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Goodbye, Hello

Jeff Sauer

January 2000 | After six years' writing for CD-ROM/EMedia Professional, my good friend Jan Ozer has traded in his press credentials for an executive position with a private sector startup. While Jan loves the technology and writing about it, he has reunited with past colleagues in an adventure where his vast industry knowledge will undoubtedly serve him well. His gain is our loss, and we wish him the best.

EMedia will continue to offer information and insights on digital video technology and industry advancements. Fortunately, I've been Jan's contemporary for several years, following digital video from its struggling early days. I've tested burgeoning, non-linear editing systems and capture cards during the mid-'90s and, more recently, streaming video, and have been a regular contributor for industry publications including NewMedia, Video Systems, Presentations, and AV Avenue, as well as EMedia. Jan and I walked similar journalistic beats and often compared notes on new products, companies, and test results to ensure quality reporting, and sat together on industry panels.

Yet, while Jan and I share a fascination with compression, streaming media, and digital video devices, we're not of one mind on all subjects. Jan's self-expressed predilection for Windows was, in fact, the primary impetus for the majority of my past contributions to EMedia. Unexcited and under-equipped to test Mac products, Jan graciously passed some Apple-related assignments and product reviews over to me.

To be sure, I'm no Mac-fanatic and use both Windows and Mac systems regularly--even UNIX on occasion. My left brain sees them all as tools, and my right brain is more concerned with the images they produce and unrelated muses like the music of Bach and the plight of the poor Red Sox.

Like most large companies, Apple is easy to hate because of its arrogance dealing with the public at almost any level: from customer service to product marketing to developer relations. As a rule, larger companies get more inquiries and demands for attention, making it hard for them to remain excited and committed to every individual. Nonetheless, Apple often seems to one-up even the worst-mannered companies with a surprisingly widely observed attitude of taking itself too seriously, and treating its developers and partners very poorly.

But Apple has also been resilient, especially of late. Apple was a digital video pioneer and continues to be a driving force. Apple was late getting into the streaming media game with QuickTime 4.0 [See Ozer's July column "Welcome Apple. Seriously, p.65--Ed.] compared to Windows Media and RealVideo; but, let's face it, streaming video is still an emerging market. Bandwidth issues still muzzle most of Web streaming, and immature products and/or corporate naiveté hinder intranet use.

QuickTime remains the most widely used format for video production, and downloading QuickTime is still the most popular format for viewing video off the Web. Thus, Apple didn't need to rush streaming QuickTime. There's plenty of time and room in the streaming video market for the company to create quite a stir as streaming QuickTime tools become available.

Meanwhile, there's another revolution afoot. For years, the video-capture cardmakers have been invoking the desktop publishing analogy, but now desktop video is finally happening with Apple at the fore. The DV camcorder is the "laser printer" this time, with similarly remarkable image quality for the price.

Sure, Apple's dropped the ball with high-end, non-linear post-production. Without a six-slot Mac anymore, they've effectively conceded it to Windows, and the Avids of the world now focus on NT for top-end uncompressed video editing. Nonetheless, Apple's power-to-the-creative-people mantra now reaches a broader sector. Even the latest iMacs include built-in FireWire and bundle a modest editing software, iMovie.

For $1,299 and a DV camcorder, you'll have the tools to create professional results. No joke. (Admittedly, adding hard drives to the iMac is a problem, and a $1,599 G4 is a better choice.) Because DV camcorders capture digital data that can be transferred losslessly onto a computer drive for editing, image quality stays first generation. With DV, that quality rivals, and statistically exceeds, professional analog BetacamSP, but for dramatically less money. A pro or aspiring pro can shoot DV, edit digitally, and hand a client or TV station a Betacam dub of the finished program, and odds are no one would know it wasn't done on an $80,000 Avid.

Can a pro edit faster on an Avid? Absolutely. Is there other editing software available that makes the work easier? Yes, including Apple's own Final Cut Pro. But, with DV, image quality is no longer an issue. The output is the same because the footage stays first generation (except when adding transition, graphics, and titles, since new media is created).

Several companies supply FireWire expansion cards for Windows--including Pinnacle Systems, Fast, Canopus, and DPS--and Sony builds FireWire (or i.Link) ports into most of their desktop systems. However, with Apple, it's all integrated into the operating system: both the FireWire interface and the QuickTime video architecture (including DV support). Pinnacle's new StudioDV gets close trying to make it easy under Windows, but the OS isn't much help. With a Mac and a DV camcorder, you're off and running.

At the beginning of the '90s, digital video was an exciting concept. Later it became practicable and changed professional video post-production. Now, it's built in, virtually free, and easily managed by today's powerful CPUs. Love 'em or not, Apple has been there each step of the way.

Jeff Sauer (jeff@dtvgroup.com), new columnist for The Moving Picture, is the Director of the DTVGroup, a research and test lab that regularly reviews tools and technology. He is an industry consultant, an independent producer, and a Contributing Editor to New Media Magazine, Video Systems Magazine, Presentations Magazine, and AV Avenue.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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