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%% Video Creator                                      by  Jason Compton  %%
%%                                                 jcompton@bbs.xnet.com %%
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Video Creator, by Almathera, is a CD title for the Amiga-aimed at the
CD32 crowd, but presumably runnable on any AGA Amiga and CD-ROM
drive.  The concept is simple:  Create videos to go with your favorite CD
titles.  Tape them if you like, save them to RAM or disk if you have it,
or just watch it for fun.

But how does it work, you ask?

Well, first let's talk about HOW it works.

The Interface
-------------

The interface looks like Scala.  A lot.

That said, I'll point out that it's not a direct ripoff, but it IS still 
easy to use. Videos are tracked down to the millisecond, and effects can 
be inserted using the editor at any point desired.

How many effects?

Well, tons are available, from the usual assortment of screen wipes and 
fades, to animations and plasmas, to "psychoflicker."  There's no 
shortage, and the animation feature is in particular impressive, allowing
you to tile it on the screen in various combinations, including upside 
down and opposing.  Effects can be overlaid for extra depth.  FMV, 
providing you have the module and a disc to pull the FMV from, can be 
used in your video as well.

Of course, since it's geared for a CD32, and not everybody has drives 
hooked up to theirs, it might be a bit useless without some included 
goodies, and Almathera has done exactly that.  From stop signs to 
animations of houses to German phrases to pictures of exploding aircraft,
there's a LOT of eye candy pre-installed.  I haven't looked at all the 
pictures yet, but I spent a good half-hour trying.

Loading is supported using AmigaDOS paths, meaning that you can
pull whatever you like off of any valid device.  

You can test the outcome of effects while you're in the editor, 
incidentally.

The setup ensures you'll never run out of possibilities and combinations.
After all, an editor's work is never done.

Random Raves
--------------

Just in case concocting your own video from scratch and painstakingly
making it look right isn't for you, Almathera has included a Random Raves
feature.  This only calls on you to pick the track or tracks you want to 
hear and the intensity level of the videos.  Basically, "intensity" means
"how fast the effects will move and how often they'll change."  The 
results are always fun to watch, and sometimes downright impressive, as 
transitions or pictures come up in a way that "fits" the tune.  Of course,
the tune had nothing to do with it, but you can always pretend...

If you're a truly lazy individual, you can just pick "Random Play" for 
the disc, meaning you do NO work and have almost NO say in the outcome 
at all. Your preference.

The Finished Product
---------------------

Well, this is easy.  All you do is sit back and watch, and your creation
warps and moves along as your favorite tunes play.  Can't beat that.

If it's the Random Play Random Rave, there will be some pauses as the
CD32 tries to come up with something else to entertain you.  Not too
much, though.

Limitations
-----------

VC is highly limited by the amount of RAM in your machine.  The standard
CD32 2 megs IS enough for quite a lot of videos, but if you load a bunch 
of 64+ color pictures and do several dozen separate types of effects, you
run into problems really quickly.  Expansion memory should available for 
much of the information...in fact, I would think all of it, since the 
pictures don't HAVE to be in chip until you view them.

The Random Raves feature, to my knowledge and understanding, can
only pull from its own database of pictures and anims, so if you add any
to your collection, too bad, you'll have to create your own videos to 
see them.

Those are fairly minor and surmountable.  This one isn't.

PAL ONLY!

Ok, ok, North Americans have relied on programs like Nico Francois' PAL
and Chris Hames' Degrader to shift them to PAL for years now, and usually
do it without too much complaint.  But it's just not very practical to put
a CD32 into PAL.

Oh, sure, you can view it on a composite monitor in PAL, or if you have an
expansion with an RGB out, PAL will be just fine, but try telling an NTSC
TV to go into PAL.  It gives the display equivelant of "Screw you!" and 
rolls terribly.  And, after all, half of the point of this thing is to 
tape your videos. Unless you've got a very nice VCR, it's just not going 
to like it.

What happens if you try running the program in NTSC, then?

Most menus put their options at the bottom of the screen.  On the main
editor screen, half of them are buried below the viewable area.  This 
means a LOT of guessing.  Difficult guessing.

The videos look...well, they look ok, but you can't shake the feeling 
that they should be a bit more centered and those things below the bottom
really WERE meant to be seen...

Ok, even if you can get past this...too bad, you can't see your entire
video anyway.  Why not?  Because VC internally tries to time in PAL
(25ths of a second, in fact, for the effects) and ends when PAL-timing
tells it to.  On an NTSC CD32, though, time doesn't move like that,
so you wind up seeing 5/6ths of your video before it ends.  Yes, you
can boot in PAL, but you're back to not being able to use it on a TV...

Special Niceties
----------------

Almathera plans to come out with VC updates, with more effects and
pictures.  You can mail them anything you'd like and, if they like it too,
they'll scan it in and include it on the next disc.  If you want to get a 
head start, here's the address:

Dan the Scan
Almathera
Southerton House
Boundary Business Court
92-94 Church Rd
Mitcham, Surrey
CR4 3TD
ENGLAND

Label EVERYTHING you send them if you want it back.  They say they'll
give you discounts on VC and other Almathera stuff...and if your pictures
are REALLY, REALLY good, you might get something for free.

Almathera's letter to me said they were considering doing an NTSC
version of VC.  After using the program for 20 minutes, I wrote them 
E-Mail telling them that if they wanted it to sell at ALL, it was
IMPERATIVE that they do an NTSC version.  The PAL version will
be sold in the US anyway, at this point.

Almathera also apparently will be putting out fairly regular newsletters
for VC owners...tips, tricks, upgrades, and the like.  The first one, 
included with VC, told the history and evolution of the program, from a 
68000 AMOS program designed to run on the CDTV to what it is now.

What is it?  Read below...

The Sum-Up
------------

Video Creator is a load of fun.  There are notes in the newsletter 
suggesting using the Random Rave feature for parties...instant, effortless
visual effects that will really fit the mood and might even impress some 
people technically.  It's flexible, fairly powerful, and fun.

Oh, sure, you can't do simultaneous HAM8 animations while realtime
rendering objects, and there IS some slowdown when you run multiple
effects, but in all it's a terrific presentation program packaged as a 
video factory-or Creator, if you will.

Its price of 35 British pounds, just a bit more than US$50, sounds like
a lot for a slideshow program.  This isn't a slideshow, though.  It's an
exceptional product, IF you're a PAL user.

If at any point in this review you felt interested in the product, it's 
worth a serious checking-out.  It makes CDs much more fun to listen to.

If you're an NTSC user and interested, I suggest you call, write, or
E-Mail Almathera and express your displeasure.

Almathera's information can be found at the top (alphabetically!) of
Amiga Report's Dealer Directory, elsewhere in the magazine.

Video Creator does what it says.  Good job, Almathera.