Inscriber FeaturePak CG

For over ten years, Inscriber has been an industry leader in CG programs. While Inscriber's quality has always been outstanding (owing to its broadcast heritage), it has lacked many of the features found in its more recent competition. Fortunately, that began to change when FeaturePak was released, and Inscriber continues to gain ground in its second release of FeaturePak (3.3).

Installation

According to Inscriber, FeaturePak 3.3 requires at least a Pentium 166 processor, 64 megs of RAM and either Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0. Inscriber advises that FeaturePak 3.3 will not run under NT 3.51 or Windows 3.X.

Installation is as simple as (1) installing the hardware key (dongle) onto your parallel port (or string of existing dongles), and (2) running setup.exe from the CD-ROM. The installation program will attempt to identify the desktop editing system you are using. If necessary, choose from the available list, or choose none for a stand-alone installation.

Restart the computer, when instructed to do so, and then click on the start menu and choose Inscriber CG from the programs folder. Inscriber includes an uninstall program, as well as several tutorial and help files.

Quick Screen Tour

FeaturePak's screen layout was designed so that everything on the screen is visible with resolutions as low as 800 x 600. At 1280x1024 on our 21" monitor, there is considerably more vacant space (fig. 1). virtually all of the tools are easily accessible on-screen, without having to resort to pop-up windows or menus. formatting functions are accomplished with the use of only six tabs at the bottom of the screen.

The center window is the CG Editor, where all layout and formatting take place. FeaturePak's View tab (fig. 2) allows you to adjust the safe title screen markers, in addition to providing both horizontal and vertical center markers, text position markers and a very handy text baseline marker for more precise alignment of text. You can also pick from one of several different patterns to indicate video transparency. Everything from black with a grid of small blue dots, to the more familiar Photoshop pattern of white and gray checkerboard.

The vertical row of smaller windows along the left side is the Job List (fig. 3), and stores the individual files you create. Clicking on one will load it into the CG Editor for editing.

Formatting commands are along the bottom of the screen. Clicking on any one of these six tabs brings up the options for view, size and attributes, color and texture, styles, logos, and background.

On the upper right side of the screen are the graphic objects, color groups and style groups. The square in the lower right corner with the new Inscriber logo is actually the scrapbook.

Along the top, below the menus is the button bar, containing many common functions, as well as drop down menus for the layout registry (for storing layout designs) and the layout type (still, roll, crawl, reveal).

Character Generation

With the program open, and a blank page, start typing between the white brackets. Hold down the control key, and you can drag the text to the desired position. Next, click on one of the pre-defined style chips to assign the text attributes (fig. 4). The top eight color chips store color and texture information only, while the bottom eight style chips store color, texture, font, size and attributes. There are an additional 16 style chips on the Styles tab as well.

FeaturePak displays all of the fonts already installed in Windows (without conversion), as well as any installed directly into FeaturePak. Fonts installed directly into FeaturePak tend to load faster, but Inscriber says Truetype fonts still provide the best quality. Sadly, Type 1 support was lost back in version 2.1. Still, Inscribers elliptical and rise time filtering and its HQ processing (for large text) places it at the top in output quality.

If you prefer to format text manually, the size can also be adjusted on-screen, by clicking on the right bounding bracket and dragging up or down. You can also use the Size & Attributes tab at the bottom of the screen (fig. 5), by clicking in the Height box and dragging up or down. This technique works in most of FeaturePak's entry boxes. Leading, kerning, width, slant, rotation and small cap size are all adjustable on the Size & Attributes tab, as are the type and size of shadows. Inscriber supports drop, offset, extrude and soft shadows (in eight directions), as well as outline, glow and embossed edges.

Rotating text, is as easy as selecting the text, and then using the mouse to rotate it on-screen. For more precise rotation, enter the number into the rotation box on the Size & Attributes tab. The keyboard arrow keys can also be used to nudge the text one pixel (or scan line) at a time.

On the Color & Texture tab (fig. 6) you can assign color and gradients to the foreground, edge and shadow areas of text and graphics. HSV, RGB, HLS color systems are all supported, and FeaturePak automatically legalizes colors to NTSC/PAL standards. A hallmark of FeaturePak is its eyedropper tool that like Photoshop's, allows you to sample anything on-screen to match any color exactly.

The Color & Texture tab is also where you set the transparency of an object. This can be made uniform or adjusted to vary from top to bottom, with its bias adjusted to be heavier towards the top or bottom. FeaturePak gradients are currently limited to two colors, but their bias and angle are adjustable. This is an area that Inscriber has acknowledged and multi-color gradients are forthcoming.

