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%% Oxxi Takes Center Stage with VideoStage Pro  By: Douglas Nakakihara  %%
%% An authoring system with merit...            dkakakihara@bix.com     %%
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NOTICE: This is the originally submitted text for an article that
appeared in the September 5, 1994 issue (#127) of MICROTIMES magazine.
(There are some slight edited differences between the published
version and this one.)

This article is freely-distributable as long as it remains unchanged
and this notice and the copyright remain included.

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or similar media, including those electronically distributed,
without obtaining prior approval from the author.  This provision
does *not* apply to USENET or BBSs.

Specific permission has been granted to Amiga Report.

Copyright(C)1994 Douglas J. Nakakihara.

The author can be reached thru Internet at dnakakihara@bix.com.

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/********************************************************************
Oxxi Takes Center Stage with VideoStage Pro
By Douglas J. Nakakihara

    Oxxi has released a powerful new multimedia authoring program
called VideoStage Pro.  It's impressive text animation capabilities
also make it an amazing video titling tool when used with a
genlock.  There is built-in control for ECS chipset genlocks, GVP's
G-Lock, and Digital Creations' SuperGen.

The Storyboard

    The main screen holds the "Storyboard" that displays thumbnail
representations of 15 "slides." A scrollbar lets you scan through
longer "shows." A small icon indicates the transition used for each
slide, with timing information also shown.  Timing can be set in
increments of one video field (1/60 of a second for NTSC).
Transitions can be selected from a user-definable tray or a
requestor is available to select from the full assortment of over
60 wipes, fades, and scrolls.  Each slide also has a user-definable
name and two separate shows can be in memory simultaneously.

    The slide creation buttons are arranged vertically on the right
side of the screen.  You can drag one onto the Storyboard to
replace an existing slide or insert it into the show, or just click
and release to add it to the end.  Slides can be quickly moved or
copied using the mouse.  The "gallery" provides a handy temporary
parking place for one or more slides.

    One type of slide is a blank black slide and another is a color
bar image for color adjustment use.  A slide can also represent an
ARexx script or an audio event (8SVX samples and tracker mod files
are supported).

The Graphic Slide

    The graphic slide is the one you'll use most often.  Graphic
slides are comprised of two parts: the background and things placed
on the background.  VSP comes with several background images
designed to provide non-distracting backdrops for text.
Alternatively, a small IFF brush pattern can be loaded and
automatically tiled to fill the screen.  A number of pre-made
patterns are supplied and you can create your own with any paint
program.  ProFills by JEK is a good commercial source for more
patterns.

    VSP can also generate customizable gradient backgrounds.  These
are not only beautiful, but they also require virtually no storage
space, which could be important if you will be distributing the
show on floppy disk.

    Animations (ANIM5 format only) are also loaded into graphic
slides.  Total control over speed, looping, and time is featured.
(Note: VSP expects anims to be looping.)

Color Palettes

    Before we get into what you can place on a background, we need
to talk about color palettes.  VSP divides color palettes into
"fixed" and "assignable" ranges.  Fixed colors are adjustable by
the user for text and object coloring, including outline and
shadows.  Assignable colors are dynamically allocated by the
program and used for backgrounds, gradients, brushes, antialiasing,
etc.  Generally, VSP automatically sets up half the palette as
fixed, up to 32 fixed colors, but this can be set manually.  The
depth (which determines the number of colors), as well as the
screen mode and resolution, for each slide is adjustable.

    There are two ways to load a graphic: as a "picture" or a
"pattern." (You'll see later that the term "pattern" is somewhat of
a misnomer.) When you load a graphic as a picture, the slide
assumes the graphic's screenmode, resolution, and depth, and the
entire palette becomes fixed.  This is OK unless you are going to
add titling because normally, a graphic's color palette won't
contain the contrasting colors needed to make text stand out.  So
you'll have to do some color palette manipulations beforehand.
Plus VSP won't have any assignable colors for antialiasing, etc.
(There is an exception if the loaded graphic uses fewer than the
maximum possible bitplanes--8 for AGA, 4 for non-AGA.  In this
case, one bitplane is added and you may or may not end up with
assignable colors.)

    Well, of course, there is an easier way to maintain assignable
colors.  The trick is to load as a "pattern," a background picture
whose number of colors is less than the number of assignable
colors.  For example, with a 16-color slide (eight fixed and eight
assignable), you can load a four-color background.  Loading an
eight-color background would cause all 16 colors to become fixed.
The pattern tiling feature is irrelevant if the loaded background
has the same resolution (i.e., height and width) as the slide.

    The built-in palette editor features 24-bit RGB sliders,
spread, copy, and switch functions, with the ability to load and
save palette files.  Palette colors can optionally be selected from
a 24-bit color spectrum--even on non-AGA Amigas!  (Actual displayed
colors will be limited by hardware, however.)

    Scala backgrounds, which are 16-color HiRes files, can be
easily reduced to eight-colors using ADPro or DPaint, since the
images only actually use at most eight colors.  These work well if
you manually set the fixed color bitplanes to 2 (i.e., four
colors).  Incidentally, outstanding backgrounds can be made using
as little as four colors!

Adding Text

    For titling, VSP can use any Amiga bitmapped or CG font,
including color fonts.  Large fonts work best for presentations and
several are included with the program.  Adding text to a slide is
as easy as typing it on a page.  Text can use gradient fills and be
styled with bold, italic, underline, outline, and drop and cast
shadows.  Each line can be automatically justified and multi-level
antialiasing is available.  Also, outline width, line spacing,
kerning, and shadow attributes are all adjustable.

    An ASCII file can be imported with the ability to control
fonts, etc.  using special embedded commands.  This is great for
scrolling credits.

