Contents | < Browse | Browse >

===========================================================================
            Review: Picasso IV Graphic Card from Village Tronic
                             By:  William Near 
===========================================================================

MILLIONS OF COLORS AND A FLICKER FIXER TOO

If you have ever used an AGA Amiga's Workbench in 256 colors then you know
just how unusable and frustrating that can be.  You also know that
virtually every AGA owner runs his Workbench in usually no more than 16
colors due to the speed problem.

There are really only two ways to cure this problem if you want a colorful
and fast computer display.  One is to wait for a next generation Amiga,
which may just happen due to the Gateway 2000 buyout of the Amiga.  The
other way is to buy a 24-bit graphics card.

The latest contender in the Amiga 24-bit graphics board market is the
Picasso IV from Village Tronic Marketing GmbH of Germany.  Any Amiga with a
Zorro II/III slot, a video slot, Workbench 3.1, and a 68020 or better CPU
can join in on the fun.

FEATURES AND OTHER THINGS

The Picasso IV is based on the CL-GD5446 graphics chip by Cirrus Logic.
This chip is certainly not one of the newer graphics chips from Cirrus
Logic, but it still serves its purpose on the Amiga.  There are 4 MBs of
64-bit, 50 ns EDO video RAM on the card that enables it to run at a maximum
1280 x 1024 in TrueColor (24-bit) with a local PCI-Bus.

Some of the other more interesting features of the Picasso IV are: S-VHS
video input/outputs, 3.5 mm stereo audio input/outputs, FLASHROM for future
firmware updates via software, picture-in-picture capability (PIP), Amiga
and CD-ROM audio inputs, 4 channel audio mixer on-board (Amiga, Line, TV,
CD), and many more.

The built-in flicker fixer/scan doubler was the main feature that attracted
me to the Picasso IV rather than the competition.  The flicker fixer
enables all standard Amiga screenmodes to be viewable on virtually any
monitor.  By standard Amiga screenmodes, I mean NTSC and PAL only --
nothing else!  The Picasso IV won't pass-through the non-15 kHz.
screenmodes and scan doubling the double-NTSC/PAL modes is also not in the
cards.

TO HACK OR NOT TO HACK

Installing the board into your A3000 or A4000 is simply a matter of
dropping the card into the Zorro III slot that is in-line with the video
slot.  Installing the same board into an A2000, which I did, is a whole
other beast.

You must first remove all the monitor drivers from your system, except for
the NTSC and PAL ones.  All RTG software, like CyberGraphX must be removed
too.  After doing this it's time to install the Picasso96 driver software
using the standard Commodore Installer.  I would highly recommend that you
run to the nearest source of Picasso96 support, the Internet, and grab the
latest version of the software (currently 1.16), as the included version is
woefully outdated at this point.  The Picasso96 software is being actively
updated on an almost weekly basis, which is a great thing. 

In order to install the Picasso IV hardware into an Amiga 2000 you must
first remove the flicker fixer module from the main card.  According to the
manual, this is simply a matter of cutting two plastic bridges that help to
hold the two boards together -- wrong!

I started out by following the procedure outlined in the English manual.  I
cut through the two bridges with a very sharp knife and proceeded to gently
bend the flicker fixer module back and forth in an attempt to set it free.
I soon realized that this just wasn't going to happen.  If I applied too
much pressure on the main board and module, it would surely cause damage. 
I had to saw through almost every connecting point between the module and
main board (there are 31 of them) by hand with a jigsaw blade made
especially for plastic.  About 45 minutes later I had two separate boards.
This is not a job for the faint of heart!  If you don't feel confident
doing this modification then I would suggest that you let your local
computer dealer do it for you.  It's not an impossible task, but I haven't
talked to anyone yet that hasn't spent anywhere from 30 minutes to well
over an hour doing this.

After removing the flicker fixer module from the main board, I placed the
Picasso IV into an empty Zorro II slot and the flicker fixer module in the
video slot.  Three cables are then routed under the power supply to connect
the two boards together. 

All of this could have been avoided if Village Tronic would have finished
development on their Denise adapter board before releasing the Picasso IV.
This adapter will enable A2000 owners to install the entire graphics board
into a Zorro II slot and then run a cable from the board's flicker fixer to
the Denise socket.

The Picasso IV comes with a nice, spiral-bound German manual and a plain
folded and stapled English version.  Unlike the Picasso II's English
manual, which was a decent piece of work and spiral-bound too.  Don't get
me wrong, the English manual uses good grammar and spelling for the most
part, unlike other translated manuals I have had the misfortune of using in
the past.

