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Mix Magazine

This installment of The Bitstream column appeared in the April 2003 issue of Mix Magazine.

The Bitstream

This column discusses the 2003 MacWorld Expo in San Francisco…

Which Way To Moscone?

Since my editors have things covered in the audio realm, this month’s column looks at the other new stuff happening around the latest MacWorld conference in my astonishingly overpriced pueblo by the bay. All you Windows kids out there, don’t give me that, “…just a bunch of Mac weenies!” as I’ve got some info for you too…

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz regarding the new PowerBooks, big and small. Two unique features of the big PowerBook should be of particular interest to engineers, namely the display and the keyboard. One word about the display says it all: LARGE. More of your DAW will fit on screen, all visible at a glance. As to the keyboard, it has a brilliant innovation; an autosensing backlight that’s perfect for that dank cocoon you call your office.

What really excites me most about these puppies is their new I/O…the technology formerly known as 1394b has finally arrived. This points the way towards FireWire 800, as it’s now known, showing up everywhere in the next generation of computer peripherals, hifi/home theater and home networking gear. So far, only the copper implementation of FireWire 800 has come out of Texas Instrument, the leading PHY chip vendor, so we'll have to wait for UTP, plastic and glass optical fibre versions in future silicon. Speaking of which, the wizards at Oxford Semiconductor are also ready for FireWire Deux. Their former 1394 performance leader, the model 911 chip, must pass the torch to the new 922 which combines USB2.0 and 1394b bridged to IDE. All the serious FireWire vendors — LaCie, Century Global, SmartDisk, Wiebe etc. — are using the 922 in their ATA-6/FireWire 800 bridges and PCI HBAs, so ask for it by name.

Also in the storage department, I got to talk with the folks at Exabyte about the new FireWire 400 version of their VXA-2 desktop drive I mentioned last year, along with some compact and affordable library products based on that format. They’re looking forward to migrating the current crop of 1394 gear over to FireWire 800 as parts availability improves. Also working the FireWire 400 angle, LaCie got an award for the Big Disk, a 4 or 500 GB cross–platform drive in a slim, 5.25" aluminum case. The 400 G version has an 8 MB buffer and 7200 RPM speed, so it should be great for serving up those fat, multitrack EDLs.

A month after the MacWorld announcements of the stunning new 17" PowerBook, Apple also unveiled a new display and potent new Xserve–based PowerMacs. The same FireWire 800, 54 Mbps AirPort Extreme (802.11g) and optional Bluetooth features that appeared in the jumbo PowerBook are now part of the tower line as well. Storage, too, has been bumped up with a 180 GB Ultra ATA/100 drive option which supports a choice of a single 1 GHz, dual 1.25 GHz or dual 1.42 GHz G4 processors. Also new is a $1,299 20-inch Cinema Display, while price drops across the entire flat-panel display line means their 23 inch Cinema HD Display is now $1,999, and the 17 inch Studio Display is just $699.

Along with all the stuff we’ve come to know and love from Tascam, they had a guest product line in their booth. Though better known for (rapidly disappearing) floppy drives, their parent company, TEAC Corp., showed a USB2 disk drive among other stuff. As the Incredible Hulk would say, were he a marketing executive, “It’s rebrandin’ time!”

Another technology I’ve mentioned recently is the 802.11 WiFi standard. Linksys showed the first 802.11g gear at last November’s Comdex and Apple is shipping 802.11g technology in their new Airport Extreme line. 802.11g is an umbrella standard that encompasses both the original 802.11b and the much higher speed 802.11a versions. So, Airport Extreme can interoperate with either and Apple’s base stations include a bridging feature for seamless roaming from one zone and base station to another. The Dr. Bott crew had two external antennae for those wanting to modify the RF transceiver pattern of their base stations, extreme or otherwise. Also, the Airport Extreme base stations have USB spigots for a whole new level of easy printer sharing.

