QuickTime 4 Moves Upstream

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Apple's QuickTime logo, already a common sight on many Web pages, could become even more familiar to Internet users as the company rolls out a new version of its multimedia software with live streaming capabilities. Upgrade to QuickTime 4.0, and the same browser plug-in you use to view QuickTime movies on the Web will let you watch live broadcasts as well. It's all part of Apple's strategy to make QuickTime the reigning multimedia standard for the Internet.

Apple unveiled QuickTime 4.0 in April at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. Along with the new version, Apple announced that it will give away the source code to the QuickTime-based server software needed to host live Internet broadcasts. A public beta version of QuickTime 4 is available for free download ( http://www.apple.com/quicktime/ ). Apple won't say when the final version will be available.

QuickTime 3 introduced the ability to stream QuickTime movies over the Internet, meaning you could begin watching a movie as it was being downloaded. However, unlike RealNetworks' RealMedia or Microsoft's Windows Media (formerly NetShow), QuickTime 3 did not support streaming of live audio or video broadcasts. QuickTime 4 supports live streaming through Apple's new QuickTime Streaming Server software, which Apple will make available as a free update to Mac OS X Server. Apple will also offer an open-source version of the software, the Darwin Streaming Server, that developers can download for inclusion in their applications (see "Apple Goes Open Source with Mac Server," News, June 1999).

By opening its streaming software, Apple hopes to make it as easy as possible for developers to include live broadcast capabilities in their server products. Silicon Graphics, IBM, and Cisco Systems are already working to incorporate QuickTime streaming functions into their servers. Because QuickTime streaming is based on standard Internet protocols, Apple says it should be relatively easy for developers to create cross-platform versions of the software. In contrast, the streaming servers from Microsoft and RealNetworks are based on proprietary streaming protocols. Neither server is available in a Mac version.

Apple's streaming technology also benefits from the other capabilities in QuickTime. QuickTime product manager Steve Bannerman notes that streaming content can be incorporated with other media types, so you could have a CD-ROM title that pulls in a live video stream, or an interactive QuickTime movie with controls that let you jump from one video channel to another. A single QuickTime movie can even include streams originating on multiple servers.

Despite these advantages, there's no assurance that Apple's streaming technology will catch on. Microsoft and RealNetworks are well established in this market, and both offer specialized software for handling tasks related to live streaming, such as pay-per-view operations. With its open-source strategy, Apple hopes that other developers might step in with such products, but there's no guarantee that they will do so.

Aside from the real-time streaming capabilities, QuickTime 4 adds new playback software, a more flexible installer, a handful of new file formats, and improved versions of the Sorenson and Qdesign codecs that were introduced in QuickTime 3. As with the real-time streaming functions, many of these features were designed to make QuickTime more appropriate as a universal media format for the Web.

QuickTime Player

The QuickTime MoviePlayer is now known as QuickTime Player and features a revamped design resembling the interfaces in Kai's SuperGoo and other MetaCreations programs (see "A New Look for QuickTime Player"). The QuickTime PictureViewer, used to view and convert still images, sports a similar new look. As before, Apple will offer the QuickTime Player in Basic and Pro versions.

Flexible Installer

Downloading previous QuickTime versions was an all-or-nothing proposition: if you wanted any part of the software, you had to download the whole thing, a hefty 7MB to 8MB. QuickTime 4.0 includes a flexible new installer that lets you add only the components you really want, making the software more attractive to users who might balk at the prospect of a huge download.

You can choose from a 2.2MB Basic Playback download for viewing QuickTime movies and streaming Web content; a 2.7MB Enhanced Playback download that adds support for QuickTime VR, Video for Windows (AVI), MPEG files, video effects, and interactive movies; and a 5.6MB QuickTime Authoring download that adds components for creating QuickTime movies. A Custom Download option lets you pick specific QuickTime components. QuickTime 4 also provides for easier software updates; a menu option in QuickTime Player automatically accesses Apple's Web site to download new components.

New File Formats

One of QuickTime's big advantages is the long list of image, audio, and video formats it supports. Developers of QuickTime-based software can easily add the ability to import or export the supported formats. It's also a boon for Web developers, because the QuickTime browser plug-in lets you view a host of media types that might otherwise require separate proprietary plug-ins.

New readable formats in QuickTime 4 include FlashPix, a bitmap image format developed by Live Picture, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Eastman Kodak; Flash, the vector animation format developed by Macromedia; and MP3, a popular standard for downloading music from the Web. With Flash support, you will be able to use Flash animations as interactive elements in QuickTime movies. For example, you could include animated menu items that take the viewer to different parts of a movie.

QuickTime 4 also includes new versions of the Sorenson codec, used to compress QuickTime video, and the Qdesign audio codec. Apple says the upgrades offer higher quality, faster encoding, and new features designed to accommodate QuickTime's streaming capabilities. Sorenson Vision (435/792-1100, http://www.s-vision.com ), the developer of the Sorenson codec, has announced a $199 Mac OS program, Sorenson Broadcaster, that configures video or audio for streaming through the QuickTime server software.

Along with announcing QuickTime 4, Apple released Final Cut, the digital-video-editing software the company acquired last year from Macromedia (see "Final Cut Is Finally Here," elsewhere in this section).

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Apple, which has pinned much of its fortunes on cutting-edge hardware design, is applying similar principles to its software. The QuickTime Player (formerly MoviePlayer) sports a revamped interface, new audio and video controls, and a Favorites drawer for storing saved movies and links to QuickTime content on the Web.

As before, Apple is offering the QuickTime Player in two versions. The free Basic version is limited to playing back QuickTime movies. The $30 Pro version provides modest editing functions, enhanced playback features such as looping, and the ability to save QuickTime movies to disk. If you already have QuickTime 3 Pro, you are automatically upgraded to the new Pro version when you install QuickTime 4.0.


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