Apple's QuickTime with Totally Hip's LiveStage Garners "Freakin' Awesome Kudos: MacADDICT |
Industry Review from macaddict.com
LiveStage DR 1.0.1
COMPANY: Totally Hip Software
CONTACT: 800-416-6320 or 604-685-6525, totallyhip.com
PRICE: $199 (SRP) New Price Upgrade now on web site
REQUIREMENTS: PowerPC, System 7.5 or later, QuickTime 3, 4MB of hard disk space, CD-ROM drive
All you Web developers using Macromedia Director or Flash to create media-rich experiences: Prepare to be stunned. Two new products - Electrifier's Electrifier Pro and Totally Hip Software's LiveStage DR - perform many of the same tasks as Macromedia's products but don't require installation of their own plug-in. Instead, LiveStage and Electrifier Pro make use of the QuickTime plug-in, playing back in any QuickTime-enabled browser or from the desktop of any machine with QuickTime 3 installed. And because nearly 70 percent of all desktop computers have QuickTime installed, these products have a massive and instant base of clients.
LiveStage and Electrifier Pro accomplish interactivity by taking advantage of QuickTime 3's wired sprite channels. QuickTime has separate channels for video, music, MIDI, and MPEG, among other formats. Wired sprite channels contain interactive information that allow nonlinear navigation of a QuickTime document. Because it's QuickTime based, interactive media created in Electrifier Pro or LiveStage DR is almost independent of the platform, offering a write-once, run-anywhere scheme unparalleled in its ease of use and potential customer base. Both can also use any existing QuickTime codec, including Sorenson's and QDesign Music's, to output movies with impressively small file sizes.
Electrifier Pro was the first QuickTime 3-based product to grab developers' attention. It has an outstanding object-oriented interface. Nearly every effect or action in the application is a mere click-and-drag away. You select Electrifier's actions and effects from a library palette called the Modifier window. While the actions (including basic navigation and control and the more powerful Open URL and QTVR controls) are best described as functional, the effects list is far more impressive, with ink, paths, zooms, animated perspectives, and audio effects such as sweep and fade.
Working with the Modifiers is easy. Each one has a unique icon that displays within a sprite's bounding box as you apply the Modifier. You can change variables for a Modifier by clicking its icon and editing attributes, such as location or perspective, in the Inspector window. The Inspector provides details about every element in an Electrifier movie, including track, sprite, and Modifier information. The combination of the Modifier and Inspector windows offers excellent control over a movie.
Electrifier Pro supports virtually every graphic, video, and sound format available, including bitmaps, vector graphics, AIFF, MPEG 1 and 2 audio, 3DMF, MIDI, animation, AVI, and traditional QuickTime video. This versatility makes Electrifier useful to Web developers working with any type of media a QuickTime movie can contain, regardless of format or development platform.
Electrifier Pro's navigation tools are simple, with basic play, stop, and loop actions. Although you can create an interactive presentation with these tools, the program is far more suited to industrial-strength QuickTime VR or animation work. You must stitch together VR scenes in another application, but you can use Electrifier Pro to create multinode movies quickly and easily. Each node is a VR panorama you can link so that users can navigate from node to node.
Electrifier's animation prowess comes from its ease of use and its strong lineup of drag-and-drop special effects and transitions. Combined with robust time-synchronizing tools, these effects allow you to create complex animations. Three of Electrifier's most impressive effects - although they're technically part of the QuickTime 3 architecture itself - are Fire, Ripple, and Cloud. Fire and Cloud, of course, create dynamic fire or clouds in a movie. Ripple is a water effect that lets you apply waves to an image and make ripples in real time.
Overall, Electrifier Pro is an outstanding product that carves a significant niche for itself in the world of QuickTime and animation authoring. With its minimal navigation and interactivity tools, it's not meant for serious interactive development, but it can replace many of the functions of Macromedia's Flash and Shockwave. Electrifier's biggest drawback is its price - a whopping $595, which puts it right up there with Director 7.
LiveStage DR, also based on QuickTime 3, focuses on interactivity. It sacrifices ease of use and powerful effects to deliver a custom scripting language and strong tools for creating interactive experiences in much the same way as Shockwave.
Like Director and Shockwave, LiveStage is an authoring environment, and it's no cinch to master. Work takes place on a sprite-populated stage. The sprites can be graphics, paths, sounds, or video, and they behave according to scripts executed by event handlers (such as "mouse click" or "frame loaded").
Scripting in LiveStage DR is where the learning really begins. QScript, a language Totally Hip created for LiveStage, provides access to the capabilities of QuickTime 3's wired sprites and allows complex if-then-else statements, custom handlers, local and global variables, and a number of other commands and properties. Once you master QScript, LiveStage is nearly as powerful as Shockwave.
To make the language seem less overwhelming, LiveStage has a QScript Reference window broken into three categories: Actions, Properties, and Other. Actions include commands that directly affect a sprite, such as position or layering. Properties are values such as visibility or volume, and Other refers to operators and scripting to manage variables. You can type any of these scripts into the window or drag them from the QScript Reference palette.
The Library window is LiveStage's project management tool. You can load any folder, graphic, sound, or script into the Library for later use, no matter where the data exists on a hard drive. The Library provides a place for code or graphics you use over and over again in multiple projects; you can retrieve it from there regardless of what movie you are working on.
LiveStage has access to any graphic or audio format you can use with QuickTime; it also offers the same output options. As an animation and QuickTime VR tool, LiveStage works well, with precise control of VR panorama nodes, paths, and many effects such as scaling and stretching. However, most of the precision lies in the QScript coding.
To make LiveStage DR irresistible, Totally Hip is selling it for an amazingly low $199. If the price isn't a big enough incentive, LiveStage also comes with Totally Hip's WebPainter 3, a Web graphics and animation application (see Reviews, Nov/98, p72). Considering the versatility of LiveStage DR, $199 is a steal.
LiveStage isn't flawless. It's currently in what Totally Hip calls a "developer release" - with the expectation that experienced Web pros and other early adopters will buy and use the product first. For average consumers, this means that the manual is still a work in progress, and LiveStage is a bit buggy and just shy of being rock-solid stable. It also doesn't have the user feedback, such as cursor changes over hot spots, that's evident in more mature environments like Shockwave.
Although both products are based on the same QuickTime 3 technology, they serve very different types of users. Electrifier is best suited to developers looking for a powerful but easy-to-use application that lets them create a mildly interactive delivery vehicle for linear QuickTime movies or to add visual flair to ad banners and animations. LiveStage is a self-contained development environment appropriate for creating fully interactive Shockwave-style movies with strong, nonlinear user interaction.
Bottom line: Macromedia Director users looking for a QuickTime-based alternative should try LiveStage DR. Presenters and ad-banner creators should go with Electrifier Pro. - Rick Sanchez
GOOD NEWS: Robust scripting language. Lots of tools to create deep interactivity. Plays back on any machine with QuickTime 3. Low price.
BAD NEWS: A little buggy. Manual is a work in progress.
Copyright 1999 Imagine Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited, though we welcome links from other Web sites. To bookmark this particular page, please use this URL: macaddict.com