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                 Review: Video Backup System 3.2 from LSP
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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Ask me--or just about anyone else--what the most important thing you can do
with your hard drive is, and they'll tell you it's to make frequent
backups.

And what's the thing that so few people actually do?  Yes, the same.  Let's
face it...making backups is a pain.  You can back up to a big old stack of
floppies...but this is very tedious for any sizable amount of data.  You
can back up to a tape drive or removable media drive like a Zip...which
isn't quite as bad, but that's an extra hardware cost for a lot of people.

Enter the concept of Video Backup.  Lots of us computer enthusiasts have
purchased a VCR at SOME point in our lives.  And videotapes are
significantly less expensive than a Zip cartridge.  So, even though they're
a bit bulky, why not put them to good use?

The VBS comes as three components.  The sole floppy disk contains the VBS
software for both 68000 and 68020+ Amigas.  A standard double-male RCA
cable is included for connecting your Amiga's composite video output
(standard on some machines, or requiring an A520 adapter on others) to your
VCR, and a special serial port device with two male RCA leads connects to
both a video monitor and your VCR's video out.  (Neat, huh?)

VBS' interface is easy enough to use on a high res (non-laced) video
screen, although the 1702 I was forced to use made it just a tad blurrier
than I would have liked.  (It was also a bit too low on the screen.)  The
short of it is that you can select to back up any number of files from the
hard drive partition of your choice onto video cassette.  The software
visually represents the programs (which looks quite interesting on your
monitor) and the display is recorded by the VCR.  The tape can be stored
more or less indefinitely, and can be restored to any other partition or
device you choose at a later date.

VBS will help you keep track of your backups by creating log and report
files recording the files stored on video.  You can use counter references
to find the correct area of your tape for each backup (the program puts a
short title before the actual program code so you can scan through the tape
visually if necessary.

The process of making a backup does take a little getting used to.  Since
VBS cannot actually control your VCR, you have to hit record on your VCR
and then commit to the backup by clicking the mouse, after VBS goes through
its preparatory steps for creating backups.  With just a bit of practice,
you'll be able to use VBS to backup at any time by using its timer feature
in conjunction with the one on your VCR.  Obviously, this is useful if you
can't watch the Amiga all day.

Restoring backups is a bit more confusing.  VBS stores the directory tree
data at the start of the recording.  VBS reads this information off of the
tape when you want to restore it, but because of the way the video monitor
is set up, VBS can't actually TELL you when it has all of the info it
needs.  (The documentation leads me to believe that you can, but I'm not
clear on it.)  So after a few seconds of playback, you need to stop the
tape and return to the VBS screen to select the files for recovery.  After
rewinding the tape a bit (just to be sure, in case you overshot the mark),
you can commence the restoration.

Floppy backups are possible--VBS will even store them track-by-track, so
presumably you could store your demo collection on VHS.  (Of course, you
may get better mileage just recording your demos...)

On a 68020, you can compress data and get on average 85 megs per hour of
videotape.  (While I've heard of using the tapes in LP mode, I chose to go
with SP for my review.)  This puts a $2 VHS tape at about 170 megs of
storage--better than a ZIP or EZ135 disk that costs several times more and
holds less.  On the other hand, these drives communicate with your Amiga in
hundreds of k per seconds.  At 85 megs per hour, the VBS is significantly
slower.  Cost versus convenience, isn't that always the way?

In my tests of VBS, involving backing up both binary and text files from
one drive and restoring on another, I had absolutely zero hitches, in both
Fast and Compressed mode.  If anything is going to convince me to do
backups, this will.

Speed aside, the only minus to the VBS is the length of the two cables on
the serial device.  You need to have your computer, monitor, and VCR all
VERY close to each other.  My Toshiba TIMM was absolutely useless for this
package, it was just too big to get the cables around.  (They're roughly 3
feet in length)  Of course, the same goes for a Zip or EZ135, but they're
smaller.

The provided manual is sufficient, but if I ran the world I would have laid
it out a bit differently, categorizing by "Backup" and "Restore", rather
than by "Disk" (floppy) and "File".  It's usable.

LSP's Video Backup System is about the cheapest way I can think of to
reliably back up your hard drives--and it really does work.  Physically,
it's a bit of a pain, and it will require you to have some sort of
composite-out capabilities (For 3000 users, a special video board is
available) as well as to boot your machine in a video configuration.  I
strongly recommend you consider this an alternative to removable media if
backups are your priority.

Lyppens Software Productions
152 E. 84th St. #2D
New York, NY  10028
USA
212-744-0973 voice