How Ya Like Dem Apples?
Posted Apr 19, 2004

Apple didn't waste any time at NAB, dropping five major announcements the day before the show even began. On Sunday, April 18, the company announced new versions of existing software—Final Cut Pro HD, DVD Studio Pro 3, and Shake 3.5—as well as the brand-new Motion, a $299 motion-graphics tool, and the Xsan enterprise storage area network file system.

As the name suggests, Final Cut Pro HD adds native, real-time HD support to the non-linear editing system for the first time, and it does it without requiring any additional hardware for capture. The new version of the software edits HD with no recompression or image degradation, and enables HD preview monitoring on an Apple Cinema HD display. Final Cut Pro HD also offers RT Extreme for HD, with real-time playback of the same Final Cut effects users already access for SD content. Final Cut Pro 4 users can download a free upgrade, while users of versions 1, 2, and 3 can upgrade to Final Cut Pro HD for $399. For new purchasers, Apple has kept the price of Final Cut Pro HD the same as Final Cut Pro 4—$999.

The big overhaul in DVD Studio Pro 3 is obvious from the moment you open it up. A new Graphical View provides a storyboard-like window that makes clear the links between menus, tracks, slideshows, stories, and scripts. The window is printable, facilitating the sharing of a project's architecture between authors, or between author and client.

Studio Pro 3 also features 30 new transitions—including QuickTime-based Alpha Transitions that blend images transparently—that can be applied to video clips, slides, or even menu buttons. Version 3 includes Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio support, and the software's Compressor encoding tool has been upgraded to version 1.2 and now offers single-step, HD-to-MPEG-2 encoding. DVD Studio Pro 3 will for $499 when it hits the market in May, and current users of versions 1 or 2 will be able to upgrade for $199.

Apple has added spline-based morphing and warping tools in version 3.5 of the Shake effects compositing software. The company also is claiming improvements to Shake's Qmaster network render manager, which can now handle distributed rendering tasks for both Shake and Alias' Maya, letting effects artists spread their rendering tasks across a cluster of G5s or Xserve servers. Registered users of Shake 3 can upgrade immediately for $799, while new users will have to pony up $2,999, which includes unlimited render licenses. (It's also available for Linux and IRIX systems for $4,999.)

Apple's first foray into motion graphics, Motion motion offers real-time previews; interactive text, graphic, and video animation; and "Behaviors," procedural-based effects that allow the addition of natural phenomena like gravity- and wind-based movement to text and graphics without keyframes. Motion also features particle presets for effects like smoke, sparkles, and fire, and virtually any graphic element on screen can be turned into a particle and then modified for custom effects. Motion will retail for $299, but it won't be available until this summer.

The Xsan is a 64-bit cluster file system designed specifically for the professional video environment. It's a straightforward storage area network (SAN) solution, but it lets up to 64 users access a single storage volume that supports multiple high-bandwidth video streams. It's currently in beta testing and won't be available until Fall 2004, but the price should make it worth the wait: $999.