Affordable image scanning comes to the 8-bit Atari
Reviewed By Charles Cherry
Some much-wanted peripherals are slow to arrive for the 8-bit Atari, but thanks to dedicated companies like Innovative Concepts, they do indeed arrive. The latest of their 8-bit goodies is Easy-Scan, a viable image scanner that costs only $79.95.
A scanner examines a piece of paper and stores a picture of the contents in the computer's memory. The results are no different from pointing a video camera at the page and digitizing the camera signal, a la Computereyes from Digital Vision. But a scanner does it by passing a small sensor over the page and reading the brightness of each spot.
Easy-Scan uses your printer to move the sensor over the page. You remove your printer ribbon, attach the sensor to the print head, put the image page in the printer and run the software. The program moves the print head back and forth and advances the paper.
The sensor looks like a long wire attached to a normal Atari cartridge. The wire is actually two fiber-optic light pipes bundled together. One pipe shines a little spot of infra-red light on the page and the other reads the brightness level of the reflected image. The results are surprisingly accurate, providing a 256-level gray scale.
Of course, the results from Easy-Scan are not comparable to those from a $2,000 scanner, but how many $2,000 scanners are available for the 8-bit Atari? Image quality is roughly at the level of the images generated by 8-bit Computereyes.
The Easy-Scan software is very good. Its many settings cover a variety of situations. You can vary the vertical resolution and the horizontal width to determine the size of your final image. You can't get an entire 8 1/2 x 11 inch page into memory but you can grab about two-thirds of it.
That brings us to to memory usage. Easy-Scan is a hog. A single scan requires about 60K--that's why it will only work on computers with at least 128K of memory. Since a single Atari screen has only about 8,000 pixals and Easy-Scan apparently uses one byte per pixel (256 levels), I can't imagine what the other 52K bytes are used for.
However, after the image is scanned, you can refine the display in several ways. It can be displayed in either Graphics 8 or Graphics 15 mode. You can set the brightness levels assigned to each Atari color, and you can set the colors of each color register. You can save the picture in the standard 62-sector Micro-Painter format as well the huge 492-sector full information format. Utilities included with the program convert the pictures to other formats--including Micro-Illustrator, Fun with Art, and Print Shop--dump them to a printer and display them as a slide show.
Wow well does Easy-Scan really work? Well, Figure 1 is an original page from the March, 1988 issue of Antic, and Figure 2 is a screen shot of the Easy-Scan image. Try as I might, I could not get the small print to register. Innovative Concepts is working on reducing the diameter of the light pipes to increase the resolution. The ultimate aim is to have Easy-Scan read bar codes reliably. If they are successful, it will be easy to upgrade the existing units. But, like other low-priced scanners, Easy-Scan is not really an automatic text reader for desktop publishing.
Figures 3 and 4 show that Easy-Scan is much more successful with pictures than text. The only large pictures I had around were some old 8x10 glossies from my previous life as a clean-shaven actor. The vertical compression, which is evident, can be adjusted, but this was about as close as I could get. My next attempt produced some stretching. I think I look better compressed.
The Easy-Scan program is written in BASIC with machine language subroutines. It's unprotected and LISTable. A determined individual could undoubtedly figure out how to make Easy-Scan do other interesting things, such as display in Graphics 9. Innovative Concepts promises to be helpful to any people who want to add features to Easy-Scan. They are also working on new versions of the software. (I tested version 1.0).
Easy-Scan is a very good package with a lot of potential. Getting the most out of it will requiring some experimentation. The position of the light pipes on the print head is not critical, but some locations work better than others. And then there are the almost endless variations of the software parameters. A little diligence here will pay big dividends. As you climb the learning curve, getting good results from Easy-Scan will become truly easy.
. $79.95, 128K XL/XE. Innovative Concepts, 31172 Shown Drive, Warren, MI 48093. (313) 293-0730, CompuServe I.D. 72237 2252.
Innovative Concepts Leads The Way
By GREGG PEARLMAN
Antic Assistant Editor
Innovative Concepts is the kind of aggressive little company, like ICD or Supra, that has taken over much of the forefront of bringing out exciting new 8-bit Atari products. Best known for its full line of memory upgrades an enhanced keypads, Innovative Concepts' new $79.95 Easy Scan image scanner (reviewed in this issue) is th most technically impressive release yet.
Innovative Concepts president Mark Elliot says, "We can afford to come out with a lot of products because we have a low overhead and we can get a product onto the market within a month or two, when a large company might take more than six months."
Elliot and his business partner, Ron Florka, have been working together for about three years, although the company didn't incorporate until March 1987. The pair met through the MACE Atari users group while Elliot was working in the computer section of K-Mart and Florka operated a "fix-anything" handyman business. "We were among the original officers who formed the MAGIC Atari users group. Then Ron and I started buying broken Atari computers, repairing them, then selling them.
