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Apple Goes Pro: 
    Apple's New Pro Digital Media Applications

    (Final Cut Pro 4 & DVD Studio Pro 2,  8/2003)

    by Douglas Dixon

Apple Digital Video - Consumer Digital
Apple DVD - Acquisitions 2002
Apple 2003
Final Cut Pro 4 - DVD Studio Pro 2
Apple Pro
References

It's not just your "insanely great" Apple Computer any more. The new Apple has been highly visible with an impressive array of cool products for the mass market, with sexy iMac computers, portable iPod music players, and the "iLife" team of digital media tools (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD). Ever since the introduction of the DV iMacs in October 1999, Apple has been busily enhancing the Macintosh as the "hub" of the digital media experience for consumers.

            Final Cut Pro 4 & DVD Studio Pro 2

If you were dazzled by all that iMac and iLife magic, you may not have noticed that Apple also has been driving the Mac forward as a professional platform for digital video production. Through a series of strategic acquisitions, Apple has built a suite of high-end video, audio and effects tools for professional video and even film production. This summer will see the culmination of those efforts with dramatically new versions of Final Cut Pro 4 and DVD Studio Pro 2, both rewritten and improved with significant chunks of new technology.

Although this article is being written before these new products have been released, Apple has provided product information and demonstrations to help us see what it is doing with these products. In the bigger picture, these are not just new product versions; Apple also has bundled in several additional components such as advanced titling and batch compression as part of an even stronger push into professional production. Along with Apple's recent acquisitions including the Shake compositing and visual effects software and Emagic music production software, Apple is going seriously professional.

Apple Digital Video

The Apple digital media story began in April 1999 with the original introduction of Final Cut Pro, designed to run on the new Power Macintosh G3 computers with built-in FireWire interfaces. Final Cut Pro was an impressive product, including professional-quality video editing, compositing, and special effects, priced at (just) under $1000. It was reportedly derived from a never-released product developed at Macromedia, marking Apple's first step into assimilating digital video components and delivering them as aggressively-priced applications.

In March 2001 Apple introduced Final Cut Pro 2, boosting performance with a real-time architecture for better performance on the Power Mac G4, and adding support for real-time hardware acceleration cards such as the Matrox RTMac.

Consumer Digital

Apple first brought digital media to the masses with the iMac DV family, released in October 1999. These included the new iMovie software for personal video editing, bundled in at no additional cost. Apple then upgraded iMovie to support the PowerBook and Power Mac G4 in May 2000, and introduced the iMovie 2 upgrade July 2000.

For consumer audio, Apple then introduced the iTunes CD jukebox software in January 2001, and upgraded to iTunes 2 in October 2001 along with the introduction of the iPod portable music player. Apple was clearly pushing hard with mass-market consumer products.

Apple DVD

Meanwhile, back in April 2000, Apple had acquired Astarte, a maker of DVD authoring software including DVD Director. In what was to become typical Apple style for acquisitions, Astarte then went silent and there was no further information from Apple as to what it had in mind for the products or technology. Then in January 2001, Apple unveiled its DVD story: two new products, iDVD for consumers and DVD Studio Pro for professionals. iDVD was bundled on new Power Mac G4 systems with the SuperDrive combination CD/DVD burner.

Again, Apple offered nicely designed applications with stand-out new capabilities such as script programming in DVD Studio Pro, and with aggressive pricing at just under $1000. These complemented Apple's video editing tools, so you could capture and edit in iMovie or Final Cut Pro, and then author and burn DVDs in iDVD or DVD Studio Pro.

But Apple was not done with building its DVD technology base. In July 2001, Apple also acquired Spruce Technology and its broad line of DVD authoring products. Oddly, while Astarte was a Mac-based company, Spruce had Windows-based products. Again, Apple shut down the existing Spruce product line and was silent as to its future intensions.

Later that year, in October 2001, Apple released iDVD 2 for Mac OS X for an upgrade price of $19.95. This included several impressive new technologies, with motion video button and menu backgrounds, and background compression while you continued to work (thanks to OS X multitasking).

Acquisitions 2002

Having staked out the professional market with Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro, Apple took another significant step forward in 2002, enhancing its existing products and making several more acquisitions to move into higher-end and film production.

