Commentary: Good News/Bad News
Posted Jan 4, 2007

The holidays are always a kind of dead zone for news in our industry, but with CES and Macworld kicking off the new year, things always pick up fast. This year has been no different. And as always, it's a mix of good and bad news that comes our way as the holiday season draws to a close. Two announcements in particular stand out: LG's "groundbreaking" HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc combo player and Adobe Production Studio for Mac.

First, the dreaded lump of coal in the stocking item that apparently will come our way first: the "resolution" of the HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc format war via LG's just-announced "combo" player supporting both formats, due to ship in the U.S. in "early 2007." For the last year, it's seemed like every few days I've come across another column, blog, or forum where someone was talking about how a player like this would solve everything. Nonsense. Combo burners worked with DVD-R and DVD+R for one reason: regardless of the media format, the discs the drives spat out were essentially the same— functionally and logically identical—to DVD players.

The key to DVD's initial success in the consumer market, which paved the way for desktop DVD recording and the ubiquity of DVD delivery in the videography world, was a different sort of compromise. There were, in fact, two mutually incompatible 120mm disc formats, MMCD and SD, vying to become the next-generation disc format that would expand on CD and succeed VHS in the home-movie market. Shortly before DVD came to market, the two camps agreed to a peacable patent-sharing solution, and wisely concluded that the only way any disc format would succeed would be if only one was trying to woo consumers away from VHS. Even with some sort of mythical, two-headed MMCD/SD "combo" player, two-for-one on the player side would have translated to two-of-one everywhere else: two versions of every title, twice the overhead for the replicator, and twice as much inventory for the same number of titles at retail, which would have effectively meant only half as many titles available to consumers, and DVD never taking hold.

Times are different now. HD DVD and Blu-ray are cutting their teeth in the Web 2.0 era, which means the inventory and spatial constraints of brick-and-mortar retail aren't the "only game in town" issue they were when DVD debuted. That said, I doubt any of the movie studios are looking at their new title releases as long-tail revenue generators, which is essentially what everything but the A+ List releases will become if Wal-Mart and Blockbuster have to stock with three versions of every title (BD, HD DVD, and DVD). Anyone who tells you a combo player will solve this problem is probably selling one. And anyone who says that factors that inhibit the growth of the market for Hollywood movies on HD disc won't stifle videographers' ability to deliver HD to their clients has no idea how interrelated these markets are.

On to the good news, which came three weeks ago in a briefing with Adobe and just became official news today. In 2003, Adobe announced that the next version of Premiere (the revolutionary rev that eventually became Premiere Pro) would be Windows-only. This left Premiere for Mac users in a quandary that I misunderstood at the time. I've always been indifferent to operating systems. I've been a Mac guy, then a Windows guy, and now I use both every day, and both seem utilitarian to me. If you're plying your trade as a video editor, your technical stock in trade is your NLE and your expertise in it, not the platform it runs on. So I assumed that when Premiere went Windows-only, its Mac-world fans would follow.

I was wrong. First of all, I overestimated Premiere's pull; pre-Pro, it really wasn't all that usable. Most Mac adherents stuck with their chosen platform and the "creative artist" image they associated with it, and happily switched to Final Cut Pro, which blossomed magnificently. And many termed Adobe a turncoat and hung the ugly labels they reserved for Microsoft on Adobe as well.

The last part was silly, given that many of these Mac diehards still kept two other Adobe products—Photoshop and After Effects (AE)—front and center in their workflow, which has arguably put those Mac-based AE and Photoshop users at a disadvantage as application integration has become the name of the prosumer postproduction game, with Adobe and Apple leading the way. And if you do a lot with graphics and animation and your stock-in-trade is as much (or more) AE as it is your NLE, you're missing out on some nifty round-tripping if you're using AE on the Mac.

Until now. Taking advantage of Apple's 2006 migration to Intel chips, Adobe has done just what I hoped it would: ported Adobe Production Studio to the "Mactel" platform. We're not talking about using it with Bootcamp or any other Windows-on-a-Mac scheme. We're talking Premiere Pro for Mac, Encore for Mac, Photoshop CS3 for Mac, AE for Mac, Soundbooth (replacing Audition) for Mac, and (best of all) Dynamic Link for Mac. Adobe is making its announcement at Macworld, and it may be the news of the show for our market. (Click here for the full release.)

When it ships this summer, will Adobe Production Studio for Mac blow Final Cut Studio out of the water? Not a chance. Will it cause some Final Cut users—especially AE aficianados—to jump ship? Almost certainly. Will it lure some Windows-based Adobe editors to the Intel-based Mac, the hottest thing going in personal computing today? No question. And is it the best Christmas-in-July present Adobe could have given Steve Jobs? Without a doubt.

Stephen F. Nathans is editor-in-chief of EventDV and EMedialive.