Media Vision Pro 16 Multimedia System II. (multimedia upgrade kit) (Software Review) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by David English
It used to be easy to choose a multimedia upgrade kit. If the package had an MPC label, you knew the sound card and CD-ROM drive would be capable of playing the latest CD-ROM titles.
This year, the decision became more complicated. On May 17, the Multimedia PC Marketing Council announced its level 2 MPC specifications. Now you have to choose between Level 1 components (the earlier standard) and Level 2 components (the new standard).
With Level 2, the sound card changes from 8-bit to 16-bit (for CD-quality sound), the CD-ROM drive runs twice as fast (delivering 300K per second), and your video card should be capable of displaying a resolution of 640 x 480 with as many as 65,536 colors (Level 1 requires only 640 x 480 with 16 colors). A level 2 computer should be at least a 25-MHz 486SX with 4MB of RAM and a 160MB hard drive, while Level 1 calls for only a 16-MHz 386SX with 2MB of RAM and a 30MB hard drive.
As you can see from the Level 1 computer requirements, a change has been long overdue. Most CD-ROM software is already optimized for Super VGA (640 x 480 with 256 colors) and at least a 486SX processor. The latest titles that use Video for Windows and QuickTime for Windows video clips need Super VGA and a double-speed CD-ROM drive. Rather than leading the market, Level 2 simply reflects the demands of today's multimedia software.
Just one week after the MPC Marketing Council announced the Level 2 specifications, Media Vision introduced two Level 2 upgrade kits: the Fusion DoubleCD 16 ($699 internal, $799 external) and the Pro 16 Multimedia System II ($1,99 internal). Both include NEC double-speed CD-ROM drives--though the drive in the Pro 16 II kit has an access time of 250 milliseconds, while the drive in the Fusion kit has an access time of 350 milliseconds. The Pro 16 II kit also includes more bundled applications (eight rather than four) and more specialized audio software, such as a MIDI sequencing program, a professional audio editor and mixer, and a voice recognition program. The Fusion kit is designed for people on a budget who might be new to multimedia, whereas the Pro 16 II kit is designed for people who want to experiment with computer-based audio and are willing to pay more for higher-quality components.
In this review, we'll look at the Pro 16 Multimedia System II. Its sound card is the improved Pro AudioSpectrum 16 with two output plugs--one for speakers (which uses the built-in amplifier) and one for an external amplifier (which bypasses the built-in amplifier). It's capable of CD-quality sound when sampling in stereo at the full 44.1 kHz, though you'll probably need a 486 to record cleanly at that rate. The card is well shielded and provides a clear sound with low background noise. It's compatible with games that support Sound Blaster and Ad Lib sound cards, it has joystick and SCSI connectors, and it has separate microphone and line input jacks. While external MIDI is supported, you'll have to buy Media Vision's MIDI Mate adapter to use it. The MIDI Mate converts the joystick connector into stick, one MIDI IN, one MIDI THRU, and two MIDI OUT connectors.
The CD-ROM drive is NEC's double-speed 84JD1. It has the usual Level 2 throughput of 300K per second, has an exceptional access speed of 250 milliseconds (Level 2 requires 400 milliseconds; Level 1 requires only 1000 milliseconds), and is Photo CD multisession compatible (a Level 2 requirement). Because it's an internal drive, you'll need a free drive bay in your computer.
As I mentioned before, Media Vision has tailored this package for computer users who like to experiment with sound. Accordingly, you'll find a variety of powerful audio utilities, including separate DOS and Windows applications that let you record, play, and edit high-quality stereo sounds, and separate DOS and Windows applications that let you play your audio CDs. Other utilities let you compress and decompress audio files, control Windows programs with your voice, record and edit MIDI files, and convert text to spoken words.
As with many MPC upgrade kits, you'll also receive a generous bundle of CD-ROM software. The Pro 16 II kit includes Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for Windows, Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe, Battle Chess Enhanced, Mantis, PC Karaoke, Macromedia Action!, and Civilization. Finally, you'll receive a disk-based multimedia presentation program, Action 2.5 for Windows.
This is quite a hardware and software package. The sound card and CD-ROM drive sound terrific and should easily handle today's more demanding Level 2 multimedia titles. The QuickStart installation software makes it relatively painless to configure the hardware for your system the audio utilities are powerful and well selected, and the bundled applications represent an excellent value. If you're in the market for a high-quality Level 2 upgrade kit, you can't go wrong with Media Vision's Pro 16 Multimedia System II.