Macs Are Vegas Headliners at NAB Show

Like roulette tables at a Las Vegas casino, Macs have usually enjoyed a modest presence at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show. But the Mac platform is overshadowed at the annual multimedia showcase by flashier, louder, and more prominently displayed products and exhibits.

Whether roulette tables make a bigger splash this year remains to be seen. But when the NAB show begins today in Las Vegas, the Mac platform figures to be well represented by developers with Mac product news.

Credit the arrival of a new version of QuickTime -- version 5.0 is now available for download -- as well as the release of Mac OS X for the Mac's more prominent role at NAB. The former, with its Cubic VR feature, is pushing companies to develop panoramic imaging software. And the latter has given the Mac platform the kind of next-generation operating system that appeals to NAB's high-end clientele. The release of Final Cut Pro 2.0 has helped raise Apple's NAB profile, as well.

The NAB show marks the Mac coming-out party for RealViz, a French-based maker of image-based content creation software. Although Apple has let its own QTVR Authoring Studio product languish in recent years, it is still acknowledged as the best panoramic stitcher available on the platform. RealViz is bringing high-quality panoramic creation back to the Mac with the debut of the OS X port of Stitcher, its highly-regarded professional panoramic stitching tool. RealViz plans to demonstrate Stitcher during the week-long trade show; the $800 application will be released in the next few weeks.

Stitcher's highlights include the automatic placement of the panoramic source images. Besides creating standard panoramas, Stitcher will be the first tool on the Mac to easily support the creation of photographic-based cubic projection QTVRs, introduced with QuickTime 5. To demonstrate how quickly panoramas can be generated using the Stitcher software, a crew from RealViz partner Kaidan is taking to the Las Vegas Strip, armed a Nikon D1 digital camera mounted atop the company's multi-row panoramic camera head. Kaidan will use that equipment along with Stitcher to produce a series of 10-minute cubic panoramas.

Both Matrox and ProMax will demonstrate products for doing real-time titles and effects on the Mac. Matrox has its $999 RTMac card, which is already shipping, while ProMax will show off its $1,495 RT-MAX board, scheduled to be available in June. If the products sound familiar, there's a reason -- both were shown at last year's NAB trade show. But both products rely on updated features in Final Cut Pro 2.0 and QuickTime 5; neither Apple application was shipping during last year's show.

Adobe's recently introduced After Effects 5.0 features an enhanced After Effects plug-in specification to take advantage of added support for 16-bits per channel -- a critical feature for those involved with high-end film and video compositing. Three vendors will show off plug-ins that take advantage of this new capability at the NAB trade show. Vision Effects is shipping the Pro versions of its ReelSmart Twixtor and Motion Blur plug-ins while The Foundry will demo its Tinderbox 2 collection of effects plug-ins. Meanwhile, Synthetic Aperature is exhibiting its Echo Fire 2.0 plug-in, which renders accurate digital video previews.

Sorenson Media is using the NAB show to announce its Vcast media streaming service. Available initially as a beta download for both the Mac and Windows platforms, the final version should launch this summer. The application is effectively a simplified version of Sorenson Broadcaster, a live-streaming Internet tool for QuickTime. Vcast will allow users to easily connect a live stream or upload material to the Vcast server. Vcast-streamed content may be viewed using QuickTime 4 or 5 Players, or any application that supports QuickTime streams. Sorenson will add support for Windows Media Player and RealPlayer clients at a later date. Other features that will be added include the ability to view archived broadcasts. An included usage monitor provides real-time statistics during the broadcast, as well as an aggregate report after the event. All streams are hosted from a URL originating at the user's site, with the Vcast system passing back a URL to the client -- private branding via a custom player is also possible. Unlike other commercial streaming services that require provisioning weeks in advance, as well as data rate and stream minimums, Vcast doesn't need that.

The system recently underwent a live test when it was used to host the 171st annual General Conference of the Church of Latter Day Saints, serving 160 different types of streams and peaking at 27,985 simultaneous streams. Sorenson hasn't set Vcast pricing, but it will be similar to tier-packages of cell phone service.

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