The Great Amiga Reboot
Summer is traditionally a slow season in the computer business, but as far as the Amiga is concerned, this summer has been anything but slow. The first production units of the Sidecar and the Amiga 500 were arriving in stores just as Commodore was preparing to show off the new line at the Spring COMDEX (COMputer Dealers EXposition) in Atlanta. Prior to the show, Commodore held a national sales meeting which was attended by more than 200 Amiga dealers. Though the main purpose of the meeting was to give dealers an opportunity to meet the new management team, a couple of substantive items were discussed.
Selling The New Amigas
Commodore execs pledged that they'd finally do some advertising of the Amiga. They also pledged that the Amiga 500 wouldn't be sold in mass market outlets like K mart. This was a surprise, since it was rumored that one of the reasons Irving Gould ousted Tom Rattigan from the top spot was that Gould wanted to market the 500 like the 64, and Rattigan disagreed. But Gould made it clear that the new management team's mission is to try and duplicate Commodore's success in Europe, here in the U.S. The plan apparently includes emulating the marketing methods used in Europe, where Commodore is seen as a manufacturer of serious business machines. Finally, plans were confirmed for some promotional offers. One of these is a repeat of the old "buy two, get one free" offer, which was used so successfully in the days of the Commodore PET. Under this plan, schools get one free Amiga system for every two they purchase. Commodore also confirmed that a trade-in program will be offered to current model 1000 owners who want to move up to the 2000. The plan allows for the purchase of a 2000 for $1,000 with a trade-in of a 256K one-drive Amiga system.
Meanwhile, back at the show, Commodore hosted a large and active booth on the show floor. About three dozen Amiga 2000s were set up, along with a few 500s and PC compatibles. And dozens of third-party developers were on hand to demonstrate their hardware and software on the new machines. Among the most interesting developments were new video products. The Amiga genlock interface, which Commodore introduced recently, represented a first step towards realizing the Amiga's potential as a "desktop video" machine that can be used to add fancy titles and special effects to videotape recordings. But Commodore's genlock unit, though the least expensive interface of its kind, doesn't produce a clean enough signal for broadcast, or even some commercial applications. That's why it was particularly encouraging to see third parties developing high-quality genlock interfaces for the Amiga.
The least expensive of these is a $179 unit from Mimetics. This interface, roughly the size of a pack of playing cards, works with all Amiga models and is said to produce a better video signal than the $300 Amiga genlock. And it provides a composite video output for the 2000 and 500, to boot. Mimetics hopes to bring it out by fall, with a higher priced broadcast-quality unit to follow. Mimetics also plans an interesting video frame buffer product that will allow the creation of hi-res video still images with millions of colors. Commodore was also showing a better quality internal genlock for the Amiga 2000, though price and availability weren't discussed. Finally, a group from the New York Institute of Technology's Computer Graphics Laboratories was showing an early prototype of a professional video card for the Amiga 2000. This unit is a combination genlock, frame buffer, and digitizer. The frame buffer allows you to freeze a single video frame from an external live-action source; the digitizer then lets you turn it into a computer image. The genlock interface produces broadcast-quality output. Although still in the early stages, the current plan calls for Commodore to manufacture and sell the interface—at $600–$700—sometime this year.
One exciting new Amiga video peripheral wasn't shown at COMDEX. That's because the Sci-Tech Gen-key interface won a Product of the Year Award at the Consumer Electronics Show, which was being held at the same time. The Gen-key is a combination genlock, chroma keyer, and time-base corrector. Although the product sells for $995, it produces broadcast quality RS 170A video, and offers features usually found only on much more expensive equipment. With a Gen-key and an Amiga, you can easily do the kind of video titling usually performed by a dedicated character generator unit costing thousands of dollars more.
This isn't to say that video hardware products were the only items of interest at COMDEX. There were lots of great new software products like the Amiga version of WordPerfect, and there were interesting sidelights like a software 64 emulator and a utility called Fruit Friend, which reads Apple II disks from the Amiga. But desktop video production is one of the important markets that could really make things happen for the Amiga, and anything that brings that day closer is really big news.