Color Commentary: Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft
Posted May 18, 2007

Between the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas, an editor's workshop with Adobe in San Jose, and Streaming Media East in New York City, it's been an exciting and interesting time with lots of product announcements and video-related news. While some are clearly focused on film and broadcast developers, others will change the way event videographers work in 2007 and beyond, especially relating to posting video to the web.

I'll start with Apple, who announced Final Cut Studio Pro 2 at NAB. What impressed me first was price; at $1,299, the software is $400 less than the least expensive Adobe suite, which adds up quickly when you're buying multiple seats. Final Cut Server, a server-based workgroup feature designed to compete with Avid Interplay, will have implications in high-end Final Cut Pro facilities, but probably not in three- and four-seat shops.

Beyond this, Color, the new advanced color correction program, feels like overkill at first glance, but comes with a number of templates supplying film looks like Magic Bullet and similar products. I can definitely see this providing a valuable option for highly stylized wedding videos, or even video backgrounds for menus. Apple also introduced an "open format" timeline, significantly enhancing support for multiple formats in the same sequence, though you still can't use the multi-cam tool with different formats unless you convert to a common format (like Apple's new ProRes 422) before editing.

Apple also upgraded most other suite applications, including the addition of Surround Sound support to Soundtrack Pro. The continued enhancement of the multitrack-capable Soundtrack Pro's high-end capabilities comes at an interesting point in the parallel evolution of the audio tools in the Adobe Production Studio/Premium. For me, the big surprise was that Apple didn't upgrade DVD Studio Pro, making it the only major authoring tool without Blu-ray capabilities. Given that Adobe added Blu-ray Disc support to Encore, this changes the economics of the suite purchase for producers who need Blu-ray.

For example, if you own a Mac version of After Effects, Illustrator, or Photoshop, you can upgrade to the entire Production Premium Suite for $1,199. Or, you can upgrade the individual products for $349 (Photoshop), $299 (After Effects) or $199 (Illustrator). If you own any two of those products, you're looking at about $600 to upgrade to the CS3 version. If you need Blu-ray Disc authoring, the cheapest alternative is DVDit, which costs $500 and runs only on Windows, and doesn't support the H.264 codec that's part of the Blu-ray spec (Encore gives you the choice of MPEG-2 or H.264). Now you're up to $1,100, just shy of the Production Premium upgrade price, for which you get Encore running on the Mac, Premiere Pro, and all other suite components.

Not to date myself, but all this brings to mind the tag line used in the old Parliament cigarette commercials, "I'd rather fight than switch." That is, I seriously wonder if a Final Cut user with years invested in learning the program would switch to Premiere Pro simply to save a few hundred dollars. Probably not, but going forward, the economics could certainly sway new users comparing both systems, especially with Photoshop and After Effects so well entrenched.

That said, looking at the Adobe suite, changes to what I consider the flagship product, Premiere Pro, were somewhat modest, and not entirely for the better. Essentially, it feels like Adobe focused most development resources on porting to the Mac, and new features are limited. In an interesting glimpse at how large companies work, Adobe appeared to have recognized this, and at least in part, purchased Serious Magic so that they could offer OnLocation (formerly DV Rack) and Ultra as additional value-adds.

In particular, OnLocation is a paradigm-shifting product, one that will absolutely change the way you shoot video, with real-time scopes and dual zebra stripes that make perfecting exposure a breeze. Mac users beware, however, as Adobe didn't port either Serious Magic product to Mac OS, and includes OnLocation, and not Ultra, in the Mac SKU.

Adobe also removed Audition from the bundle, replacing it with Soundbooth. In truth, Soundbooth has 98% of the functionality I need for most projects, but lacks the multitrack capabilities I use once a year to create radio advertisements for my wife's Nutcracker ballet. For that, I'll need to use Soundtrack Pro, or old favorite Sony Sound Forge, which boasts multitrack capabilities in the newly announced version 9.

Playing with the Premiere Pro beta, I noticed that the program's DVD authoring capabilities were substantially reduced; while you can burn a menu-less DVD, you can't create even the simple menus available in Premiere Pro 2.0 (functionality that appeared first in Premiere Elements 1.5). Though I scoffed at this feature at first, I soon began using it for review and simple projects, like school assemblies and the like. An Adobe contact explained that this feature got lost in the Mac port, though it may reappear in future versions.

However, Adobe now includes Encore with the Premiere Pro bundle (Mac and Windows), and in addition to Blu-ray, Encore can export your DVD (with all the navigation features) as a Flash web presentation you can upload to a website. Whether you use this for client review or as a feature you can charge for, it's a very cool capability.

To complete the circle, I just saw a comprehensive demo of Microsoft Silverlight at Streaming Media East. Let's face it—it's easy to criticize a seemingly me-too Flash-like product from Microsoft, and Microsoft has gotten more than its share of criticism. But recent changes to the Windows Media codec have boosted video quality significantly, and the Expression Encoder for Silverlight lets a nonprogrammer build a web presentation with custom player and chapter points, providing event videographers with yet another opportunity to create compelling web presentations for profit or for review.

Jan Ozer is an EventDV and Streaming Media contributing editor and owner of Doceo Publishing.