Among the 10 or so formats supported
are IFF and JPEG, the two most useful of the list.  However, notable in
its absence is GIF.  This means that the Retina needs a program like
Viewtek's Retina version to bring it up to speed with a large amount of
the available pictures out there.

The program itself gets its screenmode from the RetinaScreenMode
utility, with modes down to 320x200 8bit up to 1200x900 interlaced 24-bit
on my 1950 monitor.  (Conspicuously absent from the monitor list is
the 1960.)  You also have the option to display pictures on the Workbench,
but it seems like the settings necessary to get this are elusive: Donovan
at NoahJi's tech support talked me through what I needed, and it still
didn't work.  That's happened to other people he's told as well.  I HAVE
seen it, though, and it's the only way you can scroll pictures: if you let the
Retina open up a screen for the pic, it can't be scrolled.

The quality of the display, of course, depends on your monitor and the
mode the screen is in.  I'm pleased with the results, but am very glad
that Vt_Retina exists, because otherwise a large amount of graphics
would be fairly useless for Retina users.

VDPaint:  Draw some yourself!
-----------------------------

There's really not much reason for me to fully review this section.
I'll tell you why:

1.  I have no other experience with 24-bit paint programs.
2.  They didn't send me a manual.

That being said, I'll at least give you the rundown on VDPaint.

You select the 24-bit screen you would like to draw on using the
good old RetinaScreenMode program.  From there, if you start the program,
a paint screen opens up on a true Retina-only screen, with a message
that contains a bit of German and the warning that the software version
only works on a Retina.  Well, ok, fine.

Control is simple...the right mouse button brings up a window full of option
buttons.  Too bad I don't know what all of them do.  A couple of nice features:
The disk loader supports a sort of thumbnail file format that gets displayed
in a small window on the requester.
JPEGs can be loaded and saved in different compressions, but still no
GIF support here.
The text functions support even the rattiest of old Amiga fonts, and with
shading, too.

Of course, it IS free, so there's not much room for complaint.

One thing that interests me is that, up until now, I've heard of people
getting XiPaint with their Retinas.  I think this is the same program, as 
there is a directory with "XiPaint" in the name...

The operation itself seems smooth, with a wide variety of brushes and some
clever color cycling routines.  Personally, I can't take advantage of this
software.  Please, if any users are making more use of it, send me your
thoughts and I'll incorporate them.

Final comment for the week:  My Retina has been failing to start lately
on a cold boot.  It started out as just requiring about 5 minutes to warm
up before a warm boot would recognize it...now I'm at an hour or so.
Donovan at NoahJi's has a similar problem, but he's usually able to
do an immediate warm boot and get the Retina (both of us are using
3000s).  I can't explain, it didn't happen during my first week of testing.
Neither can he.

Next week, I'll have to wrap up my review with some final thoughts and
comments...and I have to ship it back, too!  I was just getting used to this...
grrr...