Fastest multimedia kit-- and you can take it to the beach

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, July 1994

MediaVision RENO Multimedia Kit , model MV4000

from GMS DataLink

For some of us, multimedia kits have suffered from a bit of a bad name
for a while.

Take home the big box, and all too often, you'd find a low end, 8-bit sound
card, a slow CD-ROM player, a pair of speakers, and a hand full of disks that you
didn't really want. A couple of books of complicated installation
instructions leaving you with the headache of getting it all to work
with your PC. The price only looked good if you added up all the list
prices of the CDs that you didn't want in the first place. But at
least you got equipment that was supposed to work together, and
usually saved you a slot in your PC because the CD-ROM player usually
ran off the sound card.

MediaVision, well-respected for its series of sound cards, has just
released their latest version of the multimedia kit, and is trying to change
this image. Not only does it feature quality performance, but just in
time for summer, the CD-ROM player doubles as a portable audio-CD
player. Like Sony's Diskman, this is one you can take to the beach.
And running from a PC-portable or Apple Powerbook, you could even take
multimedia on vacation!

A lot of effort has gone into making this package easy to set up (or
at least as easy as it can be while the PC world is still stuck with
the mysteries of DMA and IRQ channels). There's a friendly little '
Quick Steps' installation guide, with just the right amount of hand-
holding for those who've never taken the cover off their computer
before. And the installation software tries hard to automate that ugly
interrupt-request stuff, and seems to succeed at it a lot of the time.

For most people, it will be a straightforward, and clearly illustrated
process pop in the sound card and SCSI adapter, and run the install
program on the floppy disk. Quickly, the CD-ROM player will be up and
running. At that point, you're instructed to insert the CD-ROM
installation disk, which in a pleasantly animated process, takes you
the rest of the way. There's even an installation guide on video tape
to help get you up and running smoothly.

(MediaVision knows that problems may still arise-- we are talking
about PCs, after all, but they're providing toll-free 7 day a week support).

So when everything's working, here's what you get:

-- Media Vision's new 3D-Professional sound card, which replaces their popular Pro
Audio Synthesis-16 card. It can play and record digital audio at a full
stereo high-fi 44.1 kHz sampling rate, and supports 20 voice FM
synthesis. If you've outgrown FM, you can get a wave-table add-on, and
musician-standard MPU-401 MIDI interface.  It gets the "3D" in its
name, from a new SSR chip from Rockwell International, which provides
surround-sound effects. Unlike some other new sound standards, it's
completely backwards compatible with existing Sound Blaster standards (
and will make those Sound Blaster games sound even better).

-- Software for the sound card include the Sound Impressions 'rack',
which uses a home-stereo rack interface to give you a digital Wave
recorder and player, a Midi recorder and player, an audio CD player,
and a mixer unit. An especially nice touch for me is that you can
record MIDI in score view... seeing a standard musical score appear,
as you enter the notes.

There's also Talk To Plus, voice recognition software for Windows,
from Dragon Software. This lets you use the included microphone to
train your computer to respond to your spoken commands. It won't take
dictation, however. Sorry.

-- the Reno CD-ROM player. It looks like a Diskman, but it's a double-
speed CD-ROM player. SCSI 2 interface, 180 msec access time, 306 kb/
sec data transfer rate. Photo CD Multisession capable. While not up to
the specs of the fastest triple-speed and quadruple-speed units, it's
pretty fast. And it's portable. It can run off rechargeable batteries
or the included AC adapter. With the added 'Docking Station', you can
attach other external SCSI devices like scanners.

It seems to take an eternity to recharge the batteries. Seven hours for a 'fast
charge', which means you can't use the unit. Thirty hours (!) for a
trickle charge, letting you use the unit at the same time. There is an
optional quick charger available from MediaVision, which at about $39
US would seem like a worthwhile investment.

As an external SCSI device, this CD-ROM player can be used with
Macintoshes as well (in which case, you don't want to buy the PC-only
sound card in this kit). MediaVision sells an adapter cable specially
designed for PowerBooks. And with Trantor's parallel-to-SCSI adapter,
you could run it off the printer port of any PC, including portables.

-- you also get a pair of speakers, and a big box of miscellaneous
stuff... the a surprisingly good quality mini-mike and a pair of
Wlakman-style headphones. A bunch of cables. A cute
carrying bag. And a bunch of CD-ROM disks.

As in the multimedia kits of evil legend, they're a mixed collection.
The box claims 15 CD-ROMs, but several of these disks include more
than one program; there are actually only 10 disks in the package.

You get the Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, the
Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, the Home Survival Toolkit, Music
Toons + Mega Rap Rock, a disk with four kid's books, and five games:
Iron Helix, Quantum Gate (billed as an 'interactive movie'), Mad Dog
McCrae, Critical Path, and Return to Zork.

The box claims that they're "a $1300 value", but only if you were
wanted to buy them in the first place. Personally, I wouldn't buy this
package for the bundled CDs alone.

Still, the hardware's really what you should buy a multimedia package
for. And this package's hardware is first-rate. And it's still the
only multimedia bundle that I've seen with a CD player you can take to
the beach!

Note that both the 3D-Professional sound card and the Reno MV400 CD-ROM player will
soon be available separately, if you're happy with your present sound
card or CD-ROM player. This package is only just now starting to
appear in stores, and is reportedly quite back-ordered. There are
other multimedia packages available from MediaVision such as the
Fusion LX, featuring older technology, at lower prices. If you have
the chance, check this one out first.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan