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QuickTime Notes

Electrifier and Tribeworks Arrive;
QuickTime 4 and Final Cut Are Near

By Dennis Dimick

Washington Apple Pi Journal, pp. 29-32, March/April 1999, reprint information

In contrast to the high-profile public beta testing of last year’s QuickTime 3.0, news of Apple’s upcoming QuickTime 4.0 has been hard to come by. A perusal of websites dedicated to publishing Macintosh rumors reveals the next release of QuickTime will be distinguished mostly by its "streaming" ability.

Beyond rumor, a few QuickTime-oriented software programs or updates have been announced or released recently, and I’ll try to canvass a few here. I’ll deal with traditional 2D and motion graphics programs, and leave family-relation QuickTimeVR to another time.

I’ll look briefly at Adobe’s Premiere 5.1 and After Effects 4.0, Electrifier Pro, Tribeworks iShell, Media Cleaner 3.1, Apple’s Final Cut, Indeo 4.4, and Strata VideoShop. I’ll also point you to a few websites where you can find fresh information on QuickTime topics.

QuickTime 4.0

Until Apple says more publicly, most information on the next release of QuickTime comes from websites such as http://www.macnn.com and http://www.maccentral.com. What they report is that QuickTime 4.0 is supposed to release sometime late this winter, and could arrive as a downloadable file of size up to 15MB.

Apple’s iCEO Steve Jobs said during a December education conference that QuickTime 4 would be announced at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco in January, but not a word was heard there.

The next release is said to offer what is called true "streaming" capability that places QuickTime on a par with web live-video tools such as RealVideo and Microsoft NetShow.

Despite QuickTime’s superior quality and versatility as a tool for creating and delivering motion video and audio media, Apple has lost prominence in the web space the past year because QuickTime does not stream.

This means, for example, where RealVideo can offer live video feeds from a news event as it occurs, QuickTime files must be saved to disk, compressed, and then delivered later to users. This new 4.0 release of QuickTime should allow Apple’s multimedia tool to compete more evenly in delivering live video on the Web.

Mother of QuickTime: Apple's web page for QuickTime is a great place to start if you're looking to find out about getting the most enjoyment and productivity from Apple excellent multimedia technology. Watch this web page for information on new QuickTime releases and other tools. The address is www.apple.com/quicktime/.

Adobe Premiere 5.1

Last fall Adobe Systems delivered an updated version of Premiere, its dominant QuickTime editing program. Released last year at version 5.0, users from the start complained about its instability, slow performance, and lack of support for QuickTime 3.0 features.

Happily, this Premiere 5.1 update remedies most problems, but the program still needs a powerful Macintosh to be useful. (I’d say a PowerMac 8500/120 though adequate will be slow, based on experience.) The new 5.1 release finally offers audio compression options that QuickTime has had since version 2.1. Premiere 5.1 doesn’t crash as much, operates a bit less slowly than 5.0, and generally has a more solid feel.

It’s also now possible to set up Premiere 5.1 to create preview files that can be called upon to speed up final compressions during movie editing. (This was a core quality of Premiere 4.2 that Adobe for some reason forgot to include in the trumpeted 5.0 release.) Adobe also claims Premiere support for QuickTime 3.0’s built-in transitions, but this must wait release of an additional Premiere plug-in extension sometime soon.

If you’ve got Premiere 5.0, a free updater file is available at Adobe’s website, http://www.adobe.com.

After Effects 4.0

Adobe announced in January the next version of After Effects, its popular QuickTime-based motion graphics program. Embraced as a tool for creating video special effects, multi-layered looks, and composite images that move, After Effects is often described as Photoshop on steroids, or the motion-equivalent of Photoshop, Adobe’s market-leading graphics editor.

After Effects 4.0 may be released by the time you read this. Publicity materials indicate it will now allow you to preview effects in RAM without compiling or compressing to disk, and the new version will offer a more "Adobe-like" look adopted by other programs in the company’s suite of graphics and QuickTime programs.

Further, After Effects 4.0 will import existing Premiere projects as is for special effects work, and After Effects will keep layers intact when importing native-format files from Photoshop or Illustrator. This means you can create projects or files in any of the major Adobe programs, and then seamlessly take them to After Effects for adding special motion or visual effects.

Prices are said to start at $199 for After Effects upgrades from previous versions. You can find all the details, and download Adobe Acrobat versions of the publicity brochures, at http://www.adobe.com.