Say, if you’re cheap, er, …into adapting commodity hardware to save some dough, the propeller heads at Macsense have written a driver for Intersil’s Prism–based 802.11b PCMCIA cards. This lets you use PC cards from Intel, IBM, HP, Dell and 20 other vendors under OS 8, 9 and 10. They also showed an 802.11b–equipped D/A, the HomePod, which lets you stream your MP3 files to any hifi gear within range. Oh, a note about Comdex…We may not see many more since allegedly the owner, Key3Media, could be filing for bankruptcy protection. They also run the Intel Developer Forum, Seybold, NetWorld+Interop and a host of other shows.

Seemingly just for fun, Mac gaming continues to grow in scope and sophistication, so some of you may just see good production work coming from this expanding market. I purchased my first game in a long while, BG II, and damn if it isn’t complicated! Not complicated is a seeming bit of fluff that goes by the name of MadPlayer. The MadPlayer is a portable, digital embodiment of “…two turntables and a microphone,” along with an algorithmically driven MIDI sequencer, sampler, mixer, MP3/WMA player with an FM tuner thrown in just in case you bore yourself and need inspiration. Could be a new product class, the portaMuse.

In the alluring furniture department, Marathon had a new, really nice brush chrome–look rack solution, the M•Rack, and Bretford displayed a handsome work surface, their “Digital Hub Workspace,” with a silky crank handle to adjust the table from sit down to standing height.

For those of you called upon to create the occasional multimedia deliverable, eZedia has the goods. They showcased their range of products that extend your reach, whether it’s enhancing the capabilities of iMovie or creating cross platform, interactive content, all without having to learn a mind–bendingly complex application. Their Mac and Win app.s are easy to grasp, well documented and, they’re priced right.

I finally got a chance to test drive the hoopy SpaceShuttle USB controller from Contour AV Solutions. With a Jog/shuttle knob and 13 transport/edit buttons, it ships pre–configured for Acid, Cakewalk, Cubase, DPerformer, Logic, Nuendo, Protools and Sound Forge. It also works with over 24 other app.s, including video and design stalwarts like Final Cut and Photoshop. By the way, it’s nice to have for that off–hours Quake tournament as well…

From the same family that brings us Studer, Lexicon and the sound system for Porche’s new Cayenne, the Harman Multimedia division debuted the JBL INVADER, their first 4.1 speaker system. With a PoMo chrome look (isn’t everything?), they’ll cost you 150 bucks and give you a kickin’ surround experience in return.

At the keynote, Steve J. announced a new, fast native browser, which spells the death knell for Chimera [renamed “Camino” - OM], my current default. For those of you in the Win world, I recommend you try Chimera’s sister browsers, Mozilla and Phoenix. Mozilla is especially great if you’re a current Netscape user since it’s the same code base but with a much lower bloat factor.

Also on the Windows front, Intego Inc., maker of a wide range of security applications for Mac and Palm users, is entering the Windows marketplace with Intego NetBarrier 2003 for most all flavors of Win after 95. This personal firewall with privacy protection, traffic monitoring and access control features joins their complete family of content screening, encryption, virus protection and personal backup software for Classic and OS 10.

I’ve always recommended FWB’s stuff and now they’ve got two new members of their stable of utilities, Privacy Toolkit and Partition Toolkit. Privacy Toolkit provides easy-to-use encryption and shredding while Partition Toolkit lets you create, delete, and modify drive partitions. They also rolled out a new cross platform, hot swappable, dual bay, 1394–attached RAID. Now that’s a mouthful, but it’s good to see them back in the hardware business after a long hiatus.

Finally, those 1 GB flash memory fobs that I mentioned in last year’s USB2 column have started to ship in quantity from the usual suspects. They’ve also picked up some new functionality, but that’ll have to wait until next month, with my roundup of the Consumer Electronics show from Vegas, baby! See ya then…[As things turned out, CES coverage was pushed back a month, so check back in June for that coverage. - OM]

Bio

OMas applies his unique form of tech pain relief from the Pueblo By The Bay, San Francisco. This month’s attempt at platform parity was created while under the influence of dj Cheb i Sabbah’s Krishna Lila and Pentangle’s crassic Light Flight: The Anthology.