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Apple at the NAB: New goodies, new gotchas and the pitfalls of Apple’s upgrade program

by Eliot Hochberg, April 15, 2003

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At the weekend before last’s NAB, Apple introduced a number of new professional software tools. Final Cut Pro 4, DVD Studio Pro 2, Shake 3 and the new Logic 6 are all on their way to an Apple Store near you.

First up, Final Cut Pro 4. New features include LiveType broadcast quality text. Hopefully, this new tool will solve some of the annoying type problems that have plagued Final Cut Pro in the past. Soundtrack, a tool that sounds a bit like Acid, is also a potentially welcome tool, although not one that solves a big problem like LiveType should. The price of entry also gets you Cinema Tools, the software that allows FCP to effectively handle film-based projects. All in all, an exciting update to FCP.

Next is DVD Studio Pro. Built from the ground up in Cocoa, this new version has the potential to run much better than the current version. Hopefully, many of the problems associated with DVDSP will be addressed in this version. However, the supposed simplicity of the new version scares me. This is supposed to be a professional tool. Already in the current version, the features of DVDSP hide serious performance problems. I fear that simplified templates will expand these problems. Hopefully, the program will allow real pro users to still take advantage of low-level coding available to DVDs, while also adding new access to features not currently available in Version 1.5. One thing that creates a small bit of paranoia for me is the idea that Apple continues to make it more difficult for designers to get smaller jobs. By adding pre-built templates to a program which will now cost half as much means independent designers like me will have to work that much harder to get DVD authoring jobs. Not very nice.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing that Apple should keep things unnecessarily arcane or complex just to keep me in a job. What does worry me is people getting burned by fly-by-night operators who dazzle prospective customers with whiz-bang templates but who are clueless about adding more complex features, say, like multiple language subtitling. Put simply, it dilutes the brand.

Professionals like me have spent $1200 on a piece of software that doesn’t do everything that we expect it to. Now, instead of continuing to fix features and make it more professional, Apple is instead giving it the sheen of being easy to use. Apple is watering down the product, throwing in unnecessary “features” that will lead people to (wrongly) believe they can make professional discs. It may seem like sour grapes, but can I help but resent Apple for using the money I gave it to potentially put me out of business? I just feel that instead of spending all of that time putting those fancy templates in, it should have been fixing the software that I paid good money for and am struggling with.

On the plus side (yes, there is one!), the inclusion of Compressor should make optimizing MPEG-2 files more of a science than an art. I’m withholding judgment on new features like the timeline until I actually see them.

Shake 3 is a tool that is somewhat out of my current range of judgment. At $5000, it is a compositing tool that is still a real pro editors-only tool. Granted, it is less expensive than many competitors, and if I had five grand to drop on it, I’d get it, but I really don’t have a context to comment on it right now. We’ll see how the year goes.

Apple also announced Logic Platinum 6. It appears that in fact, Apple is going after a complete professional creative production system. I mentioned this in my July 16, 2002 article. Although I wasn’t right about additional acquisitions by Apple, the writing on the wall is clear, and Logic is another brick in that wall. It’s worth noting that Spruce’s compression technology likely became Compressor, and Prismo Graphics products probably became LiveType.

Finally, I do have another gripe about the DVDSP 2.0 announcement. DVDSP 2.0 will be $499. Okay, that’s normal, often newer versions are less than older versions; both 1.0 and 1.5 were $999. In addition, DVDSP 1.5 will also be sold for $499, with a $30 upgrade to Version 2 (act quickly, though; this deal expires in August for DVDSP and June for FCP). There’s a clear upgrade path to Final Cut Pro 4 for $399. Final Cut Express owners can also make the leap to Final Cut Pro 4 for $699. Apple also has an upgrade path for DVDSP 1.x for $199. Yet there’s no mention of any upgrade path for purchasers of previous versions prior to April 6, 2003.

I’ve spent (if memory serves) $1200 on DVDSP to get to Version 1.5. Dammit, I want credit for that! I should only have to pay $30, too. No, I don’t want some “upgrade price,” and here’s why: I’ve subsidized this product, and Apple never fixed very serious problems. If bug fixes were shipped for some of these problems I’d be less annoyed – but they weren’t and I’m not. If I was the suing type, I’d sue the company for putting out a faulty product and not fixing it and then expecting me to shell out more money for the new version, which takes work away from me.

Apple had better give us early adopters the same advantage as those jumping in today, or so help me, I will raise holy hell. Between that and the supposed “professional” designs included in DVDSP, I’m beginning to think that Apple really has lost touch with the idea of keeping its professional customers happy.

Eliot Hochberg (nhws@high-mountain.com) is a Web developer with over seven years’ experience.

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