Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
Video and multimedia fill up this issue with Apple announcing new multimedia Macs, the 630 series, and Connectix announcing QuickCam, a new low-cost video camera. For those who want something now, we review the FlexCam from VideoLabs, and for a change of pace, we also look at the latest StuffIt Expander, along with Aladdin's shareware DropStuff with Expander Enhancer.
Copyright 1994 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Due to various and sundry travel plans, we may not release the next few issues on our usually strict Monday night schedule. If you don't see one on time, just check in another day or two. If you miss an issue, you can retrieve it via email by sending a message to <email@example.com> with this line in the body of the message:
$MAC GET tidbits-234.etx
Replace the number with the number of the issue you think you missed, and the LISTSERV will return the file via email. This works for the last 60 issues or so. [ACE]
Free passes to Mactivity are available if you email your name, address, phone, and fax number to Gary Stein at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Mactivity is a large Macintosh networking conference held in the San Jose Convention Center from 19-Jul-94 to 21-Jul-94. Your pass will be held at the door for you. [ACE]
Mactivity -- 408/354-2500 -- 800/798-2928 -- 408/354-2571 (fax) --<email@example.com>
AOL Updated -- Version 2.5f1 of the America Online software claims that it's no longer supported, but 2.5f3 has appeared. It's at: [ACE]
Internet & NPR -- Anyone who's interested in hearing me make a fool of myself on National Public Radio (NPR) should listen to NPR's Weekend All Things Considered program next weekend (23-Jul-94 or 24-Jul-94). Maybe they'll even edit it so that I sound reasonable. I can't tell you where to find your local NPR station on the radio dial or even when or which day the show will air, but if you check the Web site for Weekend All Things Considered, it has a list of affiliate stations.
You can also send comments to the folks who produce the radio show at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. [ACE]
Another spec sheet error has appeared, this time on the Portable StyleWriter data sheet. The info under the heading "Print Materials" on data sheet L0488LL/A incorrectly lists "Tabloid" as a supported paper option. Maybe if you fold it. [MHA]
Christopher P Courtright <email@example.com> writes:
Network copy protection (see TidBITS-234) has problems in large Mac shops such as ours. To simplify administration of the Macs in our organization, everyone has an identical software load (there are minor variations in system software). We created a master configuration and clone that software load from one machine to another to perform updates, patches, upgrades, etc. Each machine has two volumes, one for application software and one for user data. If the volume with the application software takes a hit ("Whaddya mean I deleted my PageMaker?") we can quickly reclone the drive. We don't have to back it up. We can even swap out the drive if it fails. Only the stuff we cannot recreate (i.e. user data) is backed up.
This brings us to the problem with serial number detection copy protection schemes. How can I make identical machines not be identical? One way is to negotiate with the vendor a non-copy protected version of the software. We have found that this is usually available (i.e. Aldus products) [We've heard of instances when negotiating for a non-protected version means a long wait even after a new release, since custom versions require additional testing -Adam]. Or, we must find the serial number embedded in the software on the machines and zap the different numbers on each computer. Deployed over a large number of computers, this is a nightmare to administer.
Although we use White Pine's products, if others are available that compete feature for feature, but do not cause administrative overhead, I would be tempted to switch to those products. Software piracy is a valid concern of a business, however vendors must realize that they need to build in administrative features that do not hinder the products' deployment in large corporate environments.
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Multimedia capabilities for the masses are at the heart of Apple's new 630 series of Macintosh computers, introduced today. The systems, priced as low as $1,300 according to Apple, are 33 MHz 68040 Macs with sufficient storage capacity (including optional CD-ROM drive) and multimedia options to handle most low-end video and presentation needs.
The new computers will ship in all three of Apple's main product families. The Performa 630 begins shipping in the higher education market today; the Macintosh LC 630, Quadra 630, and consumer-market Performa 630 models will follow on 02-Aug-94. As with previous Performa products, Apple says the Performa 630 series will have varying model numbers (including 635 and 636) to indicate different configurations.
Just to keep things interesting, Apple has designed yet another Macintosh case for the 630 series computers. An Apple representative described it as "a cross between the Quadra 610 and 650 cases." It's narrower than a 650 and a little higher than a 610. The case allows for an unimposing footprint without giving up the space needed for an internal CD-ROM drive. Without giving away any secrets, the representative acknowledged that Apple is likely to use this form factor in some future computer models.
