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  • The Tiger Report: Pay and Pay Again

    June 4th, 2005

    You know, I’ve been meaning to rant about this subject for quite some time now, but other matters kept getting in the way. No matter. Now is as good a time as any, and the target is QuickTime Pro.

    My inspiration for this column comes from a reader who installed Tiger, only to find out that his previous QuickTime Pro license no longer worked. For QuickTime 7, even after paying $129 for the Tiger upgrade, you have to shell out another $29.99 to gain a bunch of extra features, some of which ought to be free. Now I won’t begrudge the right to make a fair profit, but maybe Apple is going a bit overboard here.

    Consider: You want to check out the latest movie trailer for, say Batman Begins, the flick that’s supposed to resurrect the failed comic book hero series book time. You’ve heard that you can play the trailer full screen, and the bigger the screen, the better. Can’t you just see it filling the 20-inch display of your new iMac G5 or that incredibly gorgeous 30-inch Cinema Display? But the regular free version of QuickTime won’t let you do that. You have to upgrade to Pro to gain this fundamental feature. Does that make sense to you? Apple has been known to stretch the boundaries, but here they’ve been stretched in the wrong direction.

    Here’s another example: With Pro, when you move the cursor while watching a video in full screen, up pops an onscreen controller. Why should you have to pay extra for that? I’m just asking.

    Now what about sharing a home video with family or friends. Say you want to send a copy via email, or via .Mac (which, as you know, costs $99 per year). Forget about it with the free version of QuickTime. You have to, once again, pay for the privilege. This sure sounds like a bit much to me, but I’m open to contrary opinions.

    But I have to be fair. Not every feature in QuickTime 7 Pro should come free and I can see the logic behind charging for some extra functions. Apple has, in fact, expanded Pro’s capabilities as an entry-level audio and video capture and editing application. You can, for example, create video postcards, or, like iPhoto, import footage from your camcorder. There’s also a set of A/V controls that, among the standard audio and video settings, lets you touch up the picture using the standard repertoire of brightness, color, contrast and tint adjustments.

    Another intriguing feature is the ability to export multichannel audio, up to the 5.1 surround sound format. And what if the folks who want to hear that soundtrack don’t have surround speakers? Not a problem, because QuickTime will automatically mix it down to just two channels during playback. You can also create what Apple calls “optimized” AAC files with a bit rate that varies to provide better quality.

    Other features include support for Automator workflows, and the ability to import and export sound and video in over 100 industry standard formats. In fact, I use QuickTime 7 Pro to build the “hinted” audio files for our The Tech Night Owl LIVE archives. In case you’re wondering, the process of hinting inserts information in the file that’s required for streaming. The end result is that you can hear the on-demand archives of the show whenever you want. And you don’t need QuickTime Pro for playback. Here the $29.99 price of admission makes plenty of sense.

    Of course some of the enhanced features require a little extra instruction, so there’s a beefed up Help menu and, if you prefer something a little more straightforward, you can download a 63-page manual that covers all the essentials.

    In the end, I can see the logic of having a Pro version, although some of the features seem to overlap those available in iMovie. My concern is that features that ought to be free carry a price tag. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for such basics as full screen video, floating controllers and the ability to prepare videos so you can send them via email. Those features ought to be stripped from Pro and made a part of the standard issue QuickTime Player. Of course, from a marketing point of view, it may all be a ploy to push more Pro upgrades. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.



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