Mac Gems

Mac OS X includes ways to take screen captures, but as with many other built-in features of the operating system, third-party products improve on the basics. For many years, the standard has been Ambrosia Software's Snapz Pro, and we were very pleased when the OS X version came out (   ; January 2002). With the release of Snapz Pro X 2.0 (   ; screenshot-only version, $29; movie version, $69; upgrade, $20; www.ambrosiasw.com), Mac users have even more to be happy about.

Snapz Pro X lets you capture an entire screen, objects (singly or in groups), or a selected area, in most common file formats (TIFF, JPEG, and PDF, to name a few). You can include borders and watermarks, create thumbnail icons, and choose color depth and compression levels. Some of these features have been around for a while, but the new Live Preview mode lets you see exactly how your screenshot will look, including all the options you've applied, before you actually take it -- a big time-saver.

The improvements to Snapz Pro X's image-capture component alone make it worth its price. But what will blow you away is its movie-capture ability, which has been significantly improved since version 1.0. You can now record full-motion video and audio (the latter from your Mac, an external mike or input, or both) of action on your Mac's screen, at up to 30 frames per second in millions of colors. When you're done recording, you choose the video-compression format from your QuickTime-compatible codecs, along with frame rate, color depth, and data rate (useful for creating smaller videos for the Web or for e-mail messages), as well as audio-compression settings. You even get a real-time preview of the movie as it's being rendered, something the app does very quickly.

Snapz Pro X's interface has also been substantially overhauled; it's now easier to perform basic actions, but you still have quick access to more-advanced features. If you need to capture your screen, Snapz Pro X 2.0 is the tool to use.

Readily Transparent

Speaking of your screen, if you've ever tried to watch a DVD while working, you know that unless you have multiple displays, it's a constant battle for screen real estate. Either you have to keep switching back and forth between your work and DVD Player windows, or you need to make one or both windows so small that you can't really see either very well.

CE Software has taken an interesting approach to this problem with its $15 Trans Lucy 1.0.1 (   ; www.cesoft .com). Using OS X's Quartz Extreme technology in ways Apple probably never imagined, Trans Lucy makes your movie translucent and sticks it right on top of your other work -- you can still see, and use, other applications through the haze of your movie. (Note that your video card must support Quartz Extreme for translucency to work.) If you want to temporarily view the movie in all its glory, simply move the mouse over the Trans Lucy controller. And if having your movie on top of other windows isn't your thing, you can instead choose to view it floating over your desktop but behind other applications.

Trans Lucy's controller offers most of the features of Apple's DVD Player and adds jog dials for opacity and scrubbing. (If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can use the wheel to control those functions.) You can also control the player via user-defined hot keys.

Trans Lucy gives new meaning to the term multitasking -- and it's an impressive demonstration of the power of Quartz Extreme, combined with a bit of ingenuity.

First Rate

I can be somewhat obsessive when it comes to rating my iTunes songs, mainly because ratings can be used in smart playlists. However, setting the ratings for songs can be a hassle -- even iTunes' Dock menu requires a couple of steps. Beverage Software's $5 Rating Bar 1.1 (   ; www.beverage software.com) is just what I was looking for. It displays the rating (if there is one) of the current track in the menu bar -- just click on a star to set or change the song's rating. One cool way to use it is to create a smart playlist in iTunes that consists of unrated songs, and then use Rating Bar to rate each song as it plays.

Your Own Whistle-Blower

Nowadays it seems as though more and more applications are phoning home -- surreptitiously contacting the developer's (or other) servers for various legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons. In addition, Trojan-horse applications can send a hacker your personal or computer-related data over the Internet. If these types of things concern or annoy you, Objective Development's $25 Little Snitch 1.1 (   ; www.obdev.at) may put your mind at ease.

Little Snitch acts as your own private security guard, watching outgoing network connections. If the app detects a connection attempt that wasn't obviously initiated by you, up pops an alert with the name of the offending application and the IP address and port to which the app is trying to connect. You decide whether to allow or deny the connection -- once, until the application quits, or forever. You can also decide whether to apply that decision to just that IP address and port, any port on that server, or the same port on any server -- or to allow or deny any connections by that application. For example, you may want to give your e-mail client permission to connect to any server, forever, so that it can always get your e-mail, regardless of the e-mail account you check.

Little Snitch takes a bit of patience as you configure it, one connection at a time, to your preferences. But once you get past the initial training, you'll see its dialog box only when an app -- good or bad -- is trying to connect behind the scenes.

DVD Restoration

You used iDVD to create a DVD a few years ago, and now you'd like to spruce that DVD up with a new theme or some additional titles. Or perhaps you'd like to use its video in another movie, but you no longer have the DV files on your hard drive. Because of how DVD-Video discs are put together, you can't just copy files off the disc and reuse them. You could recapture all the material (assuming you still have the tapes) and start from scratch, but the $25 DVDxDV 1.07 (   ; www.dvdxdv.com) can extract video and audio from your DVDs for editing in Apple's iMovie, Final Cut Express, or Final Cut Pro.

To get your digital footage back, you simply insert your DVD and then choose File: Open DVD. DVDxDV will display each track on the disc, and let you preview audio and video contents (though not at the same time). You then select a whole track or set in- and out-points, choose Extract: New Movie, and choose your export format -- iMovie/Final Cut (either NTSC or PAL) for DV, or Expert, which provides access to all your QuickTime codecs. Then sit back and watch DVDxDV restore the contents of your DVD.

Note that DVDxDV doesn't decrypt commercial DVDs and that you'll suffer a loss in quality when you transcode your video. However, this program may prove to be invaluable when you need to regain otherwise-lost footage. (An $80 Pro version, which offers a number of more-advanced features, is also available.)

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Go to www.macworld.com/macgems to see an index of all of our Mac Gems reviews.

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