COMDEX highlights. (new computer-related products at fall 1992 COMDEX)
by Clifton Karnes, David English, Robert Bixby
One of the biggest stories at COMDEX was the coming of age of the notebook computer. These machines have always been at least a generation behind their desktop cousins in features and power, but this year that's all changed.
The new breed of notebook is a 486-powered machine with a large hard disk (as large as 200MB), lots of RAM (4MB is standard), and eye-pleasing color. Leading the pack at COMDEX was the TravelMate 4000 WinDX2/40 Color. This screamer boasts a 40-Mhz DX2 CPU, a 640 x 480 screen with 256 colors, 8MB of RAM (expandable to 20MB), a 200MB hard disk, a Microsoft BallPoint with a QuickPort connection, and Windows 3.1 installed and ready to go. (See "News & Notes" for more information about the TravelMate 4000 computer.)
Following the trend of smaller and more powerful, the PC-MCIA interface gives notebooks near desktop power by putting all the electronics that normally fit on a full-sized expansion board into a credit card-sized device.
PCMCIA has always been an exciting technology, but at COMDEX, we saw the most innovative PCMCIA card to date. MiniStor was demonstrating a PCMCIA card-based 64MB 1.8-inch IDE hard disk that offered amazing performance and durability. This MiniStor drive has a seek time of 18 ms, can withstand an impact of nearly 300 G's, and will run 250,000 hours before failing.
Not a new product but a new technology ripe for licensing, QSound promises to add new dimensions to multimedia audio. Using DSP technology, QSound makes a simple pair of speakers generate sound so realistic and accurately placed stereophonically that many people swear that they can locate sounds coming from behind and above them (though QSound spokespersons only claim 180-degree placement).
IBM, Texas Instruments, and Intermetrics have incorporated this technology into a chip set that will eventually be installed on IBM motherboards. To fill the gap until that time, Texas Instruments has created a soon-to-be-released sound card, identified as Mwave, that will use the QSound DSP technology. Mwave is compatible with Ad Lib and Sound Blaster and is capable of far more than simple entertainment sound.
Already well known in the recording industry, QSound has garnered tributes from recording artists such as Sting and Roger Waters.
Desktop publishers know that the best color proofing is achieved with thermal transfer technology, and until very recently this technology was limited to a few very-high-end printers. But now Fargo Electronics, a small printer manufacturer that formerly specialized in bar-code printers, has announced the Primera Color Printer, a 200-dpi color thermal transfer printer for under $1,000. Using special paper and a waxlike material, it generates color printouts that have unusual color density. It can generate a page with 100-percent coverage every two minutes at a cost of 45 cents per page. The Fargo unit is designed for "Windows printing"--printing from its own Windows driver. If you want Post-Script printing with the same unit, you have to go to LaserMaster, which will market the upgraded printer in late spring for $1,795.
It's not often you see a product with the potential to shake up an industry. One such product, FontChameleon (shown privately at COMDEX by Ares Software) can not only combine any two fonts in a variety of ways, but it can also provide just about every popular font.
Because the program needs less than 2K to store the parameters for a complete font, FontChameleon will ship with hundreds of popular fonts on a single disk. In fact, Ares can ship any font with the program--including fonts owned by other, companies--as long as the font ships as a set of parameters and Ares doesn't use the copyrighted name of the font (Ares gets around the name problem by using a pull-down menu that says "Similar to...").
Observing the FontChameleon demo was a representative from one of the large type houses. He said that the program is legal and his company is looking for a way to cash in on Ares' new technology.
Years from now, we may look back on the fall 1992 COMDEX as the time when video came to Windows in a big way. Just a week before COMDEX, Microsoft announced Video for Windows. At COMDEX, Apple previewed a similar, though incompatible, product called QuickTime for Windows, based on its Macintosh program called QuickTime. You can now buy feature films on CD-ROM for the Mac, including A Hard Day's Night and the X-rated House of Dreams. Similar CD-ROMs should be available soon for the PC.
To capture your own software movies, you'll need a video-capture board, such as Brown-Wagh's Studio Master ($499), Media Vision's Pro MovaieSpectrum ($499), or Creative Labs' Video Blaster ($495). The booths for all three companies were overflowing with eager buyers.