QuickTime is more than just simple video. Apple’s multimedia architecture can marry many forms of media–video, sound, text, still images, and animations made with Macromedia Flash. QuickTime movies can also contain interactivity, such as clickable buttons that lead to Web pages or even other movies.
Totally Hip Software’s LiveStage Professional is the only program that can fully tap all of QuickTime’s interactive capabilities. And LiveStage Professional 3.01 is an important upgrade that adds support for Flash 4, XML, and QuickTime 5. But like previous versions, LiveStage Professional 3.01 is often cumbersome and can be difficult to learn.
With version 3.01, LiveStage Professional has gone multiplatform. It’s available for Windows, so you can share project files between operating systems. In addition, the Mac version now runs under both OS 9 and OS X. We tested it under OS X 10.1 with good results, though some of the program’s icons and interface elements are a bit crude by Aqua standards.
The LiveStage 3.01 authoring process is similar to that of earlier versions. You import existing content created in other programs, position it within the Stage window, and create scripts that specify how the content interacts. You can test your projects as you go, using LiveStage’s debugging window to track down scripting errors. When you’re finished, you can save a completed project as a QuickTime movie that will play back in any program with QuickTime support.
Many of LiveStage 3.01’s enhancements take advantage of new features in QuickTime 5. For example, because QuickTime 5 supports Flash 4, Live-Stage 3.01 projects can contain Flash 4 content. This enables you to create projects incorporating Flash-based dialog boxes and text-entry forms.
Another significant new feature is LiveStage 3.01’s ability to import and export projects as XML text files. This makes it possible to create dynamic QuickTime movies that display different content depending on various criteria, such as the time of day.
Like previous versions, LiveStage Professional 3.01 buries much of its power in a confusing interface. Changing the properties of media assets may require a journey across multiple tabs of a dialog box, and windows quickly litter your screen as you work. LiveStage Professional could use well-designed properties panels like those in Flash 5.
LiveStage Professional 3.01’s 558-page manual seems thorough at first, but it’s densely written and leans on examples and tutorials. Fortunately, Totally Hip Software has created some useful online resources–the LiveStage Developer Network (http://www.totallyhip.com/lsdn) and the oddly named BlueAbuse (http://www.blueabuse.com), which contains some fine tutorials. Even with these aids, however, LiveStage Professional is more difficult to learn than other multimedia-authoring programs.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you’re a professional QuickTime developer, you need LiveStage Professional 3.01–no other program does as good a job of tapping into QuickTime’s versatility. But if you’re a multimedia developer who needs interactive QuickTime only every once in a while, consider contracting with a developer who has already slogged to the summit of Mount LiveStage. This isn’t a program for occasional dabbling.