Apple seems to have assured that its Macintosh computers will continue their reign as the leading graphics machines with the announcement last week of QuickTime, a new feature that will integrate video and sound into a wide variety of software programs.
It will enable documents to have video windows in them, for instance, where both sound and motion can be displayed at the click of a mouse button.
The new software, an extension to the new System 7 operating system software for Macintoshes, will be available in the fall and will be free to all System 7 users. It will run on hard disk-equipped Macs from the SE30 and up that have Motorola 68020 or 68030 microprocessors.
Software and hardware makers will be able to use QuickTime in new products and upgrades to existing products to enable video and audio to be added.
All of this was announced in Los Angeles in conjunction with the Seybold Digital World seminar, an event that provides a good example of how useful QuickTime and associated products could become in the future.
The seminar presented experts from various aspects of the computer, video, audio and film worlds to discuss works in progress, new concepts and old problems.
Many of their presentations were on video or digitized, animated "slides" made with prototypes of coming Macintosh products or played back from CD-ROM discs (compact discs that store data instead of music.)
One sign of an emerging market for the desktop video that QuickTime will enable was the number of people attending the seminar who recorded sessions with video camcorders instead of audio tape recorders.
Often when corporations send someone to such a seminar they expect a detailed report to be written and circulated among those who did not attend. Such reports typically are printed documents, maybe with photocopies of a few product brochures attached. A really elaborate report might include some scanned-in photographs or graphics.
But once Apple's QuickTime and products using it are available, such reports could be distributed on disk instead of paper and include video clips of the presentations.
For example, a report using desktop video could reveal, as no words could adequately explain, just what Steve Arnold of LucasArts was talking about in the seminar when he showed how the fiery rooftop collapse scene in the film "Backdraft" was created digitally.
Reports containing such video and audio sequences are not far off. WordPerfect was exhibiting a version of its word processing software that did just that, using QuickTime.
Jonathan Seybold, a leading computer analyst and Digital World organizer, said, "What Apple is doing is quite profound," because QuickTime is being made a basic component of Macintosh computers, where it can be utilized by any software program.
QuickTime establishes a new kind of data file for storing video, animation and sound on floppy disks, hard disks and CD-ROM discs used with the Macintosh. The secret to such storage is compressing images and sounds. Without compression, where one byte of data takes the place of dozens or even hundreds of bytes, it would take too much disk storage to be able to store a video segment. QuickTime standardizes the data compression methods available on Macintosh computers so that any program can use audio and visual data created or stored by any other program.
QuickTime also saves storage space by allowing fewer frames of moving images to be substituted for the standard 30 frames per second in television broadcasts or videotapes. Still more space is saved by keeping images small, so that they take up only a portion of the computer screen and thus need fewer bytes of data to paint each picture on the screen.
Amazingly, it works quite well. The results are images that would not stand the scrutiny of a magnifying glass, yet nicely convey the content and motion of the video from which they were digitized.
One of the most impressive and least expensive of the prototype products shown was SuperMac's VideoSpigot. It is a $499 board for any color Macintosh computer to which a camcorder or VCR may be attached to digitize video onto the computer's disk at the full 30-frames-a-second resolution.
A companion software package, ReelTime, that will be bundled free initially but may be sold separately later for $695, allows you to easily edit clips of digitized video, choosing among a big selectionof methods of wiping or sissolving from one image to another. The result is your own Mac movie. You can even store a deaktop film up to 30 second long on a floppy disk and give it to others to view.