Presented at Electronic Imaging '85
My favorite graphics protocol in these early days was NAPLPS, which - despite the limitations of the technology of the moment - offered tremendous potential as a "common ground" standard.
It was flexible, extensible, resolution-independent, multi-dimensional and (perhaps most importantly) non-proprietary. As such, it offered the potential fo de facto integration of markets and applications - even "beyond videotex".
Note: Produced on a dot matrix printer. Classic.
John Vaughan and William B. Porter The Communication Studio New York, New York
The North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax (NAPLPS) was initially introduced in 1982 as a graphically enhanced vehicle for the online electronic publishing and transaction services industry known generically as "videotex".
The videotex industry in America was originally based on monochrome ASCII ("text-only") presentation. NAPLPS was to provide videotex with sophisticated graphic presentation capabilities, thereby attracting service providers who might otherwise not be interested in the medium (especially advertisers).
Unfortunately, the videotex industry was not successful in implementing NAPLPS in America. Problems appeared at several levels: A failure to standardize effectively among decoder manufacturers led to confusion on the technical side. Lack of cooperation among system operators on issues regarding the exchange of common information meant much needless repetition of effort for information service providers. Exclusionary tactics by system operators limited the production and services market unneccessarily. Many information providers lacked adequate and appropriate software to effectively handle NAPLPS screen production and file management. Hardware manufacturers were unable to deliver decoders in an affordable price range for consumers. Both information providers and system operators have failed to integrate their services effectively with existing and successful parallel industries. The explosive growth of the microcomputer no doubt encroached upon much of the anticipated videotex market, and the videotex industry as a whole was slow to perceive the microcomputer market as anything other than competition. As a result, NAPLPS videotex has been poorly implemented in America, although ASCII videotex has shown at least modest growth.
Is there a future for NAPLPS?
Obviously, many of the mistakes which the industry has made thus far can be considered as part of "the learning curve". Should tne industry wish to pursue the enhanced presentation path (and that is not altogther unlikely), they can probably do better than they have up till now.
So let's take a look at NAPLPS "beyond videotex". We may find ourselves looking at some new applications - as well as a better way to implement some existing applications.
The NAPLPS protocol accommodates ASCII, Mosaic and Dynamically Redefinable Character Sets, as well as Geometric drawing primitives, thereby encompassing all of the major computergraphic techniques for encoding images.
By using the Elemental Database design technicue, it is possible to create layout and attribute modules which allow for the dynamic screen reformatting of a NAPLPS display.
ANIMATION & SPECIAL EFFECTS
Sophisticated animation and special effects can be achieved through the appropriate use of the overlay, macro, scrolling field, color blink and dynamic color definition functions of NAPLPS.
The NAPLPS protocol allows for images to be drawn in absolute mode (so that they will always appear in the same location on the screen) and also in Relative mode (so that they will appear "relative" to the last imace drawn on the screen), thereby accommodating dynamic image oeneration.
The geometric (PDI) set allows for the definition of images using X,Y and Z coordinates, thereby producing a 3-D image shape.
Unlike "page-based" protocols, NAPLPS allows for the selective overdrawing of portions of the screen display, thereby permitting dynamic display changes, animation, And more byte-efficient database design.
"PHOTOGRAPHIC QUALITY" DIGITIZATION
Encompassed within the geometric (PDI) drawing set of NAPLPS is the ability to use camera digitization in the creation of images.
EASE OF DESIGN
The geometric shapes used in designing NAPLPS screens are more natural and therefore easier for the creative artist to use than the Mosaic or DRCS characte•-based drawing systems.
LOCAL IMAGE STORAGE
The Macro function allows the local storage of often-used images or attributes, which can then be recalled at a cost of only a few bytes.
As an open-ended graphics protocol, NAPLPS is capable of being expanded to encompass many advanced aoplications, such as audio integration, videodisc and CD-ROM interface, robot and peripheral device controls, and higher resolution color and screen displays.
We see potential uses of NAPLPS in three major areas of technical configuration:
- those which use a modem for communication with an external device or over a transmission line
- as a graphics support production utility for conventional video-based applications
- as the graphics display control for a microcomputer
The NAPLPS protocol can be used in applications which require a modem (for integration with an external or peripheral device), but would not be considered "conventional videotex".
STANDALONE TERMINALS OR KIOSKS
Retail Marketing, Pont-of-Sale Advertising, Tourist/Travel Information, Product Catalogs
Building Directory, Company Logos, Electronic Mail, Systems Panel
CLOSED-CIRCUIT CABLE SYSTEMS
Hotel Services, Updatable News Scroll, Security Monitoring
Map Notation, Titling, Image Icons, Dynamic Text & Graphics Authoring Utility
Database Storage, Parallel Digital Audio, Software Library, Image Library
The NAPLPS protocol provides reasonable graphics and text quality to be available as a recordable and editable video signal.
INEXPENSIVE ANIMATION, SPECIAL EFFECTS AND TITLING
Cartoons, Advertising, Industrial Training, Business-to-Business Programs
REMOTE PRODUCTION SUPPORT
Easy to Store, Transmit and Update, Local Graphics Generation
Business Charts, Weather Icons, Team Logos and Sports Scores
CABLE TV INFORMATION CHANNELS
Scrolling Text, Animation, Advertising
Animation, Dynamic Graphics, Sync-to-Sound Images
The emeroence of NAPLPS software decoders on the market indicates substantial applications simply as the design, storage and display medium for microcomputer graphics.
COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN
Shared Graphic Workspace, High-Resolution Graphics Production, 3-D Modelling
COMPUTER ASSISTED MANUFACTURING
Robotic Controls, Work Flow Diagrams, System Monitoring Panel
Graphic Reinforcement, Easy Graphic/Text Updating and Customization, Maps and Charts
GAMES & SIMULATIONS
"Face of the Interface" for Microcomputers, Dynamic Modelling, Animation, Music and Audio Support
Graphs & Charts, Business Presentations, Graphic Continuity among Applications
Electronic Mail, Image & Document Exchange, Shared Working Environment
NAPLPS is an idea whose time has come. Its advantages over existing methods are apparent on paper, but not yet fully realized in terms of "real world" implementatior. But with major North American communications and computer equipment manufacturers like AT&T, ITT, Digital Equipment, RCA, NBC, CBS, Rockwell, Macrotel, Norpak, Electrohome, Motorola, Sperry and Honeywell committed to the standard, the near future is very bright.
Computer marketing plant IBM now supports NAPLPS through its Series 1 minicomputers, and microcomputer-based PC-Videotex software decoder/database manaaer and frame creation products. Several independent software houses have also developed software decoders for tne IBM PC, and there are a number of NAPLPS graphics boards now on the market. (Software decoders and boards have Peen developed as well for the Apple // series, Macintosh, and Commodore microcomputers.) This would seem to indicate the likelihood that NAPLPS will emeroe as THE definitive business graphics display software of the future.
Nor should we overlook "Japan, Inc". The Japanese have committed themselves to several NAPLPS-based trials and, services, and electronic production giants like Sony, Matsushita/Panasonic, Mitsui and Casio already have NAPLPS products on the market.
NAPLPS is unparalleled as a byte-efficient technique for both storing and transmitting text/graphic files. It is oraphically sophisticated, dynamic, upgradable, highly flexible and expandable across a broad range of applications. Furthermore, it is supported by a number of exisiting products in the field. Whatever happens (or doesn't happen) to videotex, the future for NAPLPS looks very bright, indeed.