Brushes

    You can also add IFF brushes to a slide.  If a color used in a
brush doesn't already exist in the assignable palette, VSP will
attempt to load that color into an unused assignable spot.  Excess
colors will use the closest available color in the palette.  Also,
a library of 20 brushes can be set up for quick access to
frequently used brushes.  Warning: If a brush uses a fixed color
and you change that color, VSP may select a different fixed color
later on.

Objects

    VSP also features nine different objects like hearts, stars,
boxes, ellipses, and arrows that can be added to a slide.  These
can be rotated, re-sized, and distorted at will.  Multi-level
antialiasing minimizes jaggies.  Attribute control is similar to
text, but objects can also be embossed, and color and shadows have
a transparency setting.

    Interactive buttons can be easily placed on a screen.  A button
can be a rectangle, brush, and/or text.  Buttons can trigger ARexx
scripts, sound, and transfer control to another slide.

    Text, brushes, and objects can be positioned by hand or using
several automated tools.  The ordering of these items can also be
set, which can affect the sequence of their appearance.

Actors

    Lines of text, brushes, and objects can be animated onto a page
as "actors." You can also group things together so they are treated
as a single actor.  All of the common "fly in" effects are
included, but VSP features some interesting "overshoot" effects,
where actors move past the intended stop point and then return as
if they were connected to a rubberband.  This really gives actors a
life of their own and you'll have to try real hard not to overuse
this in your work.

    Another unique feature is the "piecemeal" option.  This makes a
text-actor fly in one letter at a time.  Normally, this would make
the effect take too long, so you also have the ability to overlap
the animated pieces.  This can be adjusted anywhere from one piece
at a time to the entire actor at once.  Using the piecemeal option
with an overshoot effect is very cool!  An alternative to piecemeal
is the grid option.  Actors are internally divided into a
user-defined grid of rows and columns.  Actors then fly in as
pieces.  Piecemeal and grid pieces can optionally appear to grow as
they fly in!

    After you preview a slide with actors, a replay screen appears
that lets you review the animation with total control.  You can
step through it frame by frame, replay it, etc.  You then can
return to the actor screen and adjust effects, timing, delays, etc.
This is an incredible help in getting a slide to play exactly
right.

Titling

    A titling slide is essentially a graphic slide with a solid
background using color 0.  This is designed to hold text and
objects that will be overlaid on top of video using a genlock.

    Titling can also scroll over the preceding slide, if both
slides have the same depth.  They should also use the same screen
mode, although they don't have to have the same resolution.  An
additional constraint is that the total depth of both slides cannot
exceed the maximum for your Amiga.  So an AGA machine can have two
four-bitplane slides and a non-AGA is limited to two two-bitplane
slides.  (I was unable to get this to work on my A3000, but it
worked fine on my A4000.  Oxxi has been alerted to the problem.)

Flow Control

    Generally slides are executed in linear fashion; however, there
are playback control icons that provide a way to direct the flow of
a show.  Also, there is a handy feature that lets you set the
timing of slides by clicking the mouse as you play a show.  This is
great for syncing a show to music.

Time Line

    A time line is also available to graphically adjust time
parameters for slides and rearrange the play order.  Since
different types of slides may run in parallel (e.g., graphics and
music), there are separate tracks for each type.  For precise
editing, zooming capabilities are provided.  Most of the editing
functions available on the Storyboard can be used here.  Overhead
time requirements are also shown for file loading time, object
movement preparation, etc.

Helpful Hand

    VSP includes many helpful features, like context-sensitive
on-line help.  The animated transitions examples are invaluable.
The custom file requestor displays useful information on graphics
and audio files and has the ability to preview them.  VSP will also
let you know when colors are being used that are too "hot" for
video.

    To create portable presentations, the show file and all
subordinate files, including fonts, can be saved in one location
like on a floppy disk.

How Does It Stack Up

    For anyone that does Amiga presentations, the first question in
your mind is probably how does VSP compare to Scala MM300.  Well
overall I'd say Scala is a much more refined product and has a more
powerful ARexx implementation, cleaner page transitions when
pushing hardware limitations, the ability to play anims from disk,
support for more anim formats, a more straight-forward interface,
more built-in control of external devices, and text wipe-off
effects--to name just a few advantages.  Of course, a lot of VSP's
features, described above, don't exist in Scala either.

    However, Scala is hampered by a joystick-port dongle, which
even the player utility program requires.  If you're developing a
presentation on one machine to be played on another, the dongle can
quickly become a real pain.  VSP on the other hand, has no copy
protection and the player program is freely distributable.  VSP is
also less than half the price of Scala.

What's Missing

    There are a few things I'd like to see in VSP, like automatic
text wrapping, actor wipe-offs, and animbrush support.  Another
shortcoming is you can't automatically backup through a show using
the mouse, without creating specific hot buttons.  This is a vital
feature for live presentations.

    I'd also like to see text, brushes, and objects treated as one
thing.  I want to be able to add an outline and shadow to a brush,
like can be done with text; I'd like the ability to make text
shadows partially transparent, like objects can have; etc.  etc.
I'm sure things like this will be addressed in future releases.

    Kudos to programmer Gary Bonham on a superb initial release.
Oxxi has a real winner on its hands.  The power-to-price ratio is
extraordinary.  A hard disk, 1MB Chip and 2MB of Fast RAM, and
AmigaDOS 2.0 or greater is required.  Look for an upcoming version
called VSP+, which will include remote updating and scheduling
capabilities (ala Scala InfoChannel, $2,500), encapsulated
Postscript support, and more.

VideoStage Pro
$179.95
VideoStage Pro Plus
$499.95
Oxxi, Inc.
P.O. Box 90309
Long Beach, CA 90809
(310)427-1227