READY TO GO

Once all of the hardware and software is installed it's time to boot up the
computer and see what happens.

Initially, a low-res screenmode is selected from the available ones.  I
promptly entered the Prefs/Screenmode program and brought up a 1024x768x256
Workbench screenmode on my 17" monitor.  It looked quite nice on a large
monitor too.  If you've never seen an Amiga being run in a high resolution
screenmode then it will be a sight for sore eyes, literally.

Screen updates after opening or moving a window on Workbench are so much
faster than any non-graphics-board-Amiga that you will wonder how you ever
got along without one.  Even switching to a 1024x768x24-bit Workbench
hardly slowed things down.  Yes, it was noticeable when compared to only
256 colors, but it's still just as fast or faster than a 16 color hi-res
Workbench under OS 2.1.  Of course, if you don't have a good amount of
available FAST RAM then I wouldn't recommend going over 64,000 colors at
that resolution for your Workbench.  I have 8 MBs of FAST and I still only
use 256 colors on my Workbench. 

There's really nothing like running all of your favorite applications in
high resolution and bit depth screenmodes.  The number of screens you can
have open at any one time is really only limited by the amount of RAM
available to your system.  Of course, the higher the resolution and bit
depth of your screen, the more RAM it eats.  I can easily run Workbench,
DOpus 5.5, and Final Writer 5 at the same time with memory to spare.  On
the Internet I often run YAM, VoyagerNG, and AmIRC at the same time.  I
have limited VoyagerNG to 256 colors due to the amount of RAM needed to run
it in 24-bit color.  If you're used to viewing the WWW in 16 colors now,
you won't believe your eyes when doing the same in 256 or even 16 million
colors!  Programs like PageStream and Final Writer will run faster on a
graphics board's screen too.  Imported graphics just plain look better in
256 colors.

Screen flipping with my middle-mouse-button is virtually instantaneous, but
screen dragging is not available at this time.  I actually don't miss
screen dragging ever since moving to a graphics board a couple of years
ago.

TUNING THE DRIVERS

There is an included program called PicassoMode, or you can use the
improved PicassoModeTNG, for tuning the board's output to get the most out
of your monitor.

With PicassoModeTNG you can set the minimum and maximum horizontal and
vertical frequencies that your monitor is capable of, as well as the pixel
clock, sync rates, etc.  You can effectively tune every available
screenmode and create new ones too.  Be forewarned, you can totally fry
your monitor if you don't know what you're doing!   Those who choose to
play around with the presets will pay dearly for any great mistakes made in
the settings.  It's best to just set the minimum and maximum horizontal and
vertical sync rates and leave the rest to the software. 

There are many included monitor settings for various models and more are
available on the Picasso96 WWW site.

COMPATIBILITY

The Picasso96 authors claim high compatibility with CyberGraphX
applications and I have found this to be true.  All of my picture viewers
and players still function under Picasso96 as they did under CyberGraphX. 
I haven't found anything that won't work, but I'm sure there may be a thing
or two out there that will break.  [It seems that certain pieces of
CyberGraphX software being developed in affiliation with Phase5 are issuing
thinly veiled threats that the software is not likely to work under the P96
CGX emulation. -Jason]

ImageFX users will notice that the program will lockup at times.  The
Picasso96 authors are aware of this problem and are working on it.  ImageFX
will still work, but the occasional lockup is not unheard of.

NewIcons support is there, as long as you disable the RTG feature of
NewIcons 3.   This is a CyberGraphX-specific feature of NewIcons and will
cause problems when enabled under Picasso96.

FINAL RAMBLINGS

One way to breathe new life into an aging Amiga is to buy a 24-bit graphics
card.   Any Amiga, for that matter, will seem like it's better than brand
new, provided you have the CPU and RAM required.

The Picasso IV is one of the nicest 24-bit graphics boards available for
the Amiga today.  It only has a few faults, overall, and the Picasso96
software is under constant development.  The authors of Picasso96 are
available via Email and there's even a Picasso mailing list too.

I would recommend this board over the competition mainly due to the
on-board flicker fixer.  It would be nice if the board would just
pass-through the non-15 kHz.  screenmodes and scan doubling the
double-NTSC/PAL modes would have been a plus for AGA users too.  None of
these things really deter from the overall package so much that you
wouldn't be happy, though.  So go out and grab a Picasso IV and start
seeing the computing world in true color!

© William Near 1997

Provided for review by:
Software Hut
Folcroft East Business Park
313 Henderson Dr.
Sharon Hill, PA  19079
USA
http://www.softhut.com
610-586-5701 voice