Electrifier Pro

Electrifier may be the most anticipated and interesting QuickTime tool produced since QuickTime 3.0 itself came out a year ago. Released in December, Electrifier Pro is the first authoring program to fully take advantage of QuickTime’s new built-in special effects and transitions, hotspots, and sprite layer.

It’s possible to create interactive movies with Electrifier (embed a URL in a movie frame,) and you can make movies with a "vector" track that behaves the way Postscript or Illustrator files might when compared to their pixel equivalents. (Vector files are much smaller in size.)

Electrifier offers a timeline-based authoring interface, so you can synchronize time-based multi-layer effects and transitions. Not meant as a full-length broadcast movie-editing program, Electrifier will probably take a lead role in creation of web-based animations where small file size is demanded and QuickTime 3.0 is installed on client machines.

It has been said Electrifier Pro will allow web publishers to turn their sites from static pages to interactive multimedia that streams to users even at 28.8 dialup speeds. The program’s publisher, Electrifier Software, already has announced a 2.0 version that will ship in the spring and be free to 1.0 users. This new version will focus on the "live streaming" features said to be a part of QuickTime 4.0.

Electrifier Pro is not cheap at more than $500, but if a lively looking web site is part of your program, Electrifier Pro may be right. Lots of details are available at Electrifier’s website, http://www.electrifier.com.

Getting Electrified: Electrifier Software, formerly Lari Software, has released an interesting movie authoring program called Electrifier Pro. It's the first program to take advantage of special effects and filters now offered as a part of QuickTime 3.0 itself.

Tribeworks’ iShell

A group of engineers who used to work on Apple’s late lamented Apple Media Tool have regrouped into a new tribe, come up with a new multimedia authoring program, and a novel way of marketing it. Released in early 1999 and called Tribeworks iShell, the program itself is free. If you want any technical support you’ll have to pay $2,000 a year.

Tribeworks is serious about the free part, and you can download this QuickTime-dependent authoring tool from their website. A hefty set of documentation is available also in Adobe Acrobat format. You will have to register to download, and must register the iShell program again once you have got it if you want to keep using it. Details are at http://www.tribeworks.com.

Media Cleaner Pro 3.1

Terran Interactive’s movie compression program keeps getting better. Last summer a 3.0 offering with much improved interface and batch compression came out. Version 3.0 offered extensive support for QuickTime 3.0 compression features. Terran has upped the ante in version 3.1 by including an MPEG movie export module from HEURIS, and this is a free ($10 shipping) upgrade to those who already have 3.0.

MPEG support is in addition to existing RealMedia export and QuickTime compression schemes such as Sorenson video, Qdesign and QualComm audio. This MPEG exporter is a basic one, and doesn’t allow a lot of specialized configurations. This tool, which costs $99 separately when bought from HEURIS, will allow you to prototype attractive MPEG from QuickTime source material.

My own experience reveals that MPEG often plays more smoothly on lower-end PowerMacs where QuickTime Sorenson Vision will stutter. I can play MPEG movies on a PowerBook 1400/166 where QuickTime Sorenson movies of same frame size and rate will be jerky.

(A new version 2.0 of the Sorenson codec was announced at MacWorld Expo, but nothing was said whether the upgraded codec will be included in the next revision of QuickTime. One hopes this updated version will play more smoothly on machine of lower power.)

Terran, who also markets a developer edition of Sorenson and the HEURIS MPEG tools, also has recently released an extensive web-based movie authoring and compression white paper called "How to Produce High-Quality QuickTime." Details for all Terran’s offerings and related tools from other vendors are at http://www.terran.com.

MPEG FROM MEDIA CLEANER: The latest 3.1 revision of Terran Interactive's Media Cleaner Pro offers an integrated MPEG movie exporter. This movie was opened in Apple's Movie Player to show the MPEG data track and data rate (226kb/sec.) You may find some older Macs play MPEG more easily than new QuickTime 3.0 codecs such as Sorenson.

Final Cut

Those who have followed the career of Randy Ubillos know originally wrote Adobe Premiere, and enhanced it up through version 4.0. Ubillos was lured away by Macromedia on the promise of producing a video editing software that would redefine what can be done with computers.

It was I think in 1996 that Ubillos and Macromedia demoed a prototype "Final Cut" software at the National Association of Broadcasters’ meeting. Since then nothing was heard from Final Cut until late last year when Apple bought "undisclosed digital video" assets, including Ubillos’ talents, from Macromedia.

Lo and behold, Steve Jobs at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco did briefly mention that it finally plans to release the program as "Final Cut Pro" sometime this year. No pricing or specific features were mentioned. One wonders how it can compete in the market space already dominated by Adobe Premiere and other DV editing programs like Radius EditDV. Maybe Final Cut Pro will undercut the others in price. Apple has posted a web page with some background and it can be found at http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/.