The processor in the 630 series is listed as a 66/33 MHz CPU, using Apple's new strategy of claiming the doubled internal clock rate of the Motorola processors that's been present all along. The Quadra model sports a "full" 68040 (the 68RC040 model), complete with FPU, while the LC and Performa models will use the FPU-less 68LC040. The systems will include 4 MB or more of RAM, expandable to 36 MB, and either a 250 MB or 350 MB hard drive. These models differ from past Macintosh computers with the addition of an infrared remote control sensor and an internal multimedia slot designed to accept one of three new Apple cards.
The Apple Video System, Video/TV System, and Presentation System are expansion cards designed specifically for the new 630 series Macintosh models, intended to allow users to capture video, watch TV in a window, and display presentations on a large-screen TV, respectively.
The Video System, with a published Apple Price of $149, supports simple video input, enabling users to view camcorder or VCR output in a resizable on-screen window. Single-frame capture and QuickTime video sequence capture will be possible, and some configurations will include VideoShop software (from Avid Technology), allowing users to edit video frame by frame and add titles and special effects.
The $249 Video/TV System incorporates the features of the Video System, but adds a TV tuner capability so users can watch television in an on-screen window. (Unlike the Macintosh TV, this tuner capability doesn't take over the entire display area while it's in use.)
At $299, the Apple Presentation System, based on the L-TV Portable Pro from Focus Enhancements, provides video output from the Macintosh suitable for connecting to a television or VCR. This enables Macintosh 630 users to show on-screen presentations to large audiences, or record them on video tape for future use.
The 630 series Macintosh computers also include a communications slot which will support one of three Apple Ethernet cards or a 14,400 bps fax/modem card. This slot is separate from the machines' LC-style processor direct slot, which supports most cards compatible with the Macintosh LC series and Quadra 605, including Apple's PowerPC PDS accelerator card, but not Apple's Apple IIe emulator card.
One way Apple kept costs down is the use of commonly available hard drives with IDE interfaces, rather than SCSI interfaces, for internal storage. The new Macs support SCSI devices, but add the IDE support so Apple can use the much less expensive IDE hard drives. The drives aren't of lower quality, but vastly greater manufacturing quantities have kept IDE drives less expensive than their SCSI counterparts, which are often otherwise identical. This does mean that most third-party disk formatting and recovery programs must be updated before they will work with these internal drives.
With the Quadra 630 4/250 model carrying an Apple Price of $1,279, we expect these machines will be popular entry-level desktop machines even for those who don't need the multimedia capabilities, but do need an internal CD-ROM drive or other expansion possibilities. There's no promise of a PowerPC logic board upgrade down the line, but although we wouldn't be surprised to see one in the future (in addition to the already-available PDS accelerator option), we also acknowledge that PowerPC upgradability isn't critical for many of today's Macintosh users.
-- Information from:
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
StuffIt Expander from Leonard Rosenthol of Aladdin Systems has become one of those programs without which you simply cannot exist on the Internet. If for some reason you've never heard of StuffIt Expander (which Aladdin refers to internally as SEx), it's a small free application that expands a number of common file formats, including all the StuffIt formats, Compact Pro archives, AppleLink packages, and BinHex files. It works primarily in drag & drop mode in System 7, and can both debinhex and expand a file without additional help from the user. It's Apple-event aware and commonly used as a helper application by many of the common Internet programs such as Anarchie, Fetch, and NCSA Mosaic. StuffIt Expander can even watch a specified folder and expand anything that appears in that folder. Sounds pretty good, right? What more could one want?
Faced with just this question, Aladdin came up with some excellent answers and built them into the just-released StuffIt Expander 3.5. The basic StuffIt Expander program remains essentially the same, and in fact Aladdin removed the capability to expand AppleLink packages. However, Aladdin also has a new shareware product, called DropStuff with Expander Enhancer (OK, so it sounds a bit like Hamburger Helper), that adds not only the capability to expand a whole slew of new formats, but also enables you to compress files by dropping them on the System 7-only DropStuff application.
