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Apple NABs Pro Video Attention

At this year's NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show in Las Vegas, Apple expanded its professional line of video applications to embrace the next significant evolution in desktop video editing: HD, or high-definition video. Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Shake all received upgrades, but a new application, Motion, gained the most attention from showgoers and digital video professionals.


Motion -- Motion is Apple's new motion graphics application. Think of it as Adobe Photoshop for moving images, a tool that creates special effects and snazzy titles on top of video. Motion can animate objects on the screen, apply effects, generate particles (such as fire, smoke, or even just types of lights), and composite layers so they appear to be in the same scene. Basically, if you need some sort of visual effect that isn't present in your original footage or offered by Final Cut Pro, Motion is your solution.


Or, rather, Motion is your Apple-branded solution. Adobe After Effects all but pioneered these capabilities and remains the dominant motion graphics application on the Mac or Windows. Shortly after premiering Motion at NAB, attendees began voicing the obvious question: is this Apple's After Effects killer? Final Cut Pro ran Adobe Premiere off the Mac platform altogether - is Motion a new prong in the same offensive? For now, Apple is playing nice. Apple representatives are positioning Motion as just another tool in the motion graphics toolbox, since video artists tend to use several programs in conjunction with After Effects.

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Motion's signature difference from After Effects is its real-time design engine, which plays back in real time without the need to render the footage first. In many cases, Motion is capable of incorporating changes and added elements during playback, much the way you can add loops to a GarageBand song without stopping the music that's already playing.

Motion also introduces behaviors, preconfigured types of motion that let you animate objects or text by dragging & dropping them, without keyframing each individual movement. You can then go in and modify the behavior settings to customize the motion (again, seeing the alterations in real time). Motion includes over 40 behaviors, including simulations that react with surrounding objects such as gravity, vortex, attract, and repel.

In the spirit of speeding things up, Apple also incorporated 40 gestures to be used with a digital tablet and stylus that act as shortcut keys. For example, draw a circle and bisect it from top to bottom to choose the Zoom tool.

As you might expect, all of this real-time functionality requires a lot of computational power. Apple's system requirements call for at least an 867 MHz PowerPC G4 or G5 processor and 512 MB of RAM. However, the recommended system is a dual 2 GHz Power Mac G5 with 4 GB of RAM or more. Your Mac's video card is also extremely important, with Motion calling for an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra, ATI Mobility Radeon 9600, or ATI Radeon 9600, 9700, or 9800 Pro - the latter being the recommended configuration. No doubt some designers looking to get in Motion will also need to factor the costs of upgrading their hardware, too.


However, Apple is making the program compelling by pricing it at $300, which is $400 cheaper than After Effects 6.5 Standard and $700 cheaper than After Effects Professional 6.5. Apple says Motion will be available this summer, which we take to mean sometime before September.

Final Cut Pro HD -- Also announced, and now shipping, was Final Cut Pro HD, a free update for current Final Cut Pro 4 owners that brings improved HD support to the nonlinear video editor. Although Final Cut Pro has previously supported HD editing, the new version offers real-time editing of up to four streams of HD video, and RT Extreme for HD for real-time playback of effects, transitions, and composited video. Using the DVCPRO HD codec, the footage captured from the camera isn't recompressed when it is imported into Final Cut, edited, and exported back out via FireWire. Final Cut Pro HD also supports the use of an Apple Cinema Display for previewing in HD format, saving editors the need to buy a more expensive high-definition television or monitor for viewing the playback.


Final Cut Pro HD costs $1,000 for the full version, or $400 for an upgrade from Final Cut Pro versions 1 through 3. Final Cut Pro 4 owners can download a free updater by providing their name, email address, and serial number.


Shake 3.5 -- If your big-budget Hollywood film is entering post-production, you may be happy to learn that Shake 3.5 is also now available. The improvements to Apple's compositing software (which, as Apple is quick to point out, has been used on the last seven movies to win the Oscar for best visual effects, including Lord of the Rings) include shape-based morphing and warping features. The full version of Shake 3.5 costs $3,000, but owners of version 3 can upgrade for only $800. Linux and IRIX users can also purchase a compatible version of Shake 3.5 for $5,000, with an annual maintenance fee of $1,500.


DVD Studio Pro 3 -- When DVD Studio Pro 2 was announced at NAB last year, it marked a dramatic departure for the DVD creation application, as version 2 was almost a complete rewrite from version 1.5. This year's update isn't quite as dramatic, but certainly welcome for DVD professionals. DVD Studio Pro 3 adds a new graphical view for seeing a project's structure; and alpha transitions, an improved method of moving between menu screens, which can be custom-built in Motion or After Effects. Support for DTS 5.1 audio is also included. The full version of the program costs $500; upgrades from version 1.x or 2.0 cost $200. DVD Studio Pro 3 is expected to begin shipping in mid-May.


Xsan -- The last big NAB announcement from Apple was Xsan, a storage area network (SAN) that lets multiple computers access massive amounts of data. If you thought a single Xserve RAID was impressive - with its puny 3.5 terabytes of storage - consider multiple Xserve RAIDs linked together via Fibre Channel to store huge quantities of video data (for example) and to transfer that data fast enough so that multiple people can access it simultaneously. Xsan will ship sometime in the next six months ("later this fall," according to Apple) for $1,000.


Integration and Expectation -- Motion isn't an After Effects killer, at least not in its current incarnation, but Motion is certainly aimed at catching up to the competition. In fact, Apple is following in Adobe's footsteps somewhat. Adobe realized a few years ago that one of its key strengths was the way its applications worked together: someone who uses Photoshop is more likely to use GoLive or Illustrator if they can make a change in one program and see it reflected in the others.

With Final Cut Pro HD, Motion, and DVD Studio Pro 3, Apple is implementing the same type of round-trip integration between its professional video applications that Adobe has (and which Apple has taken advantage of to a certain degree in its iLife suite). Motion may end up not needing to compete directly with After Effects on a feature-by-feature basis as long as it competes well enough for the editors and designers who only need most of After Effects's capabilities.

What remains clear in the thick of these releases is that Apple is continuing its aggressive push into the professional video market. Motion earned a Best of Show award at NAB, a conference where Apple traditionally hasn't been the dominant vendor in the room. From here on out, obviously, Apple aims to be in that position.


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