FairLight Computer Video Instrument

The Fairlight CVI premiered in 1984/85, for around $6,500 USD, and came in beige or black. It's a hybrid Analog Digital video processor, designed by Australian engineers Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie.


Thanks to Rob Judd, an Australian electronics designer, for answering many of my queries & to Joe Britt for the circuit board pix.
Fairlight no longer sells the CVI, but for those of you who wish to explore their site anyway, check out: www.fairlightesp.com.au
Timeline 1984: The Fairlight Computer Video Instrument (CVI) it was released, the same Orwellian time as when Apple introduced the Macintosh. The fact that the CVI was also a "computer" was transparent to its use: it did not use a conventional ASCII keyboard (though in later models one could be attached), but rather a set of sliders and a small graphics pad about the size of the palm of your hand. Menu selections were made with a stylus rather than a mouse. The CVI allowed you to paint directly over the top of video footage as well as "with" video footage via an extensive series of effects. I/O was a real time analogue composite or RGB video signal. It didn't require a special monitor - any video monitor could display its menu system.
In a sense the Fairlight's wide range of effects were a red herring. The machine had a series of preset effects which were used so excessively in all kinds of productions (anything from live video in music venues, band clips, commercials, to a number of video art productions) that the "signature" of the machine became too readily recognizable. This recognizability was much more accentuated than today when there is a plethora of software on a variety of platforms which converge towards similar graphical solutions. Aside from a few effects which could be duplicated in an Amiga, the CVI's effects were unique. One favorite was the CVI's ability to create moving stencil planes of still images over video footage, and then later over banks of Fairlight footage in a simulation, at least, of a purely digital domain.
There were several different CVI variations, a brief explanation follows:
The CVI up to Rev. 5 was in a black case, and there was a ROM expansion slot at the rear for expanded functions. They could be taken all the way to Rev. 7 with a plug-in. The white CVI+ came with revised firmware onboard which included all the Rev. 7 functionality, and was a more
mature unit in design. These Rev. levels refer to digital changes, the analog encoding stages remained fairly consistent. The two NTSC video card models simply reflected availability of improved components and techniques. The early NTSC unit had a series of plug-ins for different decoding functions, which all became available later in chips and so the board was redesigned.
The PAL model also had an optional add-on card for sync stabilization, which was necessary for using the unit with video mixers. Neither model was ever truly broadcast standard, according to a European broadcast video engineer who played around with one that a friend had. There were also slimmed down models sold to specific target markets: The Entertainer and Producer models came in a slim line wedge shaped package (the CVI and CVI+ were both rack mount boxes) and were designed for discos and low-budget productions, respectively. They had a single video channel vs. the CVI(+)'s two channels. They used the same operator slider panel, which was integrated into the case rather than being loose; CVI(+) would normally have the panel integrated into a larger desk with the usual switching/fading equipment.
One of the CVI's greatest flaws was that it was a closed system without the capacity to be enhanced via 3rd party software development. The CVI ceased production in the mid 90s before the much-heralded (and long in development) "Diva" broadcast version became available. In the late 90s another Australian developer, Eyeon (now relocated to Canada), has taken over with its Digital Fusion software where Fairlight left off. However except for in the electronic games industry the day of the specialised purpose-designed "instrument" seems to have passed.

Synopsis:
The Fairlight CVI (computer video instrument) is an Australian made digital video FX and paint box made in the mid 80s. It is very low res, and not quite full screen, but it is very much a real time effects box with very easy to use and fast analogue controls. (great for live work). Some of the effect functionality available with the CVI are: dual chroma keyer, mirror effects, psychedelic colorization, chunky stretch and zoom, picture freeze, live paintbox. The twin video channels in are automatically genlocked, and RGB ins & outs are standard in addition to composite connections.

Click to see the colour preset selections of the CVI !
- 01 - 02 - 03 - 04 - 05 - 06 - 07 - 08 - The colour CVI brochure


There are 2 circuit boards in the CVI:

A NTSC CVI analog board.

and,

A NTSC CVI digital board, which uses a 6809 CPU, common in Fairlight CMI's as well.


The CVI rear panel connectors.


Owners on record:


-Stefan Gosiewski, the DJ/VJ behind 'CultureLAB', a San Francisco, CA, USA based VJ outfit, has a Fairlight CVI, and takes it out on the road now and then as it offers realtime image processing functions "like nothing else".
-Todd Rundgren
-Dan Slater
- johnj@sysx.apana.org.au - ( Subvertigo ) uses a CVI for live performance
- mark@ampmusic.demon.co.uk - owns a CVI.
- Benton Bainbridge - nneng@hotmail.com has a CVI
- Jenny Lovric Fairlight CVI owner, Melissa Lovric martial arts, movement, Fairlight CVI
-Peter Callas, - http://www.anu.edu.au/ITA/CSA/callas/ - very prolific videoartist
-Joe Britt - britt@spies.com - http://surfin.spies.com/~britt/


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