The magic that makes all this possible is that Expander Enhancer is actually Aladdin's StuffIt Engine. With Expander Enhancer installed, you can expand far more compression formats, including StuffIt (.sit) and Compact Pro (.cpt) archives, ZIP (.zip) and ARC (.arc) archives; AppleLink (.pkg) packages, and gzip (.gz or .z), Unix Compress (.Z), and StuffIt SpaceSaver files. Also supported are the standard formats for transferring binary files over networks, including BinHex (.hqx), MacBinary (.bin), uucode (.uu), although btoa is notably absent considering that it's included among the StuffIt Deluxe translators. When enhanced, StuffIt Expander will also join files that were segmented with another StuffIt product. Finally, the enhanced StuffIt Expander becomes PowerPC-native, so expansion speed is increased significantly on Power Macs.
Expansion is only half of the game, though, and DropStuff provides the other half. Merely drop one or more files on DropStuff, and it immediately creates a StuffIt archive. If you drop a single file or folder, the resulting archive has the same name with .sit appended; if you drop multiple files and folders, DropStuff names the result Archive.sit. However, that's just the default way that DropStuff acts.
If you press Option while dropping an item on DropStuff, you get a dialog box that enables you to temporarily modify a number of the basic ways in which DropStuff works. You can toggle checkboxes that make DropStuff delete the originals after compressing them (pressing Control when you drop the file does this as well), stuff aliases or the original files to which they point, stuff multiple items as separate archives, make the archive self-extracting, or encrypt the archive with a password. The Preferences dialog also offers settings that control how DropStuff binhexes files. If you choose to have DropStuff binhex the file, you can set it to optionally delete the archive after binhexing it, add linefeeds (useful if your communications program doesn't add them to uploaded files), and remove the .sit from the filename (since it automatically appends .hqx to binhexed files as well). The final preferences enable you to specify where the new archive should be saved, the same place as the original, a new location of your choosing, or a pre-set destination folder.
If you run DropStuff manually (not via drag & drop), you can modify the preferences permanently for that copy of the program (it stores the configuration information internally, rather than in a preferences file). I always duplicate DropStuff and rename the copy DropBinHex. I then set the preferences for DropBinHex so that it always binhexes files in addition to stuffing them. Although it's not difficult to binhex a file by using the temporary preferences settings, I binhex files often enough that I find having two droplets easier. DropStuff is smart enough to recognize existing StuffIt archives if you try to binhex them, and it won't try to stuff them again (the same is not true of Compact Pro archives).
The combination of StuffIt Expander and DropStuff is so useful that even though I own StuffIt Deluxe, I seldom run it. Now that StuffIt Expander can use the StuffIt Engine to provide access to most of the translators that come with StuffIt Deluxe, I suspect I'll use it only when I want to manipulate the contents of archives.
The documentation that comes with DropStuff and StuffIt Expander is interesting as well for two reasons. DropStuff comes with a PictoGuide that Aladdin is very proud of. It's a TeachText file that outlines how to use DropStuff with pictures. It works pretty well, but there is also normal textual documentation in setext format. If you use Easy View to view TidBITS, you can create an Easy View view file in the folder containing the text documentation files, and browse through the six documentation files more easily.
StuffIt Expander is free, and DropStuff with Expander Enhancer is $30 shareware if you use it for more than 15 days. If you already own one of Aladdin's commercial products, StuffIt Deluxe, StuffIt SpaceSaver, or SITcomm, you need not pay the shareware fee or and you won't be bothered by the shareware notification.
You can retrieve Expander and DropStuff pretty much anywhere online, I'd think, and on the Internet at:
Frankly, if you're reading this review, you probably use the Internet, a BBS, or one of the commercial online services, and if that's true, you simply must have StuffIt Expander. And, if you ever create StuffIt archives, DropStuff is the best way of doing that. You won't go wrong with these programs, and Aladdin deserves serious Macintosh community points for making them freeware and shareware, respectively.
Aladdin Systems -- 408/761-6200 -- 408/761-6206 (fax)
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last week Connectix Corporation announced its first foray into the Macintosh hardware arena. Connectix QuickCam, scheduled for introduction at the Macworld Expo in Boston next month, is a low-cost video camera intended to bring desktop video to every Macintosh. With a suggested retail price of $149, and a likely street price around or under $100, it just might do the trick.
