This product review appeared in the September 1985 issue of Online Today, CompuServe's magazine for CIS subscribers.
Capturing Displays On Film
575 Technology Sq.
Cambridge, MA 02139
617/577-2000 or 800/225-1618
Computers: IBM PC, PC-XT, PC-AT and PC Portable; Compaq, Compaq Plus and Compaq Deskpro. Models also available for DEC Rainbow 100, Rainbow 100 Plus and Professional 300 series; AT&T Personal Computer; Apple II Plus and IIe.
Operating Systems: PC-DOS or MS-DOS version 1.1 or higher; versions available for DEC DOS and Apple DOS.
Media: PC version requires one double-sided diskette drive.
Copy Protection: None; PC version software may be copied to and run from working diskettes or hard disk with no special requirements.
Required Peripherals: PC model requires IBM Color/Graphics Monitor Adapter or equivalent; IBM Asynchronous Communications Adapter or equivalent RS-232C serial input/output adapter.
Other Requirements: Minimum 256K RAM for PC version.
Optional Items: Additional diskette drives, hard disk or electronic disk; additional memory.
System used for test: 640K Compaq Deskpro (Model 2) with two 360K diskette drives, 20MB IOMEGA Alpha-10 Cartridge Drive Subsystem (Bernoulli Box), STB Systems’ RIO Plus II multifunction card, Amdek Color 700 monitor; running IBM PCDOS 2.10.
Suggested Retail Price: $1,799
Reviewed by Ernest E. Mau
Anyone who’s had to reproduce computer screen images photographically knows it’s no trivial task. Cameras pointed at the screen don’t do a good job, cameras mounted in “hoods” give usable results for only a few needs, and specialized image recording equipment is expensive.
Polaroid’s Palette Computer Image Recorder is a comparatively low cost hardware and software system capable of meeting the imaging needs of all but the most critical users and applications.
The Palette system consists of several interrelated components. The recorder is a box 7¾ inches wide, 5¾ inches high, and 13 inches long. It houses a small internal black-and-white cathode ray tube, a rotating color filter assembly and the components necessary to control them. Two film subsystems and associated mounting adapters with lenses are provided: one is a pack film holder for Polaroid Type 669 color print film, and the other is a 35mm camera body with an autowinder. All necessary cables, a 35mm AutoProcessor for Polaroid film and a slide cutting and mounting device are included, as is the software to run the system.
Hardware installation requires only simple tasks like assembling the 35mm camera body, autowinder and mounting bracket, securing it to the recorder and connecting a shutter release cable to the recorder. Two connections are required between the recorder and computer: a serial interface cable to COM1 or COM2 and a video connection to the computer’s composite video output jack. The computer’s RGB monitor output is not used and may remain connected to a monitor. If the computer already has a composite monitor, it’s reconnected through the Palette recorder.
Software installation involves copying the distribution diskette to a working diskette or hard disk and running the program. The setup includes designating the drive for saving and retrieving files with recorded images, selecting a film type, and, the first time only, running a menu selection to fine tune the recorder’s video threshold.
Palette uses the principle of additive colors, in which any perceivable color can be produced by adding red, green and blue primaries in proper proportions. Palette breaks an image down to fundamental red, green and blue components. Each is sent to the recorder’s black-and-white tube for a specific time during which one of three color filters is between the tube and film. The complete image is built by multiple exposures on a stationary film frame, forming whatever colors and hues are needed.
The key to successful image reproduction is the software. Two approaches are possible. First, applications programs that specifically support the Palette can be used. Numerous packages, primarily graphics types, are equipped with software drivers for the Palette. For example, Decision Resources’ Sign-Master and Chart-Master can output directly to the Palette without intermediate steps or file storage. A list of programs having Palette drivers is available from Polaroid.
The other approach uses programs provided with the Palette to save display snapshots as disk files for later exposure. A 15K memory-resident program called PSAVER may be called by touching a user-selected key combination, say Shift-PrtSc. It opens an on-screen window from which function keys activate picture-saving operations. One interesting key is F5. It alters the type of image saved and can even save a color screen as a black and white image suitable for reproduction in magazines where color is not available. Once the image type is set, F1 is tapped, a filename is given, and the image is saved in that file. Both text and graphics screens can be captured this way.
A separate Palette program controls actual exposures of the image files. This program is loaded when needed and is quite versatile. Among other things, the film type can be selected, thus setting exposure times for the recorder. It handles Polaroid Type 669 print film as well as six types of slide film, namely Polachrome, Polapan, Polagraph, Agfachrome, Ektachrome and Fujichrome. The Polaroid films have the advantage of being “instantly” developed in the AutoProcessor provided, and Polapan and Polagraph give continuous-tone and high-contrast black-and-white positive transparencies. The other films require conventional commercial processing.
This program can expose one image at a tirne, or it can “batch” images in sequences. Using the 35mm camera body with the autowinder, the program can expose a whole roll of 36 images without further intervention. For the half hour or so it takes, the user can be doing other things.
Another useful capability allows altering colors to customize images. For example, what appeared on the monitor as yellow could be changed to white, orange, light green, purple or whatever color a user prefers. Seventy-two colors are available in the Palette colorkey, and each color in an image can be manipulated so the whole picture can be totally redesigned. Other capabilities include lightening or darkening exposures over a seven-step range and activating or deactivating raster filling to improve image quality.
Capturing images on disk and later exposing them worked well for most applications but not all. Programs using high-resolution instead of medium-resolution graphics screens tended to be problems, and a few programs like Volkswriter Scientific wouldn’t reproduce adequately. A few other programs either kept PSAVER from activating or prevented it from responding to its function keys. However, such problems were not common, and about 90 percent of the nearly 200 applications I tried worked nicely.
Images exposed on Type 669 film were like most Polaroid prints. Colors were dull, and the overall appearance was fuzzy and lackluster. With slide films, however, results were crisp and sharp. Slides projected well and were easily viewable. Slides with nothing but text weren’t considered suitable for some magazine reproduction, more because of size than image quality. Slides with graphics generally proved satisfactory for magazine reproduction.
I was enthralled by the Palette. It’s a practical and economical approach to photographing display screens and should be considered by anyone needing frequent presentation pictures.
Ernest E. Mau, a full-time free-lance writer and Online Today reviews editor, is based in Aurora, Colo. He is the author of several books and nearly 200 articles on microcomputer products and applications.