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                OPTIMISM ABOUNDS AT VIDEO TOASTER EXPO '94
  Douglas J. Nakakihara                                 djn@ix.netcom.com
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NOTICE: This is the originally submitted text for an article that appeared
in the March 6, 1995 issue (#134) 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.

This article may not be re-published in any magazine, newsletter, 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)1995 Douglas J. Nakakihara.

The author can be reached thru Internet at djn@ix.netcom.com.

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                        --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

   Avid Media Group, publishers of "Video Toaster User" magazine, hosted
the first Video Toaster Expo at the Universal City Hilton & Towers,
December 14th and 15th.  Held concurrently with a wide variety of Video
Toaster and LightWave 3D training seminars, was an exhibit floor with over
50 third-party developers and other support companies.   Over 3,000 people
attended this mid-week show indicating a continued strong interest in the
Amiga/Video Toaster platform.

Famous Faces 

   Expo attendees included many recognizable faces.  Of course, VTU
Editor-in-Chief Jim Plant and Managing Editor Doug Carey were present and
very busy keeping things going.  Other attendees I saw included John Gross
and Taylor Kurasaki from Amblin Imaging, Tim Jennison, Donetta Colboch, Lee
and Kathy Stranahan, Bob Anderson, Brad Carvey, Alan Hastings, Stuart
Ferguson, and a crew of others from NewTek.  A very special thanks and
congratulations to VTU's Ann Pulley who was the major force in getting the
show to come off as well as it did.  (My apologies to the tons of others I
am sure I missed or didn't recognize.)

Jennison Speaks

   The day began with a keynote speaker address by NewTek President, Tim
Jennison.  He didn't offer any news about the future of the Amiga; however,
Tim did have some interesting things to say about NewTek.  Jennison
indicated that the Flyer and LightWave are the company's future.  Without
being too specific, he indicated that the Flyer depends very little on the
host machine (i.e., Amiga).  Considering that LightWave is totally
platform-independent, the conclusion is obvious.   Apparently, NewTek is
not as dependent on the Amiga as people might think. 

Flyer Finally Flies

   Demo Flyers supposedly started shipping in limited quantity to dealers
in November.  People who pre-paid to reserve a Flyer will be given the
option of getting one with ".9" software.  This is a pretty solid version,
but not final.  The final version will be a free upgrade and will
supposedly ship by the time you read this.  This will coincide with the 4.0
Toaster (and I'm assuming LightWave 3D) upgrade.

   NewTek is being very secretive about what hard drives will work.   I've
even heard that they may have to sell "Flyer approved" drives themselves. 
Apparently, hard drives differ in performance, even if they are the same
model from the same manufacturer.

   So where's my Flyer review unit?  Well, I posed that very question to
NewTek marketing director Donetta Colboch.  Apparently, the first batch of
boards are going out to dealers and people who have actually paid for them.
But, I am "on the list" and I should get one at some point.
 
LightWave Q&A 
 
   Also on the agenda for the day I attended was a "Q&A" session with
LightWave programmers Alan Hastings and Stuart Ferguson.  It's hard to
believe that these two regular-looking guys single-handedly wrote the
program that is revolutionizing computer graphics. 

   The big news for the next version of LightWave is "plug-in technology."
This allows any developer to tie external programs into LightWave as if
they were part of LightWave itself.  To make this feature as powerful as
possible, they got input from developers already doing plug-ins for
programs like PhotoShop and 3D Studio and found out what they liked and
what would make things easier.  Alan was very frank when he pointed out
that the people doing these type of things would be able to take LightWave
farther than he ever could.

   If there is good news in this cross-platform movement for Amiga users,
it's that LightWave will remain totally compatible across platforms.  If
you make a scene file or object on an SGI, you can load and render them on
your Amiga.  Hastings and Ferguson use a single body of code as the basis
for all of the versions, which should guarantee compatibility.  Plug-ins
unfortunately will apparently have to be platform specific.

Fast Rendering

   Several developers showed Windows NT machines equipped with 275MHz DEC
Alpha CPUs.  Carrera Computers has one based on a DEC motherboard.   Aspen
and Flight Technologies also had DEC Alpha systems, based on Aspen
motherboards.  (If you are really daring, you can actually purchase an
Aspen motherboard separately and piece together your own system.
Personally, I think you'd be better off buying a configured system,
considering price, hardware compatibiltiy headaches, and system support.)
Prices hovered around $10,000, but that's for a complete system with 32 to
64MB of RAM and a 1GB hard drive.

   Currently, with respect to LightWave, all of these DEC Alpha-based
computers are only being used as rendering engines for an Amiga running
LightWave, via ScreamerNet.  However, NewTek will soon be shipping a native
Windows NT version of LightWave for the DEC Alpha chip, eliminating the
need for an Amiga or ScreamerNet.  The great thing about these speed demons
is that they can function as regular PCs too!  You can run 16-bit Windows
programs as well as native DEC Alpha Windows NT programs.

   Not to be out done, DeskStation Technology announced the Raptor III.
The big news about this machine is that the CPU is on a daughtercard (ala
Amiga 4000) so it can be upgraded to MIPs, DEC Alpha, and PowerPC CPUs.
This may minimize the fears of obsolesence; however, I have yet to see such
a feature work in reality since so many other things change beside the CPU.

Amiga in Motion

   VLab-Motion, distributed by NoahJi's, is a hot JPEG-based non- linear
digital editing system for the Amiga.  It has Y/C as well as composite
inputs and outputs, plus an optional expansion module for digital component
input/output.  No TBC is required.  The graphical interface allows you to
create videos using cut-and-paste and drag-and- drop editing functions.
Transitions are all rendered, but they were completed pretty quickly.
There are also several "ADPro" like effects that can be applied to clips of
video.

   The quality of the output is totally based on the capabilities of your
Amiga.  As such, a fast SCSI II interface with a very fast hard drive is
highly recommended.  The more data that you can pump through your machine,
the better the output.  16-bit audio is provided by their Toccata sound
board product and it supposedly will handle 256 layers of audio! 

New Amiga?

   NoahJi's announced plans to ship an AmigaOS-compatible workstation based
on the Motorola 68060 called DraCo.  Features include Fast SCSI II,
dedicated 32-bit interfaces for Retina BLT and VLab Motion, five Zorro II
slots, triple-speed CD-ROM, 4MB RAM expandable to 128MB.  It will
reportedly be compatible with all Amiga hardware and software that is not
dependent on the Amiga custom chipset and capable of 2:1 JPEG!   It should
be available by mid-1995 and cost about the same as a comparably equipped
A4000.

Good Connections

   I was also quite impressed with Interworks' T-Net product.  This is a
distributive rendering software package that runs on the company's
Ethernet-based peer-to-peer network, ENLAN-DFS.  (It will also support
ScreamerNet systems.) T-Net will administer rendering multiple LightWave 3D
scenes among several machines.  You can even identify specific frames to
render.  There are also provisions to adjust resolution, anti-aliasing
level, raytracing options, etc.  right from the interface.

   There is extensive real-time information about rendering activity and
statistics.  T-Net will even send messages to alpha-numeric pagers on
rendering status and problems.  It is highly configurable as to who it
should page in different situations as well as back up pagers to notify.

   T-Net also features the ability to remotely control any of the nodes
from a single Amiga.  It was surprising quick, though not as fast as really
being on the remote machine.  Interworks was also showing their PCMCIA
Ethernet adapter for the Amiga 600 and 1200.  In fact, they had an A1200 as
part of their demonstration T-Net rendering farm.

Other Cool Stuff

   Alpha Paint from Innovision Technology has convinced me that you really
can do nice stuff painting on a composite monitor.  Using the Toaster
framestore buffer for the video output, Alpha Paint provides 24-bit
real-time paint tools with a powerful 12-bit alpha channel.  The product's
anti-aliasing, compositing, and auto-drop shadow abilities were very
powerful based on the demonstration I saw.

   Silent Paw Productions was there touting their PAWS (Personal Amiga
Workstation) kit that allows you to transplant the guts of a 1200, 3000, or
4000 to a portable computer case.  The company showed a prototype housed in
a clear plastic case and indicated that product will be available in April
1995.  They estimate that a standard 2-hour battery will yield about 1.25
hours--remember, the Amiga was meant to be plugged into the wall and was
designed to be energy efficient.

