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Apple speeds up with Intel CPUs

2 February 2006

Apple has begun its switch from IBM Power PC processors to new Intel CPUs almost six months earlier than expected – and it has released a new dual-core laptop, the MacBook Pro, which should be at least twice as fast as its previous PowerBook series for most applications, writes David Fox.

Besides being faster, thinner, lighter, and having an improved LCD screen, the MacBook Pro ditches the PowerBook’s FireWire and PC Card ports, replacing them with a new 2Gigabits per second ExpressCard slot. This will mean that video users could fit an ExpressCard with two FireWire 800 ports to configure a very fast RAID array, with a throughput of up to 1.6Gbps, conceivably allowing uncompressed HD editing on location.

Also new are dual-core iMacs, with improved graphics cards, with enough power to act as audio or video workstations. Apple has also upgraded its simple iMovie HD editing software, which is used on location by video journalists at some broadcasters. It is now being touted as the simplest possible way to create video podcasts (which it can encode with one click). Users can also export the video to GarageBand 3.0, which makes it very simple to create royalty-free soundtracks synched to video. Both are part of the new iLife ’06, which costs Euros79.

Apple has announced that Final Cut Pro, Motion, Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro will no longer be available – as stand-alone packages. Instead, they will only be sold as part of Final Cut Studio. Users of any of the applications will be able to upgrade to Studio as part of the shift to Universal Binary applications that will run natively on both Power PC and Intel versions of the Mac. The new version of FCS should be available next month. Upgrade prices range from Euro49 for existing FCS owners, to Euro99 for FCP 5.0 owners and Euro199 for owners of the other applications or of version 4.0+ of FCP.

When Disney/ABC and NBC put their hit TV shows, Lost, Desperate Housewives and The Office, on Apple’s iTunes download service, talk was how this might harm ratings for the original broadcasts. Instead, it seems, giving viewers a new way to catch up with programmes is not only profitable, but can boost their ratings too.

The Office has achieved its best ever Ratings since being made available for download and, after allowing for all other factors, NBC believes that iTunes is enabling it to reach new viewers, particularly young iPod users who are difficult to reach with traditional media and have then tuned in to the live broadcasts.

ABC has also seen rising ratings for its shows since putting them on iTunes, with Lost up 14% (28% for viewers between 18 and 49), as well as extra income from more than 1.5million downloads. "The deal has exceeded our expectations in terms of how quickly the shows have been downloaded," said Tom Staggs, Disney’s chief financial officer.

With Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, joining the Disney board as its largest individual shareholder following Disney’s purchase of his animation studio, Pixar, it is likely that even more content will be made available for download. Between its launch in October and early January, iTunes had sold more than 8 million video downloads, and many more Disney and NBC shows have been added.

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