Around Macworld in a Day
Posted Jan 7, 2004

Apropos of almost nothing, a string of Elvis Presley tunes boomed out of the PA for those awaiting Steve Jobs' entrance onto the Moscone Center's stage in San Francisco for his Macworld 2004 keynote presentation. (It was apropos of almost nothing, because while "Ready Teddy" and "Too Much" appropriately captured the audience's sense of anticipation, "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" don't exactly convey corporate confidence.) Notable in its absence, at least to those of us inclined to look to for soundtracks to our lives, was "All Shook Up." Maybe event organizers knew that, despite the unveiling of Final Cut Express 2.0, iLife '04, and the new Xserve G5 and Xserve RAID, Jobs wouldn't be announcing anything earth-shaking in the two hours to come.

Jobs began his speech by announcing that 60,000 viewers in 100 countries were viewing the keynote via broadband (which explains how EMedia was able to file this report from our Madison office) and playing Apple's famous "1984" commercial for the first Macintosh, introduced almost exactly 20 years ago (January 24, to be exact. In fact, Jobs spent a good portion of his speech celebrating Apple's past—both the past 12 months and the past 20 years—without dropping any new totally new pieces of hardware or software.

But since Apple just released the Panther OS in October (and Jobs claims that 9.3 million users, or about 40% of Apple's installed base, is now using a version of Mac OS X), and the G5 has only been out a few months longer, the lack of brand new toys didn't really come as a surprise. And the changes to Final Cut Express should be enough to make Mac-based digital video editors take notice.

Express Delivery
First and foremost, Final Cut Express 2.0 offers batch capture, the one glaring omission in the initial version of the software. Running a close second—since its end-user benefits will depend on the speed of that user's machine—is the addition of RT Extreme, which renders effects, transitions, and compositing in real time (but requires a processor speed of at least 500mHz). FCE 2 also includes a Safe mode that prioritizes quality over speed.

While the GUI doesn't bring any significant changes from the last version (itself an almost carbon-copy of Final Cut Pro), it's more customizable. Editors can control the height of video and audio tracks independently in the timeline, and they can add shortcut buttons for their most frequently used functions. Color correction is still only two-way, but that's proved to be plenty for FCE's largely prosumer market. Final Cut Express 2.0 is available immediately for $299, with an upgrade for current Final Cut Express users available for $99.

Jobs introduced iLife '04 by comparing it to Microsoft Office (which introduced its Office 2004 suite for the Mac during the keynote). "iLife is like Microsoft Office for the rest of your life," Jobs said, "letting you organize your projects outside of the office." The biggest change from iLife 3 is the addition of GarageBand, a scaled-down version of Apple's Soundtrack software. Shipping with 1,000 royalty-free audio loops and more than 200 effects as well as over 50 software-simulated instruments, GarageBand allows aspiring musicians to create their own tracks and soundtracks, then export them to CD, MP3, and AAC, or use them in other iLife applications.

The new iDVD 4 includes 20 new menu and motion menu themes, some including sub-menus, as well as a DVD Map View that shows a Finder-like overview of project assets and navigation. Also added are autoplay and slideshow looping capability, as well as a new Resource Meter that keeps track of how much space and how many tracks and menus you've used up.

The latest version of iMovie has plenty of new features, too, including faster effects rendering and audio and video track trimming directly in the timeline. Staying true to its consumer market, it also automatically selects appropriate compression for delivery to the Web, email, or Bluetooth-compatible devices. New additions to the transitions and Skywalker Sound Effects collections round out iMovie's latest offering.

The iLife '04 suite will be released on January 16 for $49. Jobs also announced Jam Pack, which adds more than 2,000 loops and 100 instruments to GarageBand and will sell for $99.

Serve Somebody
Not as eye- or ear-catching but just as valuable to the digital studio is the Xserve G5, which Jobs claimed ups the processing power on the G4-based Xserve by about 60 percent to more than 30 gigaflops. Enclosed in its 1U rack-mount form factor is a new system controller, three Serial ATA drive modules, optional internal hardware RAID and dual PCI-X slots that support 133mHz PCI-X cards. The Xserve G5 will be available in February in three standard configurations: single 2.0gHz processor with 512MB RAM for $2,999; dual 2.0gHz processors with 1GB RAM for $3,999; and a compute node cluster-optimized version with dual 2.0gHz processors for $2,999. The first two configurations come with an unlimited client license of Mac OS X Server, while the last carries a 10-client license. All configurations include dual FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 ports as well as a FireWire 400 and single USB 2.0 port on the front.

The new Xserve RAID is a 3U form factor rack storage system that offers up to 3.5TB storage capacity and 210MBps throughput, as well as support for Windows- and Linux-based computing environments. Available immediately, the 1TB configuration sells for $5,999, while the 1.75TB and 3.5TB configurations sell for $7,499 and $10,999, respectively.

In Other News…
Jobs wasn't the only one with product upgrades or new product announcements. Roxio showed off its new Toast with Jam 6 audio editing and mastering software, with new features including Dolby Digital encoding, more flexible cross-fading, and BIAS Peak Express, the same stereo and editing package that comes with Final Cut Express. Jam 6 also creates DVD music albums with on-screen menus and the option to record in Dolby Digital sound. Toast With Jam 6 will sell for $199 when it's released in March.

Brand new from EZQuest is the Boa 8X dual-format DVD+/-RW drive, one of the first such external units available that's targeted specifically at the Mac user. Two FireWire bundles are available, one with Roxio Toast Lite and Dantz Retrospect Express for $249, the other with Toast Titanium and Retrospect Express for $299. A USB 2.0 bundle is also available with Sonic My DVD and Retrospect Express. EZQuest also introduced the Boa Slim 2X dual-format drive at the show.