It's not often we look at new bits of hardware for the Spectrum for the jolly good reason that there are few new ones appearing. Even this goodie, the Rombo VIDI video digitiser, isn't strictly speaking NEW as such, but the operating software has been extensively revised and upgraded, by an enthusiastic owner of the original version, so if worth a second eyeball.
The function of a video digitiser is to fake a picture signal from a video recorder or camera, and shove it into your computer's memory in such a way that the image can be displayed and manipulated on screen. In the case of the VIDI, the connections are simple; plug the little black box into the user port of the Spectrum (any Spectrum), and a lead from the VIDEO OUT of your recorder or camera into the VIOI's phone IN socket. Then load the VIDI software, which can be transferred if you wish to backup tape, microdrive, Plus 3 or Disciple disc.
A menu bar appears at the top of the Spectrum display screen, and the rest of the screen is filled by a digitised image of whatever signal is being output by your video recorder or camera. If magic!
The image is in black and white, of course, since only very expensive digitisers can create a colour display. However, you can select any other combination of paper, ink and border colours if you prefer. Also, by pressing the spacebar you can switch on a SHADE option which introduces a more graduated toning. You can also adjust a signal level knob on the side of the VIDI, which controls the overall brightness/contrast.
The spacebar and enter key are used to flip through a series of menus on the control bar, and select the required function. If all dead easy to use, and to my amazement I had the whole thing up and going in about three minutes.
The digitiser can grab either single frames, or a sequence at a rate of about twelve per second, which is slower than real-time but which gives a fairly "live" feel. You don't need a still frame to digitise, which is good since not all video recorders have good still-frame facilities.
You can save single pictures or sequences to any medium, verify them and reload later. Sequences allow you to create animations of up to six frames (the most the Spectrum can manage, since each frame occupies 8K of memory). The sequence can be shown either forward, backwards, or in a continuous loop.
Both the digitising and the animation rate can be set to slow, medium or fast, which allows you to create some interesting slow and fast-motion effects. A complete sequence with animation parameters can be saved as a single file. These files contain a small machine code routine which allows you to incorporate the animations in your own programs, and alter the speed and direction settings from Basic. Experienced machine-code programmers should be able to write their own VIDI applications using the technical data given in the brief photocopied manual.
Since VIDI saves pictures in conventional Spectrum SCREEN$ format, you can print them out directly from the program, or load them into most graphics packages for further editing, colouring and manipulation.
For the price of four full-price games VIDI should give you hours of enjoyment. Owners of the original version can upgrade their software for £1.99.
Product: VIDI video digitiser.
Supplier ROMBO, 107 Raeburn Rigg, Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland EH54 8RH. Tel 0506 39046.