QuickCam connects to the serial port of a Macintosh, eliminating the need for a separate NuBus or PDS card component. Most add-on cameras require an AV-equipped Macintosh or a separate digitizer unit, but QuickCam provides digital input directly through the serial port. The unit also draws its power from the computer's serial port, so only one cable needs to be connected. The camera provides four-bit grayscale video in image sizes up to 240 x 320, and at up to 15 frames per second. Custom software translates the serial data stream into information that can be used by Apple's QuickTime software, which makes it available for use within a wide range of application programs, including video production and videoconferencing.
The camera, which Connectix will show in public for the first time at the Bayside Expo Center during Macworld in Boston, should ship later in August once FCC certification is complete.
QuickCam incorporates a CCD, or charged couple device, similar to the video input mechanism used in video camcorders. Unlike most CCD-equipped devices, though, QuickCam need never convert its video signal to analog NTSC. As a result, QuickTime need not convert an analog signal back into digital information for its own use. Connectix is also developing a low-cost color version of QuickCam for both Macintosh and Windows-equipped computers. This version should be ready in early 1995.
In addition to the video input, QuickCam will include a voice-quality microphone, which owners of early Macintosh models will appreciate. (Apple did not begin including audio input as a common Macintosh feature until late 1990, when the Macintosh IIsi and LC were introduced.) No additional hardware is required.
Connectix is of course best known for its popular utility and operating system enhancement software; the software bundled with the QuickCam is likely to be of similar caliber. The product will include a full-featured video recorder application that allows recording and editing of QuickTime movies using the camera's signal. The software will allow the user to capture time-lapse movies by specifying any number of frames per second or minute (up to 15 fps). The camera will also include a snapshot desk accessory that will allow graphic artists to capture still digital images in PICT format with a single click.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100 -- 415/571-5195 (fax)
-- Information from:
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
I'm not a video freak, even though I bought a 660AV last fall to replace my trusty SE/30. I've only once hooked my VCR to the 660AV to record QuickTime movies, and I just don't think in terms of video. However, when we got a chance to test one, I was pleasantly surprised by the FlexCam video camera from VideoLabs.
Perhaps the most unique thing about the camera is its physical size and shape. A small circular head, not quite two inches across, perches on the end of an 18-inch flexible gooseneck arm. For those who aren't familiar with goosenecks (geeseneck?), they're made of a flexible cable containing the actual wires inside. You can bend and twist them to almost any position, and they hold that position until you move them again. A pair of pinhole sized microphones are placed just below and to the sides of the camera lens. The gooseneck arm sits on top of a stylish base that's about seven inches wide and seven inches deep. A cable snakes from the back of the base to a hydra-headed end with RCA video, and two RCA audio plugs that attach to the video and audio ports on your Mac or video digitizer card. Finally, a clever power plug attaches to an additional wire on the hydra-head so you only have a single cable cluttering your desktop.
Frankly, the thing looks like a small, but very cute, robot eye peeking out at you. It would be even cuter if it focussed automatically, so it was continually following you in and out. As it is, the manual focus ring is easy to turn for a quick focus. If the gooseneck was thicker, and colored jet black, the FlexCam might seem sinister, but as I said, it's extremely cute and an unobtrusive addition to the collection (if your desk is anything like mine) of platinum Macintosh accessories arrayed in front of you.
That's in fact the entire point behind the FlexCam. It's small, unobtrusive, and fits right in with your Macintosh (there's also a version with a digitizer card, called the FlexCap, for Windows). Once you plug it in and give it a home on your desk (which took all of about five minutes, most of which I spent trying squirm behind my desk so I could find the right port on the back of the 660AV), you just use it.