Apple started with the introduction of Final Cut Pro 3 in December 2001, for both Mac OS X and OS 9. Version 3 supported real-time effects in software on the PowerPC G4 processor's Velocity Engine, and added features including professional color correction and 2D and 3D animated titles and effects from Boris and CGM. It was still priced at $999, or $299 to upgrade.

Then in April 2002, Apple introduced the new Cinema Tools for Final Cut Pro, a $999 add-in that supported editing of film and 24 frame per second video.

On the DVD side, Apple released DVD Studio Pro 1.2 as a free update in January 2002, adding support for external FireWire drives (not just bundled Apple drives) and for creating DLT tapes for professional DVD manufacturing. It then quickly followed in April 2002 with DVD Studio Pro 1.5 for Mac OS X, adding better integration of chapter marks with Final Cut Pro, and background compression.

To strike into higher-end visual effects post-production, Apple acquired Nothing Real in February 2002, along with its Tremor and Shake compositing applications. Apple has continued to support Shake on Unix, but its new pricing for Shake 3, released on April 2003, encourages the use of Apple systems such as Apple Xserve rack servers or desktop Power Mac G4 ($4950 on Mac OS X, versus $9900 on Unix).

In July 2002, Apple acquired Emagic and its popular line professional music production software including Logic. In this case, Apple has chosen to run the company as a wholly owned division and continue its product lines on the Mac, but discontinue the Windows line.

Also last summer, Apple acquired Prismo Graphics and its products, including India special effects software for animated titles and graphics. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the major new components of the new Final Cut Pro 4 is LiveType for titling effects.

Rounding out its 2002 collections, Apple also acquired Silicon Grail, a developer of high-end film production tools, and Zayante, a developer of FireWire hardware.

Apple 2003

Which brings us to early 2003 to see how Apple has consolidated these acquisitions and pushed forward its digital media strategy in for both consumer and professional products.

The consumer products came first. In January 2003, Apple announced an upgraded iLife suite, including the recent iTunes 3, the new iPhoto 2, and the new iMovie 3 with enhanced effects and better integration with the new iDVD 3. All but iDVD are available as free downloads, and the full iLife package with iDVD is available for $49, or as a $19.95 upgrade.

Also in January, Apple introduced the new Final Cut Express for $299, nicely filling the gap between the free iMovie and Final Cut Pro at $999. Final Cut Express is designed for DV editing, and retains the same interface and workflow as Final Cut Pro, just without the higher-end capture and production features.

Then in April 2003, Apple revealed major upgrades to its video and DVD tools, announcing Final Cut Pro 4 and DVD Studio Pro 2.

Final Cut Pro 4

Final Cut Pro 4 includes over 300 new features, adds several major new components for titling, music, and compression, and now spans the range from DV and SD (standard definition) video editing to HD (high definition) and film. It now incorporates Cinema Tools, previously sold separately, while holding the same price: $999 for the full version and $399 for the upgrade. Apple announced the product will be available in June 2003.

   

The improvements with Final Cut Pro 4 start with the interface, which is now fully customizable, including the keyboard mappings, button positions, and window layouts. You can export your favorite custom settings and transfer them to other machines.

   

Final Cut Pro 4 also boosts performance with a new RTExtreme software-based real-time effects architecture. This scales with increased system performance to offer real-time video streams and effects, plus viewing on an external monitor though FireWire or a break-out box.

For even higher quality editing, Final Cut Pro 4 supports 8- and 10-bit uncompressed video formats, plus full 32-bit floating point processing for film-quality results. More bits per pixel means subtle details and no more edge effects or color artifacts, even when you composite many layers of filters and effects.

Final Cut Pro 4 also integrates three tools for titles, music, and encoding that provide features previously accessible only in third-party products. These are available only as part of Final Cut Pro 4.

   

The LiveType titling application allows you to create professional-looking animated titles and graphics, much like Boris Graffiti. Apple includes over 8 MB of media, including templates, background, textures, objects, and effects that you can quickly customize for your own needs. LiveType also includes LiveFonts, allowing each individual character of a font to be separately animated.

   

Soundtrack is a soundtrack scoring tool much like the Sonic Foundry Acid and SmartSound products. Soundtrack includes a library of thousands of music loops and sound effects that it can match to your project to create a professional-sounding score. It can automatically match audio loops regardless of tempo and key, and supports real-time audio arranging and mixing. Soundtrack is also available as a stand-alone product. 

