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NAB 2006: The Mac Roundup

New gear debuts; 2k barriers lowered By Dave Nagel
Based on preliminary numbers, this year's convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, held this week in Las Vegas, drew in some 105,000 attendees, making it the largest showcase for new Mac gear in the last several years. And once again, the Mac took center stage at the show. Unlike some of the recent NAB conventions, NAB 2006 didn't offer up a huge number of new Mac product announcements, but it did serve as a launch vehicle for some significant ones, from Apple as well as third-party hardware and software developers.

Apple itself, of course, launched the new  2.16 GHz 17-inch MacBook Pro, a larger version of its Intel-based dual-core laptop system. The new machine takes over the top of the line position in Apple's Intel lineup. It offers a larger (17-inch at 1,680 x 1,050) screen, a larger default hard drive (120 GB), a slightly clocked-up graphics processor (still the ATI X1600), an extra USB 2.0 port, a FireWire 800 port and an 8x double-layer SuperDrive. For whatever reason, it also comes in at exactly the same price as the 2.16 GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro--$2,799. Those who ordered the new model during the NAB show say they've been informed that the units will be delivered May 11.

Much more quietly, but perhaps more significantly, Apple also introduced Shake 4.1, which is scheduled to ship in May. The new version is a Universal Binary port of Apple's high-end compositing system. The company showed Shake doing 2k compositing on a MacBook Pro and added that it's faster on the Intel-based portable in some respects than on a G5 Quad. 2k compositing on a laptop? Pretty swank. But Apple didn't say how upgrade pricing would be structured for the new version when it's released.

What Apple didn't talk about at all was the roadmap for Final Cut Studio, which was just last month released in a new Universal Binary form, though without any additional features. Apple also refused to comment on any developments in the area of Blu-ray or HD-DVD that might be incorporated into future versions of DVD Studio Pro; nor did Apple representatives offer any comments on Blu-ray burners that might be incorporated into forthcoming hardware introductions.

Nevertheless, the MacBook and Shake announcements were enough to make Apple's booth easily one of the most popular on the show floor--as usual located at the front of the exhibition hall and choking off floor traffic in the immediate vicinity. Contributing significantly to Apple's booth popularity at this year's show was their continuous name dropping of a certain Dave Nagel of CreativeMac.com in the company's looping exhibit hall presentation, quoting his recent benchmark studies of the MacBook Pro.

In other news, Apple announced that it can now boast some 500,000 users of Final Cut Studio applications worldwide.

More information: http://www.apple.com

Aside from Apple, several third-party hardware and software makers brought out some truly significant new gear at this year's show. Here's a brief look at some of the more major Mac announcements coming out of Las Vegas this week.

Avid kicked things off with some of the most major announcements at the show, launching a number of new products, not the least of which is a software-only version of Media Composer and new Mac support for Adrenaline and Mojo hardware. The company also announced Interplay, an $18,000 asset management system. Our own Charlie White has published an in-depth article covering these new tools, which you can find  by clicking here.

Avid also announced Xpress Pro 5.5 for Mac and Windows (in one box). The new version adds native support for HDV and DVCPRO HD, as well as improved format support on the Mac side (10-bit uncompressed SD, DV50 and Avid DNxHD). It brings real-time multicam support to the Mac and adds streamlined support on the Mac for Panasonic P2 and Sony XDCAM. Also specific to Mac systems is expanded film support (three-perf tracking, mixed film gauges and normal and advanced pulldown) and AVX 2 plugin support. Both Mac and Windows versions add Varicam support, enhanced HDV splicing performance, ingest of XDCAM HD over FireWire and full-screen SD and HD monitoring via the host graphics card. The company also said it would offer Universal Binary support for Intel-based Macs in future versions of Xpress Pro.

In addition to the new video tools, the company's audio subsidiary, Digidesign, previewed both Pro Tools|HD 7.2 and a Universal Binary update to Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools M-Powered. The new release of Pro Tools|HD is slated for rollout in the second half of 2006 and will incorporate several new features targeted specifically toward NLE workflows. These include integrated video editing capabilities, such as editing video in the timeline; the ability to work with multiple tracks and playlists; the ability to play QuickTime files through AVoption|V10 and Avid Mojo; and the ability to bounce audio and video to QuickTime. It also offers new multi-channel field audio features; various new automation features (such as plugin parameter linking, new automation modes and more); plus new integration features for working with Avid systems, expected to be implemented in the second half of 2006 in Avid and Pro Tools systems.


