Apple upgrades OS, video-editing tools

Apple Computer has announced the release of several products–including a new version of its OS X operating system and new video-editing software.

On April 18, the company announced that a new suite of video- and audio-editing software, called Final Cut Studio, will be available starting in May.

“The arrival of Final Cut Studio ushers in a new era of high-definition [HD] video production that relies on effortless integration of video, audio, and effects to elevate production values,” said Rob Schoeben, Apple’s vice president of applications marketing. “Final Cut Studio allows producers to edit in a broad range of HD formats, add stunning motion graphics, sculpt the perfect soundtrack, and burn their projects to high-definition DVDs.”

The HD video production suite includes a major upgrade of Apple’s Final Cut Pro software. Now in its fifth edition, Final Cut Pro 5 builds on the earlier, Emmy award-winning editing software for video and film. New tools let video editors cut from up to 128 sources with simultaneous, real-time playback of up to 16 video angles at a time, making Final Cut Pro 5 good for the complex editing tasks involved in creating industry-quality television programming, broadcasting school activities such as sporting events and concerts, or any number of tasks that incorporate the use of edited video, Apple said.

Final Cut Studio also includes several tools that complement Final Cut Pro 5.

Soundtrack Pro, a new professional-quality audio-editing and sound-design application, can be used as an audio-editing application on its own or in tandem with Final Cut Pro 5 features.

Motion 2, the latest version of Apple’s real-time motion graphics software, enables Final Cut Pro editors to add complicated three-dimensional graphics and animations like sparkles and space clouds to their projects.

In addition, Apple says its DVD Studio Pro 4 application is the first commercially available DVD authoring software that permits users to burn high-definition DVDs based on the next-generation HD-DVD specification. Apple demonstrated DVD Studio Pro 4 at the recent National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Las Vegas with a prototype consumer HD-DVD player from Toshiba set to debut later this year.

“Education is a very important market segment for us,” said Kirk Paulsen, senior director of professional applications marketing for Apple. “We have the opportunity to train the next generation of editors and artists. That’s one of the primary reasons that we’ve priced it so aggressively in the education space.”

Apple will be releasing Final Cut Studio starting at $499 for educators. Individual components will be sold separately, ranging from $399 for the stand-alone Final Cut Pro to $99 for the individual unit of Soundtrack Pro. Bulk pricing will cost $399 per seat for five or more seats, and educators will have the option of paying this same amount per seat in a maintenance charge that guarantees all updates over the next 36 months.

“In the areas of graphic arts, visual arts, music and video production, this [price] is a huge benefit,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Pennsylvania and an Apple Distinguished Educator. She added that her elementary-school computers cannot support any software for the Mac OS X platform and said, “I will not make the move [to the upgraded Final Cut software] for that level.”

Larry Anderson, a former Apple Distinguished Educator and director of the National Center for Technology Planning, based in Tupelo, Miss., said he believes the price at which the new Apple products are being offered is unbelievable.

“If you start peeling the pieces of [Final Cut Studio] apart, it’s amazing. For those components … boy-howdy! That price is exciting,” he said.

Anderson said he believes the large-scale dissemination of programs like Final Cut Studio could change the way students communicate and the way they feel about telling their own personal stories.

“I just try and think what it would be like if some of the great authors had had these tools,” said Andersen, who also leads a digital media program for students called “Digital Storytelling: Hands On.” “Now we have a better opportunity to know if these wallflowers in our classrooms are some great moviemaker just waiting to have the right tools put in their hands.” He said the capacity to share their stories in a format as immediate as video, with an audience as wide as the internet itself, has the potential to make students stronger.

The responsibility of making students stronger, of course, rests in the hands of teachers. To help teachers learn how to use the Final Cut Studio suite in the classroom, Apple’s Paulsen pointed to the Apple Authorized Training Center for Education program.

“The program allows us to train and formally certify educators on each of applications of Final Cut Studio,” Paulsen said. There are a variety of costs for the courses, some of which are included in the maintenance options.

“They range typically from two-day to four-day courses, depending on the application,” Paulson said.

The new Final Cut upgrades are optimized for use on the Mac OS X “Tiger” operating system, due for public release–along with the Mac OS X Tiger Server Edition–on April 29. Apple has announced that these products also will be available to educators at prices far below retail value. The company says the Tiger desktop OS will be available for a retail price of $129, but educators can pre-order copies of the OS for $69. The server software is available to educators at $249, down from a retail price of $499.

“Mac OS X Tiger is the most innovative and secure desktop operating system ever created,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Tiger’s groundbreaking new features, like Spotlight and Dashboard, will change the way people use their computers–and drive our competitors nuts trying to copy them.”

The Tiger OS reportedly has more than 200 new features.

These include Spotlight, a desktop search technology that lets users quickly find anything stored on their Mac, including documents, eMail messages, contacts, and images. Spotlight searches the contents inside documents and information about these documents, or metadata, to find many different kinds of items. It then automatically organizes and instantly displays the results.

Apple has incorporated Spotlight search technology into several Tiger applications, including its eMail, address book, finder, and system preferences. Third-party developers are expected to introduce applications with Spotlight search technology in the coming months.

Tiger’s Dashboard feature uses new Mac accessory applications called widgets. These are graphical displays that appear instantly to give users immediate access to information such as stock quotes, weather forecasts, currency conversions, or a phone book. With a click of the mouse, a user’s Dashboard widgets appear with up-to-the-second information; with another click, they’re instantly gone.

Tiger ships with 14 widgets. Because Dashboard is based on standard web technologies such as HTML and JavaScript, it’s easy for third-party developers to create new widgets that users can easily add to their Dashboards, Apple says.

Tim Wilson, technology integration specialist for the Hopkins, Minn., school district and a blogger for eSchool News Online, said he’s already thought of an application for widget development.

“Our school uses this web-based, trouble-ticketing system that allows teachers to report IT problems to our department,” he said. “As with any application, with our trouble-ticketing system, you tend to use a few of the features 90 percent of the time. I can imagine a widget-based interface that makes those features more readily available to our tech people. That’s one thing I’ll put on my to-do list as soon as it comes out.”

Also of potential interest to teachers and school administrators is the new Automator workflow application. Automator lets users automate repetitive tasks without complex programming. Users select from a library of more than a hundred customizable actions and drag and drop them to create an automated workflow, specifically tailored to suit their requirements. Once created, workflows can be saved and shared with friends and colleagues.

Automator “is a great mechanism for people to get more work done,” said Chris Bourdon, senior product line manager for Mac OS X.

Another feature of Tiger that Dourdon noted was the iChat component. It supports the new H.264 video standard that improves picture quality over the user’s existing internet bandwidth. The upgrade permits users to create audio conferences with up to 10 people and videoconferences with up to four people in a virtual conference room.

“With Tiger, we’re introducing multi-wave videoconferencing,” Bourdon said. “You and three others can videoconference over the internet. That makes for a very collaborative educational environment. You can easily conference within schools, within networks, with classrooms in another place in the country [or] in the district. The iChat feature creates a lot of possibilities for using videoconferencing for collaboration and education.”

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