   

Both Final Cut Pro 4 and DVD Studio Pro 2 now also include Compressor, a batch compression and transcoding (recompression) tool, much like Discreet cleaner, for automating long or repetitive video processing operations. Compressor allows you to export and compress directly to formats including MPEG-2 for DVD, MPEG-4 for streaming, and any other QuickTime format. Apple has upgraded its MPEG-2 compressor to provide professional controls including multi-pass VBR (variable bit rate) encoding. Compressor provides a variety of other options for automated processing, including watermarks and 30 built-in filters and effects.

For compatibility and extensibility with other production tools and hardware, Final Cut Pro 4 supports a new XML-based interchange format for importing and exporting project information with other tools, and a FireWire-based input/output format. The FireWire I/O framework supports high-quality uncompressed video (not just compressed DV) transfer with external devices. For example, AJA Video Systems (www.aja.com) has announced the Io, an uncompressed audio/video FireWire capture device for Final Cut Pro 4. It supports analog or digital audio/video in a variety of formats for the Apple PowerPC G4 or PowerBook G4, with 8 or 10-bit broadcast video quality. The Io will be available mid-year for $2290.

DVD Studio Pro 2

Also in April 2003, Apple announced DVD Studio Pro 2, another major upgrade to Apple's product line, and combined with a significant price reduction. At the same time, Apple lowered the price of the then-current DVD Studio Pro 1.5 to $499, with an upgrade price for new purchasers of $29.95. The upgrade price for existing customers is $199. DVD Studio Pro 2 is expected to be available in August.

   

DVD Studio Pro 2 is a major redesign, moving from a graphical schematic-based view of a project to a linear timeline-based view that can better support more complex projects. The timeline offers track-based editing, with chapter marks, up to 8 video angles, 8 audio tracks, and 32 subtitle tracks.

DVD Studio Pro also joins tools like the new Adobe Encore DVD by including an integrated menu editor. Instead of needing to design your menus outside of DVD Studio Pro as a layered Photoshop file with backgrounds, text, buttons, and highlights, you now can edit these elements directly in DVD Studio Pro. You can make changes including text, fonts, and button graphics in the new DVD Studio Pro menu editor, and it will composite them into the final menu images used on the DVD.

   

DVD Studio Pro also includes cool context-sensitive drop palettes. Much like the pop-up Edit Overlays in Final Cut Pro, you drag and drop, and select the action at the same time, such as creating and linking to new tracks or automatically building chapter indexes. Similarly, it provides helpful interactive guides and rulers to help align objects on menus.

And DVD Studio Pro, like Final Cut Pro, includes the new Compressor tool for automating video compression and processing operations.

Apple Pro

While Apple's snazzy iMac computers, sleek PowerBooks, and friendly iLife tools are the most visible part of its business, Apple has also kept a clear focus on developing the Mac as a professional digital media platform. Through strategic acquisitions and continued development, Apple has bulked up its product line to offer compelling tools for professional production spanning the broadcast, film, post-production, corporate, event, and pro audio markets.

Apple has been both persistent and aggressive in this focus, buying companies and terminating existing product lines. And the new versions of Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro have been significantly redesigned, added major new features, assimilated third-party add-on functions, and essentially have had their prices cut in half. That's serious.

And don't forget Logic and Shake. Logic Platinum 6 is a popular professional music production tool for composition, notation, and audio production, priced at $699. Shake is advanced compositing software designed for large format productions by motion picture studios and visual effects houses. Shake 3 compositing and visual effects software, starting at $4950, has been used in the production of over a hundred movies including all three films in Lord of the Rings trilogy. Very serious indeed.

While Apple's ambitions will reduce the development of additional third-party digital media tools for the Mac (Adobe's Encore DVD, for example, is being released only on Windows), it does continue to position the Mac as a compelling platform for a wide range of users, from newcomers who want an easy solution (iMac and iLife) to power users and professionals, running the Unix command line under OS X and editing films on their 17-inch PowerBook G4 laptops.

References

Apple - Pro Applications
    www.apple.com/software/pro

Apple - Final Cut Pro 4
    www.apple.com/finalcutpro

Apple - DVD Studio Pro
    www.apple.com/dvdstudiopro

Apple - Logic Platinum
    www.apple.com/software/pro/logic

Apple - Shake
    www.apple.com/shake

AJA Video Systems
    www.aja.com