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There and Back Once More

Highlights from the NAB 2003 convention from the Mac angle By Dave Nagel
Well, as far as I can tell, I've made it back from the 2003 NAB convention with at least half of my mental and physical faculties still in tact. While I may have left a large quantity of my ankle skin, brain cells, bodily unguents and money behind in Las Vegas, I have nevertheless returned to Southern California enriched with buffet-style nutrients, cheap memorabilia and profound optimism for the future of the Macintosh creative production industry.

As I relaxed this weekend, attempting to rehydrate and repair the inevitable damage that occurs whenever I transmigrate to the Nevada Alternate Reality, I had a chance to reflect on the goings on at last week's show. NAB is, of course, the premiere event for the creative production industry, and what happens at the show can be a pretty good indicator of things to come. My aforementioned optimism was fueled largely by the wealth of fantastic new creative tools unveiled at the convention, as well as an near-total consensus from developers and manufacturers that business is going well. But I'm not a cheerleader. There were some mixed signs as well.

On the negative side, it was clear that traffic on the show floor was down significantly from previous conventions. However, at times the crowds did get shoulder to shoulder and remained so around some of the more popular exhibits at the upper and lower levels of the South Hall. But lower attendance isn't necessarily an indication of a lack of industry confidence. Travel is down overall, and any number of factors could have contributed to the decline, including people too scared of [fill in current topic of concern] to travel anywhere without a security escort. (And speaking of security, I'd like to dedicate this article to the brave men and women who vigilantly protected the NAB convention once again this year from all of the terrorists hell-bent on blowing up the Las Vegas Convention Center. Heaven knows terrorists have nothing more interesting to blow up than artists, so I, for one, was greatly relieved to see the security guards clad in their intimidating tan polyester uniforms and Oakley sunglasses searching attendees and doing an outstanding job generally of guarding NAB from its own members. I was searched no fewer than eight times over the course of the week, and I have to say I was reassured to discover each time that I did not, in fact, pose an immediate threat to myself or my colleagues. Hail to you, Heroes of the Home Front!)

Of course, lower attendance could also signal a continued slump in business for creative professionals. But indications were otherwise. Attendees I spoke with--and there were quite a few--were enthusiastic about the show and the industry as a whole. And exhibitors, who were out in numbers comparable to last year's, were almost unanimous in their bullishness. Business has picked up over the last year for them and continues to hold steady.

But I think, for me, the best and most exciting news at this year's convention came from developers and manufacturers who pulled out all the stops with new technologies that promise an unprecedented level of new features and performance.

New software highlights
It was a busy week for me as I attempted to get around to see all of the new offerings and (sometimes successfully) absorb some knowledge of the forthcoming tools for creative pros. Here are some highlights.

On the Mac side, Apple led the bunch with new versions of its top-end creative production tools, including Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro and Shake. I had a chance to sit down for an in depth tour of the new features due in these applications, all of which were nothing short of extraordinary. Final Cut Pro gains hundreds of scalable real-time effects and will come bundled with two external applications that are remarkable in their own right. One is Live Type, the result of Apple's acquisition of Pismo Graphics and its India titling technologies. Live Type provides insane flexibility for generating animated titles. The effects themselves are amazing, as are the program's ease of use and customizability. Plus it ships with almost 9 GB of textures, objects and effect presets. The other new application, Soundtrack, offers an equally insane degree of power, ease of use and customizability. Soundtrack is an Acid-like looping and mixing application that can automatically adjust tempo and other characteristics of individual tracks to match with other tracks. It's designed for pro video editors with little experience with scoring, though it offers features that will appeal to experienced users as well.

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