NAB: Are Apple Video Enhancements Ready for Prime Time?

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LAS VEGAS -- Apple didn't come to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention empty handed. During Apple's press conference on Monday morning, Apple's Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, announced an upcoming update to Final Cut Pro; the birth of RTMac, a PCI video card and breakout-box from Matrox Video Products Group that will provide users of Mac-based QuickTime video editing systems (including Final Cut Pro and Adobe's Premiere) with real-time editing, effects, and compositing; and a new product from Pinnacle Systems, another PCI card/breakout-box combination that will allow users of QuickTime-based video editing systems to acquire, create, and distribute uncompressed standard-definition and uncompressed high-definition video.

The update to Final Cut Pro (version 1.2.5) which is slated to appear next month, will be welcomed by video professionals generating content for general multimedia use as well as for the Web. This new version supports the 16:9 wide-screen format (allowing you to create QuickTime movies that will fit quite nicely on Apple's Cinema Display) and provide native YUV color support. Those who create QuickTime movies for the Web will be pleased that this new version of Final Cut Pro allows them to create Make Reference movies -- a process for generating movies of different sizes and delivering a particular-sized movie depending on the connection speed of the user downloading the movie.

Set for release in the Fall, RTMac is a $1,000 product that should interest anyone who's wasted precious minutes waiting for their video-editing software to render an effect or transition. In addition to providing real-time effects (currently limited to dissolves and motion with compositing, though Apple hopes that wipes will also be supported when the product is released), RTMac provides support for a second monitor as well as simultaneous real-time video playback on a computer- and NTSC/PAL monitor. While rendering effects in real-time is a time saver, the product's real strength lies in its ability to render motion with compositing. There are few things more frustrating than plotting a series of complex movements of an object across the screen, waiting while this effect renders, and then having to render the whole thing several more times to tweak one movement or another.

Apple's third announcement, TARGA Ciné, is certainly the most significant. Currently there is no system on the market -- Mac or PC -- that, for the price, provides this kind of support for uncompressed SD and HD video. The SD version of the system -- which includes the TARGA Ciné PCI card, its breakout box, and a Power Mac G4 is expected to cost under $10,000. The HD version which includes a second breakout box as well as the PCI card, Power Mac G4, and extra storage, should cost under $30,000.

Although Apple didn't reveal how much storage will be included in the HD system, one assumes that a hefty portion of the extra cost will go to fast hard drives -- a minute of uncompressed HD video consumes 3GB of storage space. A In addition to the extra breakout-box a Pinnacle representative hinted that a portion of that $20,000 would also be a "premium for doing HD."

Although the hosts of the announcement press conference said the product would be released in June, people close to the project say this an overly optimistic prediction. Apparently the drivers for the system are far from finished -- so unfinished, in fact, that a team of Pinnacle workers couldn't make the system stable enough to display HD in the Pinnacle booth, though Apple was able to make it work during its press conference. Also, because hard drive speed is a possible bottleneck, there are those who hope that faster drives will be available by the time the system ships.

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