Macromedia today announced Director MX 2004 on the eve of Macworld Expo.

Director is Macromedia's professional-grade tool for building multimedia CDs and DVDs, kiosks and Web or intranet interfaces. Users can employ long video-streams, photo-quality images, audio, animation, 3D models, text and Flash content for distribution in many formats. It is particularly suited for creating educational and entertainment materials – and the upgrade offers "massive" speed improvements on previous versions, the company claims.

Like Microsoft Office, Director is as old as the Mac. The first version of the product – then called Videoworks – appeared in 1984. It has become a mainstay for this sector of the industry, commanding a claimed 90 per cent market share in the space.

This version of Director exploits the popular DVD-Video format. It means multimedia producers can embed, control and play DVD-Video format inside Director-produced content.

This matters to Mac users because it offers multimedia developers a way to create enhanced DVDs that offer Mac users the same level of functionality currently-enjoyed by Windows PCs – which Mac users haven't had before.

Supported features here include the ability to set-up trigger events during DVD movie playback (such as firing URLs); DVD navigation tools with custom user-interfaces; and allowing users of Director-produced enhanced DVDs to choose what and when of a DVD they wish to play back. The feature also allows the creation of Web-enabled experiences in which additional content such as movie scripts or storyboards are synchronized with DVD playback.

Flash authoring

Director carries a subset of components for creating Flash content within itself. Advanced users can launch and edit Flash MX 2004 or Fireworks MX 2004 from within Director, as long as the others are installed, with the resulting changes also automatically saved and re-imported into Director.

The product offers wide support for a swathe of media types (QuickTime, Windows Media, RealVideo, AVI), and its built in runtime engine offers consistent playback on both Mac and Windows platforms, Macromedia says.

Macromedia has made Director able to author for both platforms from one, so a Mac user can create content for PCs and for Macs on one machine, as PC users can for Macs (though PC users cannot author content for OS 9, Mac users can author for Windows, OS X and OS 9). The Author Once button lets users publish content to both platforms, and the application lets users create projects as standalone programs or Web-based Shockwave content.

Two programming languages are supported in Director: JavaScript and Macromedia's own scripting language, Lingo. The product also offers an extensible architecture, which means developers can build-in new capabilities, such as joystick or webcam controls.

Flash MX files bought into Director projects offer instant performance improvements of between 15-70 per cent, the company claims.

Both Mac and Windows versions of the software will be available. Mac system requirements are as follows: 500MHz Power Mac G3 or higher; Mac OS X 10.2.6 or higher; 128MB RAM (256MB recommended); 800-x-600-pixel display; and 100MB hard-drive space.

Director MX 2004 will cost £959. The upgrade price will be £319. Educational pricing is £369. Prices exclude VAT. The product ships in the US in February, and in Europe soon after.