"Later we began coming up with products like memory upgrades--little gadgets that a lot of the big companies don't want to play around with because of the small profit margin. Eventually we started advertising and gradually growing. We're still running Innovative Concepts out of our homes, but it's getting bigger and bigger."
Elliot and Florka both still have full-time jobs, so Innovative Concepts is a "part-time thing" for them. It hasn't reached the point yet where they have an office and get phone calls 24 hours a day. But the many callers who do reach them are phoning from as far away as West Germany. "People just ask for catalogs of our products," says Elliot. "It's fascinating talking with people all around the world."
IC PRODUCT LINE
Innovative Concepts is working on a 3 1/2 inch disk drive for the 8-bit Atari that lets you put 720K on one disk. It's mostly for people who run bulletin boards or who otherwise need a lot of storage space. "We're playing around with the ROMs in the new Atari XF551 drives, trying to upgrade it to a 3 1/2-inch setup," says Elliot. "So far, it can read about half of the 720K on a 3 1/2 inch disk. Something's holding it back, and we're stumped right now. The drive mechanism is quirky."
But Innovative Concepts has plenty of other products available--all clearly documented. "We try to make installation and assembly instruction very clear," says Elliot, "because too many other companies don't." These products include:
* SIO Port Box ($24.95): a little plastic box with three SIO ports. It should alleviate the problem with dead-end peripherals (which must be the last link in the chain) like the old Atari410 program recorder or XM301 modem.
* SIO Switch Box ($34.95): hooks up two computers to one disk drive set-up--or one computer to two disk drive set-ups--and switches between them (with the power off, naturally).
* Modem Mouth ($19.95): basically a phone line monitor for modems like the Atari 1030 and XM301, MPP, or less expensive Avatex. It's a speaker for a modem that doesn't otherwise have a speaker.
*Memory upgrades: 256K RAM for the 800XL, 320K and 576K for the 130XE, 128K and 320K for the 65XE, and 128K for the XE Game System. The upgrades for the 65XE and XEGS make these machines fully 130XE-compatible, including the ANTIC enhance mode. You must call for the latest prices on any of these memory upgrades, due to the rapid rise in chip prices. Memory chips now cost about $11 apiece. "When they were at $3 or $4," Elliot says, "we sold four or five memory upgrades a week. Now we're lucky to get that in a month."
*ICX-85 Keypad ($44.95): this enhanced Atari 10-key number pad is probably Innovative Concepts' best-known product. "It's a good seller and neat," says Elliot. "It's ideal for a database or in DATA statements with a lot of numbers and commas." The Deluxe ICX-85 Keypad ($64.85) is more or less the same thing, except that it has function keys built in.
*ICX-85 kit version ($24.95): for people who have Atari's CX-85 10-key pad already. It includes circuit boards, connections and instructions to convert it over to the Innovative Concepts format.
*IC-1050 Controller ($21.95): gives any Atari 1050 disk drive write-on,write-off and normal modes. It also has a two-color LED, and it works with U.S. Doubler and other enhancements.
* Function Key Kit ($14.95): provides the F1 through F4 function keys found on the Atari 1200XL computer.
*RAM-Aid ($14.95): a coldstart switch for memory-upgraded computers.
*RAM Drive Utility Package ($14.95): a compilation of all the RAMdisk handlers, utilities and programs that use extra memory for upgraded computers.
Innovative Concepts also has a public domain software library of 135 double-sided disks, including educational programs, program utilities, productivity software, languages, business, games, AMS collections, Moviemaker and Print Shop icons. These disks sell for $6 a piece.
Elliot says, "I sort through all programs, make sure nothing's copyrighted-although sometimes there's shareware--group them together and fill up both sides of a disk. We've probably got one of the biggest Print Shop collections available: 11 double-sided icon disks."
Innovative Concepts also repairs Atari 8-bit peripherals and sells products from other manufacturers such as ICD and Supra. "It's convenient," says Elliot. "People want these items, so they ask us to carry them. Most of our business is mail order, although if you're in the neighborhood, you can always stop by and pick same thing up."
Elliot and Florka are concerned mostly with the 8-bit, but they do plan to move into the ST market. They're working on a controller that would let you run four disk drives for instance, you could have two 5 1/4 inch, 80-track drives and two 3 1/2 inch, 80-track drives, for a total of 2.8 megabytes. And most of these drives will hook up to an ST.
Innovative Concepts is planning to be highly visible on CompuServe, primarily on the 8-bit Atari SIG but also on the Developers and Vendors Forums.
Innovative Concepts (IC)
31172 Shown Drive
Warren, MI 48093
CompuServe ID: 72237,2252