   ImageFX 2.0 was being shown at the Nova Design booth.  This new release
looks to be a major upgrade to an already powerful image processing
program.  One of the missing elements that has often kept me from using
ImageFX was the lack of a good batch processing program.   This may be a
thing of the past with the included AutoFX batch processor.  Some of the
other new features are thumbnail images for previewing, unlimited buffers
and brushes, new region controls, enhanced text handling, better
compositing, more effects and image processing tools, new format support,
and improved painting capabilities.

   A 3D digitizing system for LightWave called VertiSketch was being
demonstrated by Blevins Enterprises.  The Model I10, which I saw being
demonstrated, has sort of a robotic-like arm with a pointer on the end.  
The device can triangulate the location of the tip of the pointer in 3D
space.  The points appear right in the LightWave Modeler display and the
polygons are automatically built.

   It seems to be somewhat of a tedious chore, but compared to what it
would take freehand, it is quicker and more accurate.  All of the models
being used had thread adhered to their surfaces forming a grid net.  The
pointer was then placed at intersecting lines on the grid.  To draw an
analogy from image digitizing, it reminded me of using the old three-pass
DigiView setup, compared to today's video framegrabbers.

   If you've been looking for a multiscan monitor for your Amiga, look no
further than CD Solutions' CD-1401.  This 14-inch .28mm dot pitch monitor
scans from 15KHz to 36KHz and can handle all of the normal Amiga modes,
including Super72 and Productivity.  (It does not have speakers or
composite input, however.) The display is bright and crisp--it appeared to
be a quality product.  The company is currently working on a 20-inch
version.  It was very nice to see a company so excited about bringing their
products to the Amiga market. 

   Questar Productions was showing off their new terrain-modeling product
World Construction Set.  The main advantage of this package over existing
packages, like VistaPro and Scenery Animator, is that it is not limited to
a small geographic area.  You can animate landscape "flybys" over the
United States or even the entire planet with reasonable memory
requirements.  The terrain can also include things like streams, roads,
grass, etc.  The demo animation being run was very cool.

   If you are looking for a great TBC with a few extra features be sure to
check out Feral's Feral Effect.  This is a TBC/Synchronizer and Digital
Video Effects device.  It will work in concert with the Video Toaster and
solve one of its biggest limitations: smooth image resizing.  It's great
for over-the-shoulder picture-in-picture shots.

   PreVue Technologies was there with their array of Amiga-video
accessories, including the indispensable Sync Strainer.  This device is the
only way to get multiscan monitors to cooperate with a genlocked
Amiga/Toaster system.  If you are in need of a graphics and audio file
catalog program, FOCUS GbR's graphicRECALL may fit the bill.  It is
basically a specialized front-end for Elastic Reality's ADPro and makes a
browsable catalog of miniature versions of your images.  The actual file
can be viewed/played by simply double clicking on the miniature.  The L.A.
Video Toaster Users Group had a booth and also a mini theater, where they
were showing some of its member's fine video work.

   There were many other exhibitors, including several retailers, and I
wish I had the room to talk about them all.  Suffice it to say there is
still a lot of development and excitement for the Amiga/VideoToaster. 
Additionally, NewTek is very committed to continued support for the
existing installed base.  For a machine that is (temporarily) no longer in
production, there is tremendous momentum here.  This is good news for
whomever picks up the Amiga technology, but they better hurry!

Aspen Systems           AVID Media Group          Blevins Enterprises, Inc.
(303) 431-4606          (408) 774-6770           (208) 885-3805

Carrera Computers, Inc. CD Solutions              DeskStation Technology
(714) 707-5051          (510) 820-5400            (913) 599-1900

Elastic Reality         Flight Technologies, Inc. Feral
(608) 273-6585          (816) 525-8359            (913) 831-1791

FOCUS GbR               InnoVision Technology     Interworks
(212) 826-1240          (510) 638-0800            (909) 699-8120

L.A. VT User Group      NewTek, Inc.              NoahJi's
(818) 552-5025          (800) 847-6111            (303) 499-1975

Nova Design             PreVue Technologies       Questar Productions
(804) 282-5868          (800) 356-8863            (303) 659-4028

Silent Paw Productions 
(703) 330-7290