Leaving Los Angeles

Walking into Phil Schiller's keynote address at the second annual QuickTime Live conference recently was a bizarre experience for me.

And I'm not just saying that because it was in Southern California, the lesser half of the fair state. And I'm not saying it because it was in Beverly Hills, one of the most silicone-infused cities on the Left Coast. And I'm not saying it because it was in the Beverly Hilton Hotel , home to the Golden Globe Awards. No, I say the keynote was a bizarre experience because it was in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hilton -- aka the Indigo Room in Apple-speak -- the room that was home to, among other things, my senior prom.

You see this keynote was for me, shall we say, a return to the scene of the crime. Not any crimes that are likely to land me in jail -- nor ones that I will elaborate upon here -- but it was the first time I stepped into the room in many years.

My prom featured bad food, cheesy photographs, rented tuxedos, some type of entertainment that I can't even recall, for other reasons I won't elaborate upon here, and some awkward adolescent moments. QuickTime Live, by comparison, had nice lunches, digital cameras galore, techie-slob attire, and Joe Satriani at the Apple party that evening. However, the room still had a bit of the old awkward vibe lingering.

Many people -- myself included -- believed that QuickTime Live would be the place where Apple would release some new software. According to an August 23 story on MacCentral, new versions of QuickTime and Final Cut Pro were "all but completed" and would be "released in the next 60 days." Phil Schiller's keynote laid to rest any misunderstandings in that area.

QuickTime 5 was ready -- as a preview release. A beta, you'd guess? Nope, an alpha version -- something most people never see.

And what about Final Cut Pro 2? Well, because Final Cut is built upon QuickTime, there will be no new Final Cut until QuickTime is ready -- probably not until early next year. Apple did offer a glimpse of the new Final Cut, itself in a very early stage, during a demo showing its capability to offer real-time rendering and effects. Apple showed an amazingly similar demonstration at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Vegas earlier this year.

The only difference was that at NAB, there was no sleight-of-hand -- rather unusual for Las Vegas. In the City of Sin, Apple talked about the Matrox card that allowed such real-time bells and whistles, while here there was no mention at all of any additonal hardware needed. For a moment, I thought QuickTime had become so powerful it could quickly do calculations that were, only minutes before the demo, too complex for the CPU to process. Guess not.

And what about all the things promised for QuickTime 5? Earlier this year, Steve Jobs showed a streaming MPEG-2 video being decoded and played by the QuickTime Player. At QuickTime Live, there was very little said about MPEG-2. During a briefing, Frank Cassanova, director of product marketing for QuickTime, admitted that a licensing issue was causing problems for the inclusion of MPEG-2 in QuickTime. In the future, it might be better to check these things before telling the world that Apple will include them in upcoming releases.

To be fair, QuickTime 5 will have a bunch of cool new features: MPEG-1 streaming, a much-needed overhaul to the interface, a better DV codec, the capability to automatically download any needed third-party components.

And I'm hoping that just as the prom signified the first day of the rest of my life, so QuickTime Live begins a new era for QuickTime. But at the rate things are going, maybe Apple should stop using the word quick when describing any of their software products.

Associate Editor JONATHAN SEFF covers all things media and multimedia for Macworld , and writes about them regularly in his Media Magnet column.

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