Apple predicts big things for LC 630

Arman Danesh

IF you ask people in the computer industry what multimedia is all about, you are likely to get a range of answers as diverse as there are mail-order PC houses in the United States.

Apple, though, has a consistent history of defining multimedia in a way that is somewhat more integrated than most PC vendors, who define it as a haphazard combination of a fax/modem, a CD-ROM drive, a soundcard and a suitable PC.

From its earliest efforts to make QuickTime a fundamental and integrated part of its operating system, to its standard SCSI bus which has provided simple expansion, Apple, most would agreed, has led the way in the area of multimedia.

Last week, Apple took advantage of the launch of some new printers and a monitor to formally introduce its LC 630 to Asia. Company officials hope the product will be its mainstream multimedia system for most users.

According to Apple, they expect that existing TV, audio and video data highways will converge on to personal computers, and this is fuelling the design of the LC 630 and its upgrade options.

With a starting price of US$1,399, the LC 630 is clearly targeted at home, education and small business use.

Apple has also redesigned several of the unit's subsystems to position it as a multimedia box including improved video, supporting 16-bit (more than 65,000 colours) on monitors up to 15 inches, dual I/O support with an IDE hard drive (which frees an extra SCSI device for expansion and provides more low-cost hard drive option) and built-in infra-red capability for use with its television tuner option.

And, in fact, it is exactly those television and video options which are aimed at the growing home-use multimedia market.

The Apple TV/Video System option, priced at $249, provides a video-input card, a TV-tuner card (PAL or NTSC), a remote-control (using the LC 630's built-in infra-red) and bundled software for viewing and capturing television and video images and clips.

Demonstrations of the system show a viewing window which can be expanded to a full-screen image and simple controls for capturing single frames, viewing freeze-frames and capturing video segments to disk. Of course, this takes advantage of the QuickTime video compression standard.

The Apple Presentation System, at $329, provides an NTSC or PAL conversion drop box and software. This allows users to connect their Mac to a TV for large audiences while viewing and displaying on the computer's monitor.

This is targeted at the education and presentation markets while also providing facilities to print to video tape for inexpensive video production needs.

Other features of the LC 630 include a version with a built-in CD-ROM drive, a communications expansion slot for ethernet or a fax/modem, slots for a video-in card and a TV tuner (like those in Apple's solution), and a configuration which is ready for a PowerPC upgrade which will provide dual-processor support in which code for either processor will run natively instead of in emulation.

As an aside, Apple's new 15 inch display is clearly designed as a companion to the LC 630 with multiple resolution support.