Atari Jaguar VLM    


Mucho thanks to Joe Britt for the pix and modification details.

Atari's Virtual Light Machine (VLM), was developed by Jeff Minter, as a sound to light hardware/software combo that was intrinsically part of the Jaguar CD add-on unit. It synthesized interactive abstract light patterns based on the audio data in the CD. It has 81 effects, and although it's not a documented feature, you'll be pleased to know that you can edit the effect settings on the VLM, although saving them is not an option, as this feature was used essentially for debugging. Check out the VLM Hackers Guide for further customization details. Or: Learn the History of the VLM.


The VLM graphics are quite spectacular, with the only limitation being that you must use the realtime audio stream from an inserted CD. Fortunately, there is a way to overcome this by modifying the unit to accept an incoming audio feed to facilate integration into VJ setups.


Joe Britt's custom modification follows:

Basically, I opened up the JagCD and saw that it used a standard Philips chipset. The decoded raw digital audio is output in a standard high-speed serial format. I purchased an Analog to Digital evaluation board made by Crystal for one of their 16-bit A/D converters for approx $200. The A/D on that eval board outputs the same format, so it was just a matter of patching in 3 signals (data, data clk, left/right channel clock) where they would have come out of the CD chipset.

You still have to have a CD in the JagCD, since it thinks that nothing unusual is going on, but the audio from that CD never goes anywhere. The audio going into the A/D board gets serialized by the Crystal part and fed into the JagCD. The VLM sees that audio instead of the CD audio, and the swirly trippy colors do their thing. Of course, if you hook up the Jag's audio out, you hear whatever is being fed into the A/D.

This shows the back of my A/D box and the connector I hacked onto the JagCD to connect the two.
These are pix of the A/D board.
This shows the JagCD opened up so you can see how the added connector is hooked up to its circuit board.


The VLM-2 is integrated into the Samsung Extiva N-2000 DVD player, available Spring 2000.

Like it's predecessor, the VLM-2 generates realtime graphics to the audio stream of a CD put in the player. It has 100 effects, and some of them are things that could not even be attempted using the Jag's old hardwired graphics manipulation hardware. VLM-2's main aesthetic is based on things that are not normally considered to be the domain of (at least low-end) graphics systems - mist, smoke, even fluid surfaces that appear to flow together and break apart in a natural manner.

If you're feeling in the mood, if you use the analog joystick, you can "jam" along quite effectively. Although the interactivity is quite simple - often just colour/feedback intensity/scale changes - it's surprisingly satisfying. You can just sit there and kinda "air-guitar" with your thumb (if that makes any sense) and it looks great on the screen.

The author of the VLM (YAK) recently wrote us, to tell of his new message board.
and James Kracht recently wrote in to tell us about the VLM journal, where the latest advances in VLM technology are revealed and discussed, including the new VLM "Unity".



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