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Playing to Apple's Strengths

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January 31, 2002|JIM HEID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Apple's new Mac OS X operating system has been ready to handle business tasks for some time, thanks largely to the arrival of Microsoft's Office version X for Mac in November.

But until recently, OS X hasn't been up to the needs of two markets that are Mac strongholds: video editing, and music and audio production. Programs in these categories must be able to communicate with external gear--video decks, camcorders, music synthesizers--without skipping a beat or a video frame.

Mac OS X's beefy, Unix-based foundation is ideal for real-time challenges such as these, but adapting older software to fit that foundation is a big job.

It's finally happening. Within the last month, two major video programs have made their Mac OS X debut, as have several audio programs. For video work, the big news is the arrival of native OS X versions of Apple's $999 Final Cut Pro and Adobe's $649 After Effects. Final Cut Pro is a professional-caliber video editing package that has become extremely popular in TV and film studios.

The new version 3.0 still runs under Mac OS 9, but it purrs under Mac OS X. Apple has tweaked its user interface only slightly--version 3.0 uses OS X's gumdrop-like window controls, but Apple wisely avoided the temptation to add visually distracting gewgaws.

The new version brings far more than just OS X compatibility. On a well-endowed system--a Power Mac G4 with a 500-megahertz or faster processor and at least 384 megabytes of memory--Final Cut Pro displays common video effects in real time. In previous versions, you had to either twiddle your thumbs while rendering an effect or buy expensive third-party acceleration hardware.

Final Cut Pro's real-time talents also shine on the top-of-the-line, 667MHz PowerBook G4. A 5-pound, 1-inch-thick, titanium-clad video editing workstation with real-time effects: Pinch me.

Other Final Cut Pro 3 additions include superb color-correction filters and something Apple calls OfflineRT. Oversimplified, it's a way of squeezing massive amounts of video onto a hard drive in low-resolution form for editing. When you've finished editing, you choose a few commands, and Final Cut Pro grabs your video at high resolution and applies your edits.

As for Adobe After Effects, the new version 5.5 builds on the 3-D animation features that debuted in version 5. The After Effects Production Bundle, a $1,499 version aimed at film and video pros, can even swap data with Alias-Wavefront's Maya 3D software--which also is available for Mac OS X.

In the music and audio realm, the progress hasn't been quite as dramatic, but things are sounding better. At the National Assn. of Music Manufacturers convention in Anaheim this month, several developers showed off OS X versions of their wares.

Propellerhead Software soon will be delivering OS X versions of its software, including its flagship program, Reason, which combines recording and sound synthesis and is particularly popular in the techno-dance worlds.

Bitheadz also demonstrated an OS X version of its Unity 3 Session software, which turns a Mac into a synthesizer and audio sampler. Emagic said it would ship the OS X version of its Logic Audio sequencer software by month's end.

Some OS X audio products are shipping now. Germany-based Ableton has shipped Live, an ingenious software-based instrument aimed at live performance.

Bias has delivered its Peak DV audio editor; it's included with Final Cut Pro 3. And TC Works is shipping two audio editors: the $19.95 Spark LE and the free (though still quite capable) Spark ME.

Many media producers will need to stay with or occasionally return to OS 9 until the software plug-ins and other utilities they rely on become available for OS X. But the pieces are falling into place.

*

Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at jim@jimheid.com.

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