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Product Overview
 

VariScript™ Product Overview
VariScript was launched in January 1997 as a unique high-performance PostScript controller for production printing environments. The controller, which is called HPO (High-Performance Page Output), can process PostScript data at 1,200 feet per minute and fully manage all aspects of the printing process.

The HPO consists of a dual-board RIP housed in a rack mount case for easy installation. The HPO features several custom-designed ASIC’s that handle raw bit manipulation at very high speeds.

In addition to the bit manipulation ASICs, the controller features a variety of other processors that handle I/O and other functions, depending on the requirements of the OEM.

The HPO is linked to a host system or a network of clients via an Ethernet 10/100BaseT interface. The device connects to a printer through a proprietary vLogix fiber-optic interface. The printer receives data from the interface, or TAB (Target Adaptor Board) boards, for each supported object. These compact TAB boards fit internally into the engine and convert the fiber-optic protocol into the protocol of the marking engine. In the case of a multi-engine printer such as a "twin" or an ink jet device with multiple heads, the fiber-optic connections can be daisy-chained from engine to engine. Logically, all of the engines are in the same loop.

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The system can deliver data in any form required. The HPO delivers a complete bitmap, scan line to scan line.

In addition to the Ethernet and fiber-optic links, the HPO includes several other interfaces, including a serial port for diagnostic purposes and additional serial and parallel ports.

Software
While the hardware is rugged and simple to repair, the real heart of the vLogix technology is the software. Designed for the HPO, this unique software architecture, called VariScript (variable PostScript), is radically different than that found in traditional production printers.

Like other variable data printing technologies, all VariScript print jobs have two primary components, a variable data file, or "merge file," and a fixed data file, or "style sheet." The merge file is a simple text file consisting of sequential fields of text with absolutely no formatting information. It can be generated manually, or, more likely, dumped from a database.

The style sheet is a standard PostScript file generated in any page layout or other application. It consists of both "static" graphic or text elements that will appear on every page of the ultimate print job, and variable data demarcated with double brackets ("<<" and ">>"). The brackets surround the name of a data field to be filled by variable data in the merge field. The formatting of the double-bracketed field name is applied directly to the variable data.

Job Ticket
During the print process, the variable data and fixed data are combined to create finished pages. But this process requires two additional pieces of data: a job ticket that specifies the particular characteristics of the job (duplex, 11x17, saddle—stitched, folded, etc.), and a "configuration file" that provides the HPO with the information it needs to format any job properly for a particular print engine.

The job ticket is another simple text file generated in any word processing application, but, of course, in a format that can be interpreted by the HPO. The job ticket not only controls basic print characteristics and postprocessing operations, but also many formatting functions such as text wrapping, page orientation, margin widths, character substitutions, and user-defined bar codes. As a result, many problems in the original PostScript style sheet or merge file can be corrected at print time without touching either file, simply by editing the job ticket.

The configuration file is resident in every HPO, and is unique to the type of printer your HPO drives. A single HPO can drive only one print job simultaneously, although that print job can consist of more than one marking engine.

Distribute and Print
Because the printer-specific aspects of a job (the job ticket and configuration file) are separate from the job itself, VariScript is ideal for "distribute-and-print" operations. A variety of machines can be used.

The VariScript approach also provides customers with unprecedented flexibility. It allows the high-volume user to put the job on the best machine for the job without altering the data stream.

Pull Architecture
One of the most original characteristics of the VariScript approach is its "pull architecture." Ordinarily, print files are "pushed" at printers by an operator on the host system. But with VariScript, the operator simply inputs a job ticket name and location to the HPO, and leaves the rest to the system.

After receiving this request, the HPO retrieves the required job ticket from the specified location. The job ticket in turn specifies the location of the PostScript style sheet and merge file to be used for the job, which are "pulled" by the HPO for processing. The style sheet and merge file can be stored locally or remotely.

The first step in the VariScript rendering sequence is the parsing of the PostScript style sheets into display lists by a Xionics-based interpreter. Then the style sheets and the merge files are composed into PostScript pages. These composed pages in turn are rendered into bitmaps by the HPO’s powerful ASICs and sent in bands to the print engine (or engines). No pre-processing is required. The entire process happens in real time.

Audit Trail
A key component of the VariScript architecture is a comprehensive audit trail for tracking what has happened to a job. Every page in a job gets a unique 32-bit audit number and a series of time stamps as it is processed --when it was created, when the printer received the page, when the page passed through the post-processing systems. Only when the page has been printed is the HPO signaled that the page is done.

If a page fails at any point, this fact is recorded in an audit file that includes details on the nature of the problem. At the end of the job, this file is sent to the host for printing or storage. The operator can also specify that failed pages automatically be reprinted without stopping the workflow.

Performance
Because of its unique architecture, the HPO controller can produce variable PostScript pages at the blistering rate of 1,200 feet per minute. Or, put in a page-per-minute context, 4,000 impressions per minute on an 18-inch wide duplex printer.

VariScript’s banding architecture allows the HPO to operate with remarkably little memory and no disk storage needed at all. It buffers 20 to 30 pages ahead.

Another key feature of VariScript is the fact that the technology is entirely self-contained, with no need for special external software or drivers of any kind. All of the data required by the HPO can be generated in conventional desktop applications.

Development
The VariScript architecture was originally developed over a five-year period beginning in 1992 and the first functioning controllers were demonstrated at COMDEX in 1994. Since then, VariScript has been shown at a wide range of shows, including DRUPA, On Demand and XPLOR.

Early in 2001, vLogix purchased the rights to VariScript and is currently engaged in further application development of the product.