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Hagiwara Sys-Com

PalmInfoCenter.com Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • $80
The Pros:
  • Excellent sound
  • SDK is available

The Cons:
  • A little pricey
  • System sounds not re-routed to module
  • Not many applications available yet

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Visor Beat Plus Review
By Robert Zach
9/3/2001


Finally! The Visor now has real audio; it's a true multimedia device - AND ONE HECK OF A GAMER!

For me, the introduction of the Beat Plus is reminiscent of the days of the AdLib card for the PC.  You may not remember this card; it was beat out by SoundBlaster.  But, just like the AdLib, the Beat Plus brings FM synthesis to the Visor platform.  And it sounds great!

Included in this package is an instruction manual; which is a little poor (but hey it's a simple SpringBoard card - who needs it) and a CD-ROM which contains a full version of Astraware's Zap2000/Zap2016; both enhanced for the Beat Plus.  These are full versions with the added bonus of excellent sound effects.

As for the module itself, it is slightly thicker than the SpringBoard slot but my Visor Prism fits perfectly snug in the Handspring provided case; I suspect it will not be obstructive to other cases and the like.  It contains a mono speaker and a stereo headphone jack (headphones not included).  Inserting the module into the Visor loads a small "info" app and the Beat Plus driver (BeatPlus [10K] and Pa1Lib [28K] respectively). 

You'll not the asterisk comment at the bottom of the Info application main screen: "DO NOT REMOVE THE MODULE UNTIL YOU EXIT THIS APPLICATION".  They're not kidding here!  Doing so fill Fatal Error the Visor and cause a cycling splash screen on reset.  If you've ever seen this before, you know it means bye-bye data!

In fact I found that removing the Beat Plus caused my Visor Prism to "fatal error" quite a bit.  I did use the SpringBoard lover's trick of always switching to an app that doesn't use the module before removing - but this did not always help.  I can install/remove the card at will with a freshly wiped Visor, so I'm assuming that some application/hack/etc. that I have installed is causing this conflict.  I have yet to determine what that is however; and I'm getting tired of performing restores.

Included in the box is an instruction manual (which thankfully you don't really need, because it is a little hard to follow), a CD-ROM with a Beat Plus enabled version of Zap!2000/Zap!2016 (registered, full version), and a snap-on ferrite choke core (for attaching to the cord of your supplied headphones).

Zap! sounds phenomenal! Here's a MP3 file of the complete introduction music.

As you can see the game also has great volume control sliders and separate checkboxes for music and effects.  Listening to the game through the speaker it is plenty loud enough.  But, plug in a pair of headphones for VOLUMINOUS Stereo!  The sound really is great.

The only other Beat Plus aware application available to date is NotePad v1.1.  This is a music editing and creation application.  Here are some screenshots below.  Note the "play to" setting.  "Invention" is a demo song that is included - it's quite impressive.

Hopefully we'll see many more games in the near future that support the Beat Plus.  Hagiwara Sys-Com has established a developer program. The Zap!2016 icon has a small musical note symbol; this indicates a Beat Plus compatible application.

The only things I didn't like were the price, the fact that system sounds aren't redirected through the module, and the lack of applications available.  The first issue is simple; the price includes a full copy of Zap!2000/2016 so I guess it's justified for first time buyers.  It would be nice if there was an option to buy it without Zap! and those that already owned it could get a free upgrade from Astraware.  The second issue is a simple matter of someone coding a hack.  And, with the vast Palm Community and the available SDK I'm quite sure that will come in no time.  That third issue...well that's really answered the same way as the second ;-) 

I can't wait because the Visor is now one step closer to a Gameboy; maybe even better ;-)

Here's the technical details matrix below.

Go get one!



Yamaha LSI tone generator LSI

  • FM Synthesizer (16 simultaneous tones)
  • ADPCM decoder (Sampling rate: 4kHz/8kHz)
Integrated speaker and headphone jack
  • Monaural speaker (Max. 0.2W)
  • Stereo headphone jack (3.5mm) Note: Headphone is not included
Springboard compatible
  • True Plug and Play
Full version of Zap! 2000/2016
  • Zap!2000 (Grey-scale)
  • Zap!2016 (16bit color)
Software development kit
  • Will be generally available for developers
  • API library, sound conversion tool, etc.
  • Compatible application will be listed on the Hagiwara Sys-Com site.
Compatible handheld
  • Visor, Visor Deluxe, Visor Platinum, Visor Edge, Visor Prism

Article Comments

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MP3 corrupt...

GregGaub @ 9/3/2001 11:42:02 AM #
I can't seem to get a copy of that MP3 sample of the intro music. Can you upload a new copy of it for us to download? Thanks!

RE: MP3 corrupt...
JET8810 @ 9/3/2001 12:16:06 PM #
same here! ED please reupload the MP3 file! thanx...

FIX THE MP3!!!
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/3/2001 11:16:16 PM #
I wanna hear it, man!


Lemme hear it!

RE: MP3 corrupt...
Ed @ 9/4/2001 9:58:14 AM #
Try it now.

---
News Editor

no MP3 decoder?

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/3/2001 2:09:26 PM #
So I'm guessing this thing doesn't have an MP3 decoder? For $80, couldn't they have spent a couple more bucks on a decoder chip?

Clie offer better product for the money

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/3/2001 2:31:33 PM #
If you spend $400 to get the Handspring Prism & additional $80 for Beat Plus, you might as well spend $500 to get the Sony Clie N710 with MP3 and better display quality.

RE: Clie offer better product for the money
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/3/2001 7:54:05 PM #
But if you've ALREADY spent $400+ on the Prism, then an $80 springboard isn't such a bad deal, ya know.

RE: Clie offer better product for the money
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/3/2001 9:08:55 PM #
I think that you are not making a valid comparison.

The Clie can play MP3's, but it's still has the same limitations in game sounds.

The Beat Module is a device that enhance the game sounds and not intended to play MP3's.

RE: Clie offer better product for the money
bcombee @ 9/3/2001 10:38:35 PM #
The CLIE's API for developers is very limited. Your sound must be in MP3 or ATRAC format to be output. The Beat Plus provides a much cleaner interface for developers to support application with rich aural requirements. You aren't going to use this as a music player, but you can do some pretty amazing things with it. I bet some programmer is right now working on a MOD-tracker that would let you compose digital music on a Handspring Visor.

Sound quality...

GregGaub @ 9/5/2001 12:51:43 AM #
Thanks to Ed for fixing the MP3 of the sample. Now that I've listened to it, I can comment on it.
Sounds great! As good, or better than GameBoy sounds!
But... was it someone's sister who composed and played that song? For the sake of Visor gamers around the world, I hope other game developers use better methods to create the audio tracks, 'cus if they're all that bad, the module would be more annoying than enjoyable. hehe.

Though, the suggestion that a program be written to be able to write and play your own music is a great one!

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