In addition to Pro Tools|HD, Digidesign also previewed a forthcoming release of Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools M-Powered. The upcoming version 7.1.1 will be available as a Universal Binary to enable native support for Intel-based Mac systems. No further information is currently available on the Universal Binary versions except that they will be available as free software upgrades some time next month.

More information: http://www.avid.com

Boris FX used NAB as a platform to throw in its support for Intel-based Mac systems. This includes the new Boris Red 4.0 and an upcoming version of Continuum Complete, which the company demonstrated in its booth running inside Final Cut Pro on an Intel-based Mac. Red 4.0, which is expected to ship in the third quarter, is a compositing and motion graphics package that offers 2D and 3D compositing, DVEs, extrusion and 3D animation, titling, motion tracking, vector painting and rotoscoping capabilities. The new version adds 16-bit color support, 40 new filters, vectorization of raster images, enhanced support for Wacom tablets, a new paint engine, EBU subtitle import and improved integration with Avid NLEs. The Universal Binary version of Continuum Complete will ship some time after Red 4.0.

More information: http://www.borisfx.com

Telestream also announced its forthcoming support for Intel-based Macs with its Flip4Mac Windows Media encoders and decoders. In January the company announced that Microsoft would be distributing its tools for viewing Windows Media on the Mac (including high-definition Windows Media) for free. The company also offers tools for importing and editing Windows Media files in QuickTime-based applications, as well as encoders for exporting Windows Media from various applications. The components for importing and exporting Windows Media range from $29 to $179. Versions that support Intel-based Macs are expected to begin shipping "within the next quarter," according to Telestream.

More information: http://www.telestream.com

On the hardware side, Blackmagic Design showed off its new DeckLink HD Extreme, a $995 PCIe-based HD capture board that offers both SDI and analog audio and compatibility with both HD and SD material. The board offers 4:2:2 HD and SD-SDI input, 12-bit component inputs, 14-bit component outputs, SDI I/O, 12 channels of audio in HD and eight channels in SD, two channels of balanced XLR analog input and output, two channels of AES/EBU inputs and outputs and an RS-422 connector. The card is available now in a four-lane PCI Express configuration. It supports a number of NLE and motion graphics software on Mac OS X and Windows, including Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Motion, Shake and other programs.

More information: http://www.blackmagic-design.com

Also on the hardware side, AJA Video Systems introduced an upgrade for its Kona 3 board. The upgrade will be implemented through a free software download. It adds cross conversion of 720 to 1080 formats and 1080 to 720 formats. And it includes several new capabilities relating to 2k workflows. The new support for 2k includes ingest and output of 2k footage at 23.98 FPS. It also has the ability to output SD downconverted and cropped footage at the same time that it's outputting downconverted and cropped 1080p, and it can simultaneously create 2k DPX files and 2k QuickTime reference movies. At AJA's booth at NAB, we had a chance to see the 2k system downconverting and cropping SD and HD footage on three separate monitors simultaneously with real-time panning and scanning and real-time LUT editing. The upgrade is expected to be available May 22.

More information: http://www.aja.com

Bella Corp. introduced the new Catapult, a direct to disk recording interface that allows users to record DV and HDV footage directly to a USB drive or iPod. It's compatible with FireWire-based camcorders and will ship for $300 in the second half of 2006.

The company also launched several new input devices, incuding updated editing keyboards with dual USB 2.0 ports, including the DV Keyboard 3.0, the Pro Series 3.0 and the Advantage Series 2.0. Both the DV Keyboard 3.0 and the Pro Series 3.0 off built-in shuttle/jog controllers.

More information: http://www.bella-usa.com

And, finally, Matrox returned to the Mac platform with the introduction of its new MXO, a video and audio output device for the the Mac. The MXO is a portable encoder and output device that connects to the Mac's DVI and USB 2.0 ports to output a variety of broadcast-quality formats, including component, composite, Y/C, HD, SD and SDI. It will ship in June for $995.

More information: http://www.matrox.com

We'll provide more in-depth looks at some of these new tools as they become available.

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