Media Applications

Once I became convinced that NT is fast, stable, and has the API to make it a serious multimedia contender, I asked myself if my favorite media development and authoring applications were available for NT. And if so, how well they work.

Let's take a look at the various applications that make up the multimedia development environment: As you can see in Figure A, the key applications are text generation, graphics editing, animation, video editing, and audio editing.

You shouldn't have any problems with text--NT uses the same fonts you can find in Windows 3.x. You could, however, have trouble with the other major media elements: graphics (illustrations and photographs), animation (2D and 3D), video, and audio. Creating and editing these media elements are processor-intensive tasks and require specialized applications designed for each media type.

The two applications that I use the most for graphics are Adobe Photoshop and Fractal Design Painter. Photoshop is an image-editing and graphics-development tool that has become a staple in the multimedia development community. Photoshop, which has been a 32-bit application since 1994, runs well under Intel-based NT and takes advantage of SMP. Furthermore, by the time you read this, a fully Windows 95-compliant version of Photoshop will be shipping: It will support both TWAIN16 and the new TWAIN32 scanning standards. (See "Photoshop 3.0.5 for Windows NT" on page 81.) Fractal Design Painter has great artistic and lighting effects as well as cell-based animation capabilities. Painter was actually developed under NT--the latest version is fully Windows 95-complaint and runs well under NT, although only on Intel platforms.

Most multimedia authoring systems handle simple 2D animation by themselves. If you want to display 3D animation, you must use a 3D modeling, animation, and rendering package to create an animation or video file. Then, your authoring system can import or link to that animation or video file. Autodesk Animator Pro has historically been one of the most used animation packages, and Autodesk has just released 3D Studio MAX for the NT market.

Autodesk designed MAX to take advantage of NT-specific features, such as SMP and OpenGL. Because of this design, MAX is one of the first 3D applications available for Windows NT that performs similar to traditional UNIX workstation-based 3D tools, such as Alias and Wavefront. MAX is available for both the Intel and Alpha platforms.

Elastic Reality, now owned by Avid Technology, isn't really a graphics, animation, or video development tool, but it's widely used to create great special effects and morphing sequences. Besides being one of the most fun multimedia tools, Elastic Reality has the best cross-platform support for Windows NT: You can find a native version for all NT platforms. (See "Elastic Reality" on page 72.)

The primary tool I use for mid-level desktop video editing is Adobe's Premiere. This application is popular on the Macintosh, but you can buy only a 16-bit version for Windows. Expect to see a 32-bit release by the second quarter of this year. A full Windows 95-compliant version will ship later. Premiere will run only on Intel platforms.

You should also consider Avid Technology's Real Impact. Real Impact, a mid-level video editing package, is available only for Windows NT, and then only on the Intel platform. It is rumored, however, that this product will eventually replace Avid's high-end Media Suite Pro package, which is currently a combined hardware/software video solution. (See "Avid Real Impact" on page 66.) The three primary authoring systems I use are Macromedia Director, Macromedia Authorware, and Asymetrix Multimedia Toolbook. Director is aimed at high-end presentations and kiosks. It features powerful animation capabilities and a full scripting language (Lingo). It's also the development tool developers use to create Shockwave animations for Web pages.

Authorware is an icon/flowchart-based authoring system used primarily for computer-based training applications. Currently, both Director and Authorware are 16-bit applications and run under NT. Macromedia has plans to release Windows 95-compliant versions that run on Intel-based NT systems early this year. In the meantime, both seem to be more stable under NT than under Windows 3.x.

For data-intensive multimedia applications, I rely on Multimedia Toolbook. It has a full scripting language (OpenScript) and uses a page metaphor for authoring: This allows developers to place media and interactive objects on various pages. Version 4.0 is Windows 95-compliant and runs on both Intel and PowerPC platforms.

Another authoring system, IconAuthor from AimTech, deserves note because companies that create computer-based training applications often use it. You can find IconAuthor on the Intel, PowerPC, and Alpha Windows NT platforms, as well as on UNIX. By the time this article is released, IconAuthor should be a Windows 95- and NT-certified application.

When checking to see if your favorite multimedia software works well under NT, you can follow a couple of "rules of thumb": First, be aware that even though an application is not certified for NT, it still might run just fine. In fact, even non-Intel machines have emulators for Win16 applications. Second, NT is strict about how you access your hardware, and an application will probably crash if it attempts direct hardware-access. This also applies to applications that use DOS or Win16 device drivers because NT does not support these drivers. Third, keep in mind that just because an application claims to be Windows 95-compliant, that doesn't mean it will take advantage of everything NT has to offer.

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