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Apple’s ready for its close-up

By Eliot Hochberg (eliot@high-mountain.com), June 20, 2002

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Is it unclear to anyone at this point what Apple is doing in video? Let’s look at the facts – over the last two years, Apple has used its considerable resources to gobble up the following:

It shouldn’t take a genius to notice what’s going on here, but here’s a clue: Look out Avid, Media 100, Discreet, et al. – Apple’s comin’ for ya.

You see, over the last decade or so, Apple’s Macintosh has been seen simultaneously as the tool of choice by graphics pros and as a toy by many film professionals. However, increasingly over the past decade, Apple’s products have made their way into professional TV studios around the globe. Actually, Macs have pretty much been there since System 7 came out, but if you ask industry folks who have been around a while, most of them insist (even still) that Macs aren’t really a presence. They cite Silicon Graphics, Sun, and even Windows NT as being more well-loved and used – and in many situations, that may be the case. But Hollywood’s dirty little secret is that often, instead of using the $100,000 system that’s booked solid for some other special effect, a lot of artists will use Macs because, for their budget and schedule, it just makes sense.

Well, the groovy thing is that Apple knows this. I’m sure that Macs are all over the Pixar Studios. I also bet that Steve Jobs has been disappointed that they aren’t in more places. However, that’s all about to change, because outside of college and corporate science labs, the biggest users of Unix-based systems for day-to-day work are probably in the entertainment industry. OS X is Unix, which means that many of the proprietary techniques that special effect wizards develop can now be made on Macs. Apple’s acquisitions over the past couple of years clearly indicate that Apple is going after these folks. The new Cinema Tools product (based on FilmLogic) is just one example of this.

So what am I saying that is new about this? I am making a prediction. I believe that possibly at MWSF, but certainly by MWNY 2003, Apple will announce an Xserve box with the following pre-installed software: Final Cut Pro (v3.5?), DVD Studio Pro (v2), Cinema Tools, Compositor Pro (to include Shake, from Nothing Real, and RAYZ and Chalice, from Silicon Grail), and a high-definition real-time (HDRT) video encoding card (based on the Spruce acquisition, which includes real-time MPEG-2 encoding hardware).

The last two items in that list are obviously my inventions. It’s possible that what I am calling “Compositor Pro” will just be features folded into Final Cut Pro – I’m thinking that the compositing programs are too big to just be features of another program, but I could be wrong. The HDRT card would allow for faster-than-real-time encoding of DV material into MPEG-2 for DVDs, and possibly help with other encoding chores as well.

The important thing to get from such an offering, though, is that Apple will be selling a system that works out of the box with everything a filmmaker needs to get the job done, and all for around $7000. More importantly, it will all just work, without the hassles that putting these items together yourself can have, on any platform. And it will be in a form factor that fits the way many editors have their studios set up.

If Apple doesn’t do something like this, they should – it makes all the sense in the world.

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