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Streaming Tools, Worthy Upgrades
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, December 2000

Software upgrades frequently are limited and disappointing; however, for the world of streaming media production, the fall crop delivered a worthy and abundant harvest.

This month's Video Web column focuses on three important upgrades to tools designed for authoring streaming media web sites: the essential compression utility, Cleaner 5 (formerly Media Cleaner Pro), and two new upgrades from Adobe, GoLive 5 and Photoshop 6.

I'm hopeful that the quality of these new upgraded tools indicates that we are starting to move beyond the rough, bleeding edges of streaming media's pioneering days into a somewhat more mature video Web. For certain, this new generation of streaming media authoring tools delivers major usability improvements that will make the work of streaming media producers easier and thus more rewarding.

One caveat however. All three of these upgraded products are feature-rich, powerful tools with dozens of new features. My objective here is to point out some of the most important and useful features that are most relevant to the video Web. This column does not provide full reviews of these products.

Terran Interactive, now a Media 100 company, has delivered a remarkable upgrade to its Media Cleaner Pro software compression toolkit. In fact, even the name has been compressed. This essential compression workhorse that supports all three major streaming formats has dropped "Media" and "Pro" from its name. It is now known simply as Cleaner 5.

In addition to an effective interface facelift, perhaps the most important new features of Cleaner 5 involve "interactive streaming." I described this important new dimension of the video Web in my October column and in the White Paper published on Media 100's web site, "Interactive Streaming: The Creative Foundation of More Compelling, More Competitive Web Sites." (This paper can be downloaded free as a PDF file from the Media100 web site). Although October's column emphasized the integration of interactive streaming features in the new Media 100 i systems, the software behind these capabilities originated with Cleaner 5 and its new EventStream technologies. These features are now available (without the NLE timeline integration, of course) in this valuable upgrade.

In an attempt to make Cleaner 5 applicable to the DV camcorder boom, Cleaner 5 now also integrates DV capture capabilities by bundling MotoDV (a result of another Media 100 acquisition, MotoDV originates from Digital Origin, formerly Radius). In addition to providing an array of encoding options for RealSystem, Windows Media and QuickTime, Cleaner 5 also enables MP3, MPEG 1 and MPEG 2 encoding from almost any source. As always, batch processing is at the core of this utility, because you can compress for multiple platforms and multiple bandwidths from a single source file, in a single operation, while you sleep.

Bottom line, if you want to do the best possible job of compressing streaming media - and especially interactive streaming video - in the least amount of time, Cleaner 5 is the one essential tool that no serious professional would want to be without.

Adobe is not about to concede the professional web site authoring tool competition to Macromedia and its Dreamweaver software. The latest upgrade to GoLive, version 5, also has many new features including improved site management, a more Adobe-like interface and cleaner HTML code.

Of particular interest to video producers is a new QuickTime Layout and Timeline Editor which includes support for QuickTime Streaming. However, rather than even pretending to be an NLE wannabe, GoLive focuses on "post-post-production" features that will make it easier to customize QuickTime for the web. To this end, GoLive is now integrating relatively simple QuickTime production features such as the ability to edit QuickTime vector graphics tracks, picture tracks and more. In fact, many of GoLive's new track-editing features are hard to find in any other program. This, of course, is in addition to the program's built-in ability to generate the HTML code that is necessary in order to place movies within web pages including, for example, the commands for AutoPlay and Hide Control Bar.

I was also pleased to hear that Adobe is currently developing extensions to GoLive in order to deliver the ability to write SMIL files for use in the positioning of multiple media elements within the RealPlayer. Although Real continues to be the most popular streaming format, it's ability to, for example, use a Flash animation as the interface for a selection of video clips that are displayed within the same RealPlayer window depends on SMIL (synchronous multimedia integration language) to position the media elements. Few video producers want to learn this new programming language. I'm optimistic that GoLive's new ability to author these layouts will move many producers a step closer to being able to create these more dynamic kinds of presentations.

Bottom line, while our design shop is still mostly using Dreamweaver, GoLive 5 has demonstrated some unique capabilities that make it an important complement, and it's ease of use also makes it a serious contender for those professionals who are just getting started with web development. And, of course, one of GoLive's additional benefits is Adobe's continuing efforts to deliver ever tightening integration with Photoshop and its other programs. Case in point, GoLive 5 now also offers the ability - not only to link graphics via SmartLinks so that when you edit them in Photoshop they are updated on the web page where they have been placed including optimization - but GoLive can also now import Photoshop Layers as QuickTime Sprites.

Photoshop 6PHOTOSHOP 6
Adobe's upgrade to Photoshop, of course, also takes its obligatory steps toward better web integration (for example, by including some of the bundled program, Image Ready's web page image slicing features into Photoshop); but there's much more.

Major new features include the ability to draw and edit vector shapes (a la Illustrator or Freehand) and to retain them as independent layers so that you don't have to render them as a bit map until you are ready. And the vector layers can also have effects added, like a drop shadow for example, just like any other Photoshop layer.

Photoshop also has much improved text handling including a more accessible floating palette, professional kerning and other typographic controls, as well as the ability to change the color and other characteristics of individual letters.

Adobe has also recently announced new discounted software bundles that it calls Collections all of which include Photoshop 6. The Web Collection has an estimated street price of $999 and includes Photoshop 6, GoLive 5, LiveMotion (the After Effects-like web vector animation program) and Illustrator 9. The Dynamic Media Collection includes Photoshop 6, After Effects 4.1, Premiere 5.1 and Illustrator 9 for an estimated street price of $1,499 (Standard Version) and $2,149 (Production Version which includes the After Effects Production Bundle).

I am impressed with both the quality of the Photoshop upgrade as well as by the thoroughness of the way that Adobe is leveraging workflow advantages by integrating Photoshop output with GoLive as well as with its other products.

Because interactive streaming media is inherently more complex than linear video, leading producers of video Web content need well-integrated tools that make the job of producing these new forms of interactive media more accessible. Clearly, these three newly upgraded programs are steps in the right direction. It's heartening to see these software toolmakers practicing their craft so successfully. It's something for which I feel grateful.

I can only hope that these new forms of professional software empowerment mean that the promise of more successful online productions is just around the corner.

Stay tuned.

Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]


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