Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio
at a Glance

Maker: Macromedia
Price: $1,199 for the full version (Studio includes Director 8.5, Fireworks 4, Shockwave Multiuser Server 3 and some freebie software); upgrades are also available
Platforms: Macintosh and Windows
URL: http://www.macromedia.com

Overall Impression: It's difficult to generalize about a suite as feature-rich as Director 8.5. This multimedia authoring suite offers incredible flexibility and robust scripting without being overly complicated. It allows you to build Web content or standalone applications with ease and with a great degree of sophistication. Whether you're developing the latest D&D adventure game or simply building a presentation to take on the road with you, it would be difficult to find something this powerful and easy to use.

Key Benefits: Director 8.5 is the first viable platform for total 3D and interactive authoring. The power is incredible, as is the simplicity for some of the more common functions. The ability to drag library behaviors over objects makes this an incredibly valuable tool for rapid multimedia development, while the Lingo scripting offers essentially unlimited expandability for more complex projects.

Disappointments: In terms of library support, the 3D offerings are plentiful, but you can't do as much with it. There are some playback problems with QuickTime elements, and there's also artifacting when you apply vector motions to 3D objects. (This last one could be a graphics card issue with the ATI Rage 128 AGP.)

Recommendation: Strong Buy as both an upgrade and a straight purchase.

 

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REVIEW AUGUST 1, 2001
Macromedia Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio
[Page 5 of 5]

New media support and Flash 5 integration
As if the 3D component weren't enough to justify a half version upgrade, Macromedia has also tightened up its integration with Flash 5 and added support for Real Networks formats. One of the most important changes is the ability to control individual elements within an embedded SWF file. This means you not only have control over Flash frames and overall playback, but also the ability to work within a clip. Other enhancements to Director's Flash integration include:

  • Director can also supplement Flash's processing of XML data and even use the XMLSocket object in Macromedia Flash for XML applications.
  • You can also call functions in a Flash movie frame and retrieve the value.
  • Finally, the Shockwave 8.5 player allows users on the client side to print Flash objects embedded in a Shockwave file on an HTML page.

Now, in terms of new media types, in addition to Apple's QuickTime, Director now supports Real Audio and Real Video. This is an area I haven't been able to test owing to the fact Real content doesn't work very well on the Mac platform, and I don't have a service for streaming Real content. However, according to Macromedia, you can composite video sprites with other sprites; grab an individual frame from the video stream and manipulate it with special effects or use it as a 3D texture; and you can control sound in Real Audio with features like volume, pan, mixing and sound effects.

I have, however, been able to test QuickTime in both version 8 and version 8.5. In both cases, there are some issues with QuickTime that have yet to be resolved, whether the client's using QuickTime 4 or 5. Specifically, in Director 8, there were problems with artifacts appearing when an object moved over the QuickTime image. In Director 8.5, the problem seems a little more severe.

Now, in an earlier review, I said that I was having problems arranging QuickTime movies in the stage area (send to back, bring to front, etc.). However, thanks to one of our readers, Gary Ingle of the AllMedia Design Group (http://www.allmediadg.com), I have learned that there's a quick fix to this. Simply uncheck "Direct to Stage" in the QuickTime Property Inspector, as seen in the image to the right. All of a sudden, the QuickTime movie can be arranged as I see fit.

It's impossible for me to say whether Real content experiences the same problems, but I hope to bring you more on the topic when I'm able to test it and also to bring you a workaround for the QuickTime problem when I'm able to figure one out.

The bottom line
The Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio is an incredible value, and "value" isn't a word that comes up too often in the $1,200 product category. The new features in 8.5 make it worthy of a full number upgrade, and I'm a bit surprised Macromedia didn't take this route. I'm also not sure what they could add, excepting some new library behaviors and a QuickTime bug fix, to release a version 9.0. Seriously. I can't think of anything major they could add. I could see incremental upgrades, such as additional shaders and maybe some additional physics, but that's about it. Whether you're doing game development, building presentations to take on the road, creating chat rooms or simply building interactive content for a Web site, Director 8.5 is great. The bonus of a full version of Fireworks 4, which itself received a "strong buy" recommendation from us, makes it irresistible.

Any of you out there who have used Director in the past must realize that I've barely covered the program at all. There's just so much to do with it that I probably couldn't do it justice with a review five times as long as this one.

There were the negatives of the QuickTime playback problem and the inability to import OBJ files as advertised. I will modify these comments if I can figure out a way to get around them. At any rate, these problems can't overshadow Director 8.5's overall appeal. I give the Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio a strong buy recommendation.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.
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