Turbo Dizer

Reviewed by John S Davison

 

Issue 32

Mar/Apr 88

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If you are looking for a way to get digitised images on your ST at a reasonable price check out the Turbo Dizer. John S Davison did and got some excellent results


A-Magic/Software Express

129.95


Yes, it really is called the Turbo Dizer the name doesn't give much away does it? Turbo Dizer (TD from hereon) is a high speed video digitizer for the ST, designed to capture video frames in monochrome from any standard video source (video camera, video recorder or even a television having a video output). Here, monochrome means it uses different shades of one colour, not that the image is in ST high resolution mode. In fact, it works only in low-res mode.


TD is supplied in a simple, foam padded cardboard box and it's obvious that money hasn't been wasted on frivolous packaging. Inside you find a rather large ST cartridge containing the frame-grabbing circuitry, a disk containing the software, and a miserable little instruction booklet consisting of just twelve pages of which only five are in English (the rest are in German).


The cartridge sits completely outside the ST's cartridge slot on four little rubber feet, the circuit board carrying the edge connector being extended about 1.5 inches clear of the cartridge case to facilitate this. The opposite end of the case carries a standard BNC bayonet connector for the video signal input.


There are no cables supplied with this unit, but suitable ones are easily obtainable from stores selling video equipment. In fact, I found I already had cables with appropriate connectors amongst the bits and bobs I've accumulated for use with my video recorder.


MONITOR MYSTERY


The ultra-skimpy manual proved to be virtually useless. It doesn't really tell you how to connect up the system, nor does it mention that the ST's monitor doesn't actually display the image you want to digitize prior to its capture! I naively assumed that the cartridge would pass the video signal straight through to the monitor screen so you could see what you were trying to capture. Not so! You need a separate means of monitoring the incoming signal. The computer monitor only shows the last frame captured, and if you haven't yet captured anything then you don't see anything. Logical, I suppose, in a perverse sort of way.

 


 

Fortunately, the Sony KV1440 combined TV/monitor I use with the ST can simultaneously take both the RGB signals from the computer (showing the captured image) and RF signals from a video recorder (showing images to be captured), with the ability to switch between them at the press of a button. If your equipment can't handle two sets of inputs then you may have to improvise some form of external switching arrangement or use a separate TV or monitor to view the incoming signal.

 

The disk contains English and German language versions of the program, but has no sample digitized images or utility programs often supplied with packages of this type and the program itself is rather basic there are no facilities for manipulating captured images before saving, for loading and viewing previously captured images, or for such niceties as looking at disk directories or formatting disks. Nor is there any way of using desk accessories for these functions from within the program.


SIMPLE CONTROLS


After loading, the program takes you straight to a simple control screen. This allows you to choose the colour for your captured frame (grey, red, green or blue); to set number of shades/levels for that colour (2, 4, 8, or 16); to request use of `stippled' patterns as well as 'solid' shades (which doubles the number of available shades); to set the format for saved files (DEGAS, Neochrome, Art Director or Bit Map) and to select Start, Help, Info, Save, or Quit. All of these are activated via mouse selected buttons, as the program doesn't use drop down menus.


By using different numbers of shades you can obtain different effects in your captured frame. This can range from the 'soot and whitewash' look produced from the two level selection right up to a reasonable 'photographic' quality from the 16 shades plus stippling setting.


Unlike the other colours, when using the grey option you're limited to a maximum of eight solid shades, as this is all the ST can handle at present. If you select sixteen grey shades the program uses only eight, but substitutes eight alternate COLOURS for the missing greys. As these are purely arbitrary, the effect produced is rather bizarre to say the least!

 

 

The program has no apparent method of changing these colours, so you're stuck with them unless you change them later using a separate art program.
The sensible selection of saved file formats means you can transfer captured images into most art programs to alter colours, clean up the image, add embellishments etc. as you wish. Also, you can use the images with just about any slideshow, desktop publishing, or other graphics utility, or even use them in your own programs.
 

HIGH SPEED


With everything connected up, options chosen, and the video source running, capturing an image is simplicity itself. A press of the space bar results in the video image frame currently being presented to the cartridge being grabbed, digitized, read into the ST's memory, processed for chosen colour and shades, and displayed on the ST's monitor screen. This happens quite rapidly, actual speed depending on the number of shades, varying from about an eighth of a second for two levels to about one second for 16 levels.


TD doesn't capture a complete video frame, but slices about 1.5 inches off the top, bottom, and each side of the frame (on a 14 inch monitor). This means that frames originally composed for full screen viewing are cropped, sometimes annoyingly so. If you're digitizing an image directly from a video camera you can allow for this, though. The image also suffers minor distortion as circles appear slightly oval, but this isn't a serious problem.


As well as controlling overall image appearance via number of shades, the program also allows you to alter its contrast range. Unfortunately you can't apply this to an image already captured, and have to recapture it for the adjustment to take effect. There's no indication of where the range is set at any given time, so once you move it from the default position it's difficult to reset it to neutral again.


I found capturing frames 'on the fly' from a video tape running at normal speed to be a rather hit and miss affair, with captured images often blurred beyond recognition. I found the best results were obtained using the video recorder's still-frame facility. My faithful old Toshiba Beta machine has four video heads, designed to produce still-frames without those unsightly noise bars across the picture area. It also has a variable speed frame advance facility, and I found both these features invaluable in finding good frames to digitize.


EXCELLENT RESULTS


In summary, TD works very well once you know what you're doing. I tried capturing images from several different video recordings, and produced some excellent results after a period of experimentation. I also transferred saved images to Art Director without problem. I didn't get chance to try it with a video camera, or to test compatibility with other software packages, but there's no reason to believe the results would be any different.


The package is let down by its primitive software, which provides only the most basic of functions and A-Magic should throw that awful instruction booklet in the dustbin and start again. Having said that, Turbo Dizer does bring video digitizing down to an affordable price so if you need a low cost digitizer Turbo Dizer is definitely worth looking at.

 

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Since the above review was written we understand from Mike Jone of Software Express that most of the criticisms of the software and manual have been attended to. Version 2 of the Turbo Dizer contains improved software that allows easier adjusting of the tones of a picture, loads pictures in any format, includes an editor for colours etc. and allows animation similar to the more expensive S.A.M. In addition, the manual is to be completely rewritten by Software Express themselves. The new version of Turbo Dizer will retail at 149.95 but existing owners can upgrade to the new software for just 5. Software Express may still have some stock at 129.95 so if you get in quick and then pay just 5 for the software upgrade you can save a few pounds!

 

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