Textures are well supported in FeaturePak. You can apply different textures to the foreground, edge or shadows of text and graphic objects. Clicking on the texture box brings up a dialog box where you can specify the location of the bitmap you wish to use as a texture. Textures can be tinted by checking the tint box. The size and tile options allow you to control whether you see all or only a part of the texture on each object. There is also a compositing function, in which you can specify whether to use the red, green, blue, or alpha areas of the texture as transparent. Invert and alignment options are also provided.

Creating Graphics

First switch to the graphics mode by clicking on the button next to the text button on the button bar (fig. 7). This causes the Size & Attributes tab to reflect the graphics options. The drop down menu provides the following options: rectangle, oval, arc, round-corner rectangle, clipped-corner rectangle, round rectangle, horizontal panel, vertical panel, wedge, polygon, spline curve and logo. These are the same twelve choices that appear as buttons at the top of the upper right hand side of the screen, above the color chips (fig. 4). In graphics mode, the edge choices also change to include: normal, flat, round and tube. There is also an option for outlined only, and an edging command for varying the amount of the bevel. Entering the graphics mode also causes the Styles tab to reflect the change by displaying panels instead of fonts and the associated styles that were saved for graphic shapes.

Graphics creation has always been a strong component of FeaturePak, since graphic objects receive the same high-quality anti-aliasing as text. In addition to the variety of standard geometric shapes, FeaturePak has polygons and splined curve shapes. Polygons and Spline Curves can have up to 64 control points. Polygons have straight sides joining control points, while Spline Curves use the control points to create smooth Bezier curves. With these two, you can create literally any shape (fig. 8), placing FeaturePak ahead of its competitors.

Backgrounds

FeaturePak's Background tab makes creating backgrounds a snap. It includes twenty-four textures, designed for background use, and each one is adjustable. The color controls, gradients, and transparency are operated in the same manner as the Color & Texture tab, that was covered earlier.

Importing pictures works the same way as importing textures, with the addition of "size to fit" and "ignore alpha" options.

Beyond Logos

To import a logo, simply click on the logo graphic object (upper right corner), or choose the logo choice in the drop down menu on the Size & Attributes tab. Next, click on one of the logos on the logo tab, and then draw a box on the screen, and the logo appears, scaled to the box. The logo can be re-sized or moved at anytime, and the quality of alpha-keying in FeaturePak is as good as anything we've seen.

If you want to load in new logos or use one that isn't loaded yet, double click on one of the unused chips. A dialog box appears asking you to direct it to the location of the logo you wish to use. There is a preview area to assist in choosing the correct one, if you have several to choose from. Supported formats include BMP, VII, TGA, JPEG, TIFF, PhotoCD, PCX and HKF. The Logos tab (fig. 9) allows you store up to 36 different logos for use in your projects.

FeaturePak 3.3 also contains a new module (window) called Logo Compose, that allows you to import any bitmap image, manipulate it, and then save it in either the Inscriber .lgo format or a bitmap format. Tools include: Restore Brush (restoring areas previously removed), Alpha Brush (removing areas, making them transparent), Zoom Tool, Paint Bucket, Magic Wand, Rectangle Selection, Elliptical Selection and Freehand Selection (fig. 10).

Cleanup Options provides for controlling the shape of the tool, whether it has a hard or soft edge, as well as masks. Fill Options include controls for Chrominance and Luminance tolerances as well (fig. 11).

Is Logo Compose a replacement for Photoshop? No. Is it a lot quicker and more convenient to make these changes while still in FeaturePak? Definitely yes. But there are other advantages as well. With the .lgo format, you can save a second version of the logo as a 1-bit monochrome image. This allows you to treat it like any other text character and apply styles, colors and textures, in addition to edge and shadow.

Crawls & Rolls

Crawls and Rolls are created by selecting the appropriate choice in the Layout Type List in the button bar along the top of the screen (fig. 12).

When choosing a crawl layout, word-wrap is automatically turned off. When you reach the end of the screen, the window will scroll to allow you to continue typing. Crawl layouts are limited to 32,768 pixels, so at the CCIR resolution of 720 pixels, you will get approximately 45 pages (50 or 51 with VM). You also have the ability to do multiple lines of crawling text.

When choosing a Roll Layout, FeaturePak 3.3 adds a vertical scroll bar to editor window, making it much easier (and quicker) to navigate through a long roll to a specific spot.

Working With Layers

FeaturePak 3.3 now includes five distinct layers (fig. 13), which can be used for text and draw objects. Layer one is at the bottom, and Layer five at the top. This gives you the ability to control the way objects react when overlaid. CG programs have traditionally placed draw layers at the back, and text layers in front, effectively preventing you from exercising any creativity. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there are reasons for having an object (transparent or otherwise) overlap text (fig. 14). This was a sorely needed feature in Inscriber, and while other programs may have more layers, we have found that five is more than adequate for professional use.

