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SEYBOLD SAN FRANCISCO

Telling It Like It