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REVIEW JUNE 6, 2001

PowerBook G4 500 MHz
Titanium showcases Apple's new strengths

by Jim Grant

Apple’s new Titanium Powerbook G4 is a visually striking addition to the ho-hum world of laptop computers—and offers interesting potential for the video professional. The unit I tested had a 500MHz processor, 256MB of built-in memory and a 1MB backside cache, a 20GB hard drive, DVD drive, 56K internal modem, one PCMCIA slot, and Mac OS 9.1.

There is no mistaking this laptop. The gray titanium case is sleek, distinctive, and yes, thin. While Apple’s marketing touts titanium as exceptionally strong, the computer has a delicate feel. Titanium or not, I’m not going to risk dropping it. But at 5.3lbs. and just over 13”x9.5”, it packs a lot of electronic muscle in a small package. It also benefits from Apple’s penchant for clever design. The white Apple logo on the cover glows from the screen’s backlight. The cleverly designed cover clasp pulls into the case when disengaged so that it won’t snag skin or clothing.

Opening the cover reveals what seems like acres of screen real estate. The 15.2-in. screen is bright and clear with 1152x768-pixel resolution. The extra screen space translates to greater productivity in computer tasks. More windows can be open and available at once and large enough, in many cases, to eliminate the need for scrolling around documents and images.

The power of 500MHz processing is immediately apparent upon startup. About 85 seconds pass between Apple’s distinctive chord and complete startup. That beats my Powerbook 266MHz G3 by 30 seconds. All of the functions are noticeably peppier—opening and closing windows, launching applications, and saving your work.

Side view of Apple's Titanium Powerbook G4, which has a list price of $3,499.
In order to give a comprehensive review, I wanted to be able to use my typical set of applications. Instead of copying them all onto the new machine, I used a portable drive instead—a 10GB FireWire/USB drive from LaCie, which gets its power from the laptop. The Powerbook G4 has one FireWire port and two USB ports on the back panel—all hot-swappable.

Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Filemaker 5, and Netscape Communicator all ran from the LaCie drive. All of the applications were quick and responsive thanks to the 500 MHz processor and the FireWire connection.

Apple also provided a copy of Final Cut Pro 1.5, which I quickly installed from the CD.

So to this point I have described a very nice, relatively expensive laptop computer. Exceptional design and fully featured. What, if anything, would draw a video professional to this computer? iMovie 2 and Final Cut Pro.

There’s money to be made with this computer, those two programs, and any FireWire-capable camera. iMovie 2 is an amazing little editing program. Although major nonlinear editing systems have no reason to fear this feisty application, the program is capable of producing marketable programs.

For clients who need short and relatively simple featurettes, say for a website, iMovie 2 can deliver. I tested this application by creating a two-minute wrap-up of a local high school basketball game. I shot it on a Sony PC100 DV camcorder, loaded the footage directly from the camera into the computer via FireWire, and output a web-ready streaming movie. Once the footage was loaded, the editing took about 10 minutes, including creating a title and rendering two or three effects between scenes.

For another test, I took the Powerbook G4 and my Sony DSR200 three-chip DV camera to a major nonprofit client’s office. There I recorded a 10-minute standup presentation by the chief executive. What was unusual about this job was that I did not use any tape. I connected my camera to the computer via FireWire and recorded the presentation directly to the hard drive using Final Cut Pro. The material was immediately available for review on the Powerbook’s large bright screen. When I returned to my office, I played the program out via FireWire through the camera to a VHS deck and delivered two VHS copies to the client the next day.

While a complete review of Final Cut Pro is beyond the scope of this article, in just the few days I spent working with it I found it full-featured, easy to operate, and flexible for various styles of editing.

The bottom line on this new laptop from Apple is that it can quickly help the bottom line—as a revenue-generating addition to a video professional’s bag of tricks. In addition to the traditional functions of word processing, graphics creation, and financial calculations, the Titanium Powerbook G4 can do real video production.

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Jim B. Grant is president of Communicating Services, a full service corporate and industrial production company in Atlanta. He can be reached at jimgrant@csivideo.com.

2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved

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