QuickTime 4 Pro full review

Although QuickTime 3's pseudo-streaming Fast Start was a clever feature, Apple missed a trick by not including a full live-streaming capability. As a result, Real Networks, the developer of RealVideo and RealPlayer, got there first with its proprietary server software and took a large chunk of the market. QuickTime 4, now in beta, demonstrates Apple’s determination to make up some of that ground – it’s the first streaming software to use the industry-standard streaming protocols RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) and RTSP (Real-time Streaming Protocol). As such, it will appeal to all Web authors and ISPs who don’t want to be forced down the Real road, and is likely to put QuickTime back on top as a video/audio standard on the Web. There are two faces of QuickTime: the basic playback features of the QuickTime Player (previously known as MoviePlayer) with its associated applications PictureViewer and the QuickTime Plug-in; and the more extended functionality of the Pro version. Upgrading from QuickTime 4 to the Pro version involves registering your copy of the basic software at a cost of $29.95; the registration code unlocks a whole set of extra features for editing, importing, exporting and adding your own codecs. Most of these goodies become available through the QuickTime Player window, making the Pro version at first glance indistinguishable from the standard version. QuickTime 4’s new interface look-&-feel is shared with Apple’s eagerly-awaited digital video-editing software, Final Cut Pro – currently only available in the US. It’s a smart, brushed-aluminium window style that appears to take its inspiration from a solar-powered wallet calculator. The QuickTime Player window is a triumph of minimalism. On the unextended window you get the time slider, a volume control, play and stop buttons, two buttons that slide down a more fully-featured controller – including a new graphic equalizer, and an Info panel and a Favourites window where you can store files in any supported format. The Pro version of the QuickTime Plug-in adds the facility to save movies viewed in a Web page, which saves Web surfers scrabbling around to retrieve movies from their caches. Overlooked capabilities
One excellent but often-overlooked thing about QuickTime is the fact that it gives you some powerful video-editing capabilities for a fraction of the price of professional software. You can caption and sub-title, add masks and use alpha channels, and add searchable text tracks. You can also work with MIDI data, VR movies, sprites and 3D models rendered by QuickTime. The reason why this is often overlooked is that Apple doesn’t supply an official user guide – and QuickTime 4 isn’t sufficiently intuitive that a morning’s pottering will show the basics. To get to grips with all the editing functions you have to buy yourself a third-party ‘how to’ book such as Stern and Lettieri’s Visual Quickstart Guide to QuickTime and MoviePlayer Pro (Peachpit Press), sadly not yet updated for QuickTime 4. The lack of a user guide is a major oversight on Apple’s part, especially now QuickTime Pro is no longer free: thousands of amateur Web authors could be forgiven for feeling a bit disappointed at having to fork out for a book that tells them how to use their newly purchased software. The editing facilities in QuickTime Pro haven’t been significantly extended for Version 4 (Apple is presumably being careful about QuickTime treading on Final Cut’s toes). One important new feature, however, is the multi-format editing capability, which allows you to add, and composite together, tracks containing media in any supported format. There’s also support for Macromedia Flash files: the QuickTime Player will open them and reproduce the full range of Flash interactivity.. The Player also has three new effects – brightness and contrast, lens flare and a zoom – and the blur and sharpen effects have been speed-bumped and given new options. There’s also a new slider control that is supposed to make it easier to select sections of a movie for editing. But the sliders, which use word-processor-like margin tabs to indicate the selected area, are microscopic and awkward to move. To be really useful, the timecode indicator should offer the facility to type in the points you want to select. Re-purposing tool
Video and audio – compressed using the latest versions of the Sorenson video and QDesign Music codecs in QuickTime 4 – result in smaller file sizes than QuickTime 3. A 480-x-260-pixel Star Wars trailer with 44KHz stereo sound, for instance, took up 4.1MB as a QuickTime 4 file, but 4.7MB as a QuickTime 3 file with 22KHz stereo sound. QuickTime 4 now supports 13 different video codecs, including a new facility for exporting to DV format. And with the addition of a wide range of audio codecs, Version 4 takes QuickTime way beyond being ‘just’ a video application. Audio codecs now include QDesign Music 2, Qualcomm PureVoice and a playback-only version of MPEG Layer 3 (you can encode MP3 using Media Cleaner 4 Pro with the Fraunhofer Institute’s MP3 Encoder). Via a plug-in architecture, QuickTime 4 also supports an additional range of other encoders, such as Intel’s Indeo 5. To add to this, you can open a huge range of still picture, video and sound formats in QuickTime 4 Pro, including GIF, JPEG (with CMYK support in Version 4), MIDI, MOV, AVI, WAV, BMP and Macromedia Flash files. This widest-ever range of supported file formats and codecs makes QT 4 Pro excellent as a re-purposing tool. A capability underpinned by the new Export pop-up menu with its list of the most popular Web-appropriate presets for fast re-purposing saves. The QuickTime 4 beta is remarkably stable, although there’s still a handful of glitches here and there. At the time of going to press, there was no indication of when the full release is due out.
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