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More hardware and software. Reviews hed: The old switcheroo dek: Belkin’s OmniView KVM switch.

Do you have two or more computers on your desk, each with its own keyboard, mouse, and monitor fighting you for space? The solution to your problem may be a keyboard/video/ mouse (KVM) switch. With a KVM switch, a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse can serve two or more computers, freeing up lots of desktop space and paying for itself by eliminating the duplication of expensive equipment and the power it draws.

I recently tested a cross-platform KVM switch from Belkin, a major manufacturer of computer peripherals. One of Belkin’s OmniView SOHO series, the F1DS104T ($179.95), is a four-port model that directly supports computers with PS/2 and USB input devices, as well as VGA, SVGA, and MultiSync monitors with resolutions up to 2,048-by-1,536 at up to 85Hz. With adapters, the OmniView can support older Macs using the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), as well as LCD monitors. The OmniView can also switch microphone and stereo speaker connections, eliminating the duplication of these peripherals. The OmniView sits vertically, with a swoopy angled case that directs the cables neatly out the back and projects the switching buttons and indicator lights toward the user. In addition to switching from the front panel, the OmniView supports hot-key switching from the keyboard and has an autoscan mode that cycles between computers every 10 seconds (useful for monitoring servers).

Installation was straightforward, with clear instructions and no software to load. The unit normally draws its power from the PS/2 or USB buses, though an optional external power adapter is available to support switching video signals alone. Operation was quite seamless with my PS/2-equipped PC; all functions worked as though the keyboard, mouse, and monitor were directly connected to the computer (although some functions on multiple-button mice or trackballs might not work).

As with many peripherals designed primarily with PCs in mind, things aren’t quite as rosy on the Mac side. The console keyboard and mouse must be PS/2 versions, which may mean abandoning Mac versions and buying new ones. (I was able to use a USB-PS/2 adapter, at least for my mouse, however.) While most Mac and PC keyboards have essentially the same keys with some name variations, a few keys might not map correctly through the KVM switch. I experienced several other glitches with my Macs, including the keyboard locking up after switching between computers. I was also unable to set a resolution higher than 640-by-480 on my Apple Multiple Scan 20-inch monitor (with a VGA adapter) from my G4/500, and I got noisy video from my PowerBook 1400c. Both Macs work normally with the monitor when directly connected. These problems may well be a result of my mixed bag of old and new Macs and peripherals–and other combinations may work fine–but if you want to include Macs in your installation, I’d be sure to get a return privilege for any KVM you buy. Incidentally, Belkin plans to introduce an all-USB version soon; this may prove a better solution for an all-Mac setup or one than includes PCs that support USB input devices. –Ken Henningsen

All mixed up

The Traktor DJ Studio.

The Traktor DJ Studio is meant to simulate the tools a professional club DJ has at his disposal. While there’s no duplicating a proper sound system, Traktor does make it easy to pretend to be a DJ on your PC.

The handiest feature of the program is a mixing function that lets you synchronize two sound sources without the need for split-second timing. The function can not only automatically determine the BPM (beats per minute) of a song, it can automatically beat match them with the click of the mouse. This makes it easy to mix techno sounds from digital sources–in which the tempo never wavers–but not so easy when mixing sounds made by actual human beings. I tried beat-matching a pair of old-school drum loops I made in my WAV editor, and had a terrible time getting them to match, even with the auto-mix function employed. And once you’ve completed a mix, take care to save it as a sound file that can be played elsewhere. The MIX format, which is the program’s default, can only be listened to in Traktor.

My frustration mounted when I turned to Traktor’s manual for help. It’s not news that most software manuals are a disaster, but Traktor’s instructions are vague and lack an index. What’s worse, it’s vague in four different languages.

So much for the bad news. Traktor is meant to forgive the clumsiness of beginners, and its versatility is impressive. It boasts functions for scratching, equalization, effects, pitch control, and much else. With some intuition and practice time, you could be making the mixes of your dreams.–Dan Heilman

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