MARCH 26, 2004
Macromedia Director MX 2004
Fig. 13: The layout may be a little different, but all the Flash Component settings are available from within Director.
Second, Flash playback is WAY faster than in previous versions. Expect better frame rates across the board, and with the tried-and-true Direct to Stage option coupled with the new ability to have Flash assets play with a single instance of the Flash Asset Xtra (rather than spawning a new one for each Flash asset), Director is now a much more reliable and speedy Flash container. DMX04 is therefore the perfect vehicle to bust Flash out of the browser and fill in for some of Flash's weak spots, such as when you need native QuickTime support or greater access to the host system.
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More video support
A real quick note, but an important one: in addition to the excellent QuickTime support Director has had for a long time and the getting exellent-er (to butcher a phrase) Real Media support Director has added in recent versions, DMX04 now rounds out the "big three" with native support for Windows Media. There's a catch, though: Windows Media is only supported in the Windows version of DMX04. I'm not sure why this absolutely has to be the case, since the Windows Media 9 player is available for Mac OS X; my guess is that the implementation is tied to some sort of dependence on DirectShow calls and therefore not portable to the Mac. But whatever the reason, all the native support for the big video formats adds to Director's already legendary status as an excellent tool for interactive long-form video.
I've got a few pet peeves with DMX04, but nothing as showstopping as the "nothing to see here, move along" problem I had Director MX. First up, I would like to have seen some form of Score nesting to further merge the Director and Flash paradigms. I suppose the fact that the two are so intertwined in DMX04 will have to do for now, but fully interactive Movie Clips (a la Flash) would be a welcome addition to Director.
Another letdown is that Director's 3D features are still inordinately difficult to implement. Looking at DMX04's 3D feature fresh on the heels of my review of Anark Studio 2.5 (which makes interactive 3D incredibly easy, yet doesn't skimp on power), I'm very disappointed that Director 3D is essentially unchanged from when it was first introduced in version 8.5. It's almost like Macromedia has decided that the true programmer can figure it out, and is leaving it up on a shelf for everyone else to just stare at. I know it can be made easier to use, because Anark did it, so unless Macromedia is really hanging 3D out to dry in favor of positioning Director solely as a complement to Flash, I would have liked to see an overhaul of the 3D functionality with an eye towards more general usability.
I also found the interface to be a little buggy—there were a few redraw errors and the like, with the biggest problem seeming to be that DMX04 doesn't acknowledge input from the numeric pad on the Mac. That's kind of a curveball to get around, and I would only hope that a Director MX 2004 10.01 update is forthcoming.
And, as promised, I'm continuing my recently-started tradition of warning you when a product contains some sort of activation scheme. DMX04 does require you to activate the software before you use it, and shares the same activation process as the rest of the MX04 line. That means you're allowed two installs (only using one at a time), but you can use the license transfer option to move computers quickly and easily. I had problems putting it on my PowerBook, though, as it complained that I had already met my license quota (even though I only had activated it on my desktop machine), so I'm still scratching my head about that. Overall, though, it's a fair system as far as activation goes, and on the one occasion I reinstalled Panther without deactivating my machine first, the Macromedia operator reset my account quickly and only needed my serial number to proceed (no name or other identifying information required). But it is still activation, so consider yourself warned.
I've saved the worst, such as it is, for last. My biggest annoyance with DMX04 is the continuation of the recent and very contemptible Macromedia tradition of shipping with unbelievably poor documentation. One might think that shelling out more than a grand for a new copy of Director would buy more printed manuals than the "Getting Started" leaflet one actually receives, but it turns out that one would be quite wrong in thinking so. Macromedia has turned printed manuals into a profit center, which is a pretty disgusting practice. Plus, useful tutorials are few and far between on the Macromedia site—you'll have better luck finding a windy white paper or some other such nonsense touting new features but not really demonstrating how to use them. This is a complaint for all of Macromedia's product line, though, but Macromedia is loath to do anything about it since they're pretty much getting away with it. Shameful.
The bottom line
Maybe my expectations for DMX04 were low after the debacle of Director MX, but man, Macromedia sure clawed its way back with this one. Quite simply, they nailed it. DMX04 has some great new features, is a more economical product for cross-platform publishers and, most importantly, has a real future. As for a rating, I'm sure I could break it down into user categories the way I did with the Flash MX 2004 review, but it wouldn't change the fact that DMX04 is in the rarified air of "Must Buy" status for just about everyone (even in the face of the ugly documentation situation). Sure, some of you Director MX purchasers may still be smarting, but try and find a way to overcome your fear this time. You'll thank yourself. But don't just take my word for it (most don't anyway)—go ahead and download your very own 30-day trial version from the Macromedia Web site and see for yourself.
Director MX 2004 is available now for Mac OS X and Windows. A full copy will run you $1,199, with upgrades from Director 8.5 going for $399.
When not fleeing the paparazzi or spending his vast fortune associated with the fame and notoriety of being a DMN contributor, Kevin Schmitt can be found with his eyeballs glued to his computer screen, attempting to use some of the hardware and software he rants so incoherently about. An award-winning animator, artist and multimedia producer, he is currently a freelance designer located in the enormously bustling megalopolis of Waynesboro, VA. Whether you're looking to "give him the business" of either the figurative or literal type, feel free to drop him a line. He's ready to believe you!
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