Moving items to a different layer is easily accomplished, by one of two methods. Select and object, and then choose either "push" or "pull" under the Element menu. This will move the object down or up one layer. You can also select the View tab at the bottom of the screen (fig. 15) to quickly change between the layers.

Useful Enhancements

FeaturePak now allows you to renumber all of the files in the Job Strip (fig. 3), so that the numbers are sequential. This may not sound like much, but in the past, files were numbered as they were created. Deleting one didn't cause the sequence to renumber itself. Neither did adding one or moving one. The result was a jumbled mess. Thankfully, that's behind us.

FeaturePak also allows you to use the keyboard arrow keys to move (nudge) a text or graphic object one pixel (horizontally) or one scan line (vertically) at a time, for precise positioning. This is particularly handy when moving rotated text.

FeaturePak 3.3 contains a number of subtler improvements as well. The Job folders that contain the files now reference the same name as the Job file itself. Now you know which output files go with which Job file.

FeaturePak also gives the user control over which fonts appear in the fonts windows. You can include all of the fonts in the Windows system, as well as the font database entries, or just the font database choices. Admittedly, this is a feature designed more for larger groups sharing files, but it's nice to have that choice. FeaturePak 3.3 also has increased support for Hebrew and Arabic fonts.

FeaturePak provides forty-seven pre-made registries. Not only do they serve as examples of what you can create in the way of complex designs, but they already have many, if not most, of the title designs you'll need. We found starting with one of these and then modifying it saved us considerable time and effort.

VideoMachine Integration

When exporting files out to VM, they automatically go into the current VM project. VM does not have to be running, as FeaturePak automatically boots the VM hardware at startup. However, both FeaturePak and VM can be open at the same time if you like. Switching back and forth created no problems or crashes.

FeaturePak writes the files in the native .vm format, saving hard drive space and improving load times. That's the good news. The bad news is that anything with a gradient shows noticeable banding in VM. This was apparently done to accommodate VM Lite users who don't have the additional alpha memory. The work-around is to export only those frames with gradients out to TGA files in VM. They can then be loaded into your title or graphics reel in all their splendor. We're not being facetious here, FeaturePak shows less dithering than other programs, resulting in stellar quality. If you want the files in .vm format, use FAST's FASTconvert program to convert them from TGA to .vm., without the banding.

This is a simple thing to fix. Since the other programs don't have this problem, we'd like to suggest (and have) that Inscriber follow suit, and change the program to provide the highest quality output for the full VM users, especially in light of the fact that they constitute a majority of their users anyway.

We've also noticed that with the VM YUV option, when sending the image out to the NTSC monitor, using the "take to video" function, that there are frequently a lot of extraneous pixels spread out over the NTSC screen. It's not a big deal, since they aren't in the output file, and since hitting the "take to video" button a second time clears them up. Still, we'd like to see that fixed.

We think Inscriber should take the time to fix both of these small issues in their VM implementation. FeaturePak is a very professional program and it deserves to look that way.

Conclusions

Anyone whose used Inscriber products, can't say enough about the quality of the output. There's a reason they're number one. While others might have more features, FeaturePak is still unrivaled where it counts-in its output quality. Even so, there are a few omissions we'd like to see rectified.

If you're the kind of person who likes on-line manuals, FeaturePak has a great one. Which is a good thing, since the printed manual, entitled, "getting started", is only 80 pages, which doesn't even begin to cover everything- and it's certainly no match for the 278 page manual that came with the old InscriberCG. We'd like to see Inscriber include a real manual, or an in-depth videotape.

Inscriber also needs to add multi-color gradients, and quickly. All of the competing programs include at least a 4-color gradient, with some allowing even more, as well as circular gradients. This omission seems out of place in a product designed for professional use.

We'd also like to see a more intuitive method of storing styles on the styles tab. One of their competitors allows you to format the text on-screen, and then assign those attributes to any style chip, on the fly. This is more in line with the way most people work. With the current implementation, FeaturePak, requires you to decide, in advance, and choose a style chip, before you start changing things.

Inscriber admitted to us that they had gotten a little lax at the lower end of their product line, but that they were aggressively working to change that. We've seen other changes as well. Starting with the elimination of it's "middleman" distributor. Users are now able to speak directly with the company that produces Inscriber. The company has also changed its name from Image North to Inscriber Technology, which more accurately reflects its focus, and makes locating them even easier.

Their booth at NAB reflected this new corporate philosophy, with well laid out stations, and an abundance of knowledgeable people, who were eager to talk to us. They have also released MotionPak, it's newest add-on to FeaturePak that animates titles and graphics.

Now that Inscriber has gotten religious about filling in the gaps, as well as innovating, we're looking forward to going back to that standard of quality that is still unmatched. Inscriber... you're almost there... and with MotionPak you're ahead in many ways.


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