Indeo Video 4.4

For years Apple users have complained of being unable to play Indeo-compressed AVI movies under QuickTime. Indeo compression-decompression tools have constantly lagged on the Mac behind their Windows counterparts.

This may have changed a bit in January, as Intel released the Indeo 4.4 codec for Mac QuickTime Pro 3.0. This will allow Mac users to create Indeo 4.4 movies, and also to play back Windows Indeo 4.4 movies. That said, users already report you must keep older Indeo codecs on your Mac as the new 4.4 is not necessarily backward compatible with older AVI movies. Information and downloads can be had at http://www.apple.com/quicktime/.

Strata VideoShop

Editing program VideoShop began life with Diva, later moved in with Avid, and for two years or so has been living with Strata. First-generation PCI AV PowerMacs such as the 8500 came with a free copy of Avid VideoShop 3.0.

Since VideoShop was taken in, 3-D specialist Strata of St. George, Utah has upgraded it twice. Now up to version 4.5, Strata VideoShop uniquely offers support for QuickTime 3D tracks and MIDI. The latest version, quietly released in late 1998, is said to support Mac OS 8.5 and QuickTime 3.0 features.

VideoShop’s multi-owner heritage has made it feel (for me) as if the program was cumulatively bolted together without great concern whether the sum is greater than the parts, or whether the program is functional. The effects of a child being passed from home to home definitely show here.

I have paid to buy or upgrade this program since version 1.0, and am afraid I am through doing that. VideoShop is inscrutable, I’d say the only way to fix it may be to discard the program, keep the name, and start over. My experience with VideoShop is through version 4.0. I hope Strata radically rebuilt it in 4.5, but based on what I have read, I’m not encouraged. For my money the 4.5 update should be free to anyone who paid for 4.0.

For example, PICT files used in VideoShop must be imported in millions of colors and then one-by-one converted to QuickTime movie format before they can be placed in the timeline window. Trying to change the time length of an imported PICT is nearly impossible once you have imported it.

Transitions must be compiled to disk at the moment you create them in editing. Though this makes final compressions faster, it makes movie composition and editing glacial, especially if you make changes along the way, or you discover transition length or look is not what you wanted.

Further, in version 4.0 it’s not possible to drag a video clip from one timeline window video track to another. You must re-import the file into the movie timeline window from the "file bin." That said, VideoShop’s design does not even allow you to (logically) place sequential video clips in adjacent A-B tracks and then place a transition between. Instead, you place clips end to end, then lasso adjacent ends with a selection tool, apply a transition, let it compile, and hope you have created the effect desired. If not, start over.

Mac programs are supposed to be easy to use. Try as I might I have never been able to grasp the logic, or lack of it, of this one. Maybe for you it will be different.

Upgrades to VideoShop from version 3.0 and earlier run about $200, and if you already have 4.0, your price will run about $90. If you find yourself considering Strata VideoShop at full retail price of $495 or so, buy Adobe Premiere instead.

Information on VideoShop can be found at http://www.strata3d.com.

QuickTime Websites

Anyone working in digital media creation needs an Internet connection. Most companies have moved their product information to the web, and if you want to find out what is happening in this field, you need to "surf the web."

If you want to keep up on the world of QuickTime, check several websites regularly. These include Apple’s QuickTime site, http://www.apple.com/quicktime. Here you can get the latest version of QuickTime, and find links to new programs, resources, and movies created with QuickTime.

Terran Interactive of San Jose, creator of media compression program Media Cleaner Pro, has one of the most informative websites on topics of digital video creation. Go to http://www.terran.com. Likewise, Adobe Systems’ site is rich with information on QuickTime tools and techniques. Go to http://www.adobe.com.

Judith Stern and Robert Lettieri, who wrote the online documentation for Apple’s Movie Player (http://www.apple.com/quicktime/) also have a web page updated weekly with all the latest news and links about QuickTime. Go to http://www.bmug.org/quicktime/.

If all else fails and these resources don’t satisfy your curiosity, do as I do: go to http://www.yahoo.com or your favorite search engine and type "QuickTime" into the search field.

Pi member Dennis Dimick has been writing on QuickTime and graphics topics for the Journal since 1992. He works as a magazine photo editor and has taught documentary photojournalism at workshops sponsored by the University of Missouri. He made his first QuickTime movies using a Mac IIci and a SuperMac VideoSpigot board. He can be reached via email: ddimick@aol.com.


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