Ah, well, there's the crunch. You're not going to plop down $595 for a video camera and not use it unless you have more money than I. So what might you use the FlexCam for? Again, I'm not a video person, but it seems that you can use it for most anything that you would use a normal video camera for (at least on your desk, the basic FlexCam doesn't travel), and then some. Tonya and I tried it out with the two basic video applications we have, the version of FusionRecorder that came with my 660AV, and Cornell's amazing free CU-SeeMe Internet videoconferencing application, which you can find in:
I don't like FusionRecorder, but we were able to create a simple, but lousy, QuickTime movie in about ten minutes of fiddling, most of which took place in FusionRecorder. The only things we had to mess with on the FlexCam were the focus and the position of the camera head. If we'd been doing something for real, we would have worried about the background and the lighting as well, but the FlexCam worked well in the random environment we threw at it. VideoLabs claims that the FlexCam produces high-quality images, but with nothing to compare to, I couldn't say. In addition, I also gather that both the digitizer and the output monitor make a difference in the final image.
Our test case involved making a QuickTime movie of the cover to the second edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. Since the book is in production as I write this, Hayden sends me color proofs via FedEx so I can check the cover for errors. I figured that a QuickTime movie that panned slowly over the page would give me all I needed for basic editing and comments, and they could email that to me. The only problem was, we couldn't get the entire 8.5 inches of the width of the page on screen at once and have it close enough to read the smaller type. Moving the camera head closer to the page solved that problem, but made panning around it more difficult. I suspect that if we really wanted to do this, we'd have to get the DocuCam camera from VideoLabs, since it's designed specifically for showing documents onscreen.
Even though the FlexCam wasn't perfectly suited for this task, I imagine that it was a heck of a lot easier than dealing with a camcorder and trying to display pages with it. Bending the FlexCam's neck to look down at the desk was simplicity itself - all we had to watch for was focus and the alignment of the page, since there is definite orientation to the image.
The next test involved CU-SeeMe. I've used CU-SeeMe to receive video (well, jerky video and fast-moving snapshots) over my 14,400 bps PPP link before, but I've never tried to send anything other than scrolling text on CU-SeeMe's black screen. CU-SeeMe works both in point-to-point mode and with what Cornell calls a "reflector," which is a Unix machine set up to reflect up to eight streams of video back to you. Thus, when you start up and connect to the Cornell reflector at <188.8.131.52>, you see up to eight video windows appear, yours and seven others. There may be fewer, since you never know who's transmitting, and at 11 PM on a Wednesday night, only a site in Australia was on the reflector, and no one there seemed to be watching the screen at all, even though CU-SeeMe indicated that they could see us (it's good about telling you when you're on the air, so to speak, and provides detailed statistics on what's going on).
CU-SeeMe uses only 16 levels of gray to minimize traffic (this is working over a modem, remember!), and the FlexCam was perfectly suited to the task. I just aimed the camera head and focussed on Tonya, who then made faces at the oblivious people in Australia. Although the technology isn't quite here, I'll be curious to see what kind of underground Internet broadcasting CU-SeeMe and inexpensive cameras like the FlexCam make possible. We could do a TidBITS Live, for instance, although only people with fast connections could use the audio-portion of CU-SeeMe (originally from Maven) to listen in as well as watch. Hmm, although a heavily produced video show would be out of the question, perhaps a simple news and analysis broadcast... The wheels are turning...
Perhaps that's what I like most about the FlexCam. It's such a neat little device that it started me thinking about what I could do with it. Sure, Internet videoconferencing may not be a daily reality for all that many people (although a number of people at Cornell seem to use it) and you're not going to use the FlexCam to take action movies for use with QuickTime, but a video camera as computer peripheral starts to open up different possibilities. What will come of those possibilities, I don't know.
I mentioned the DocuCam for viewing documents or small objects (it can focus close in, which results in small objects being magnified 50:1 when viewed on a large screen monitor), and VideoLabs has several other cameras based on the FlexCam design but optimized for certain tasks. A FlexCam Pro model adds S-Video output for higher quality images. FlexCam Scientific and FlexCam Scientific Pro are designed for classroom viewing and magnification of objects and technical documents. With an optional microscope adapter, you can attach either one to a microscope or telescope to display, well, whatever is on the other side of the microscope or telescope. Another FlexCam derivative in the works is the WirelessCam, which is a FlexCam with the camera head module mounted on the end of a 24-inch cable that you can carry around, or mount on a helmet or lapel. Talk about live action and underground broadcasting - "Could you speak up for the flower in my lapel, sir?"
VideoLabs -- 612/897-1995 -- 612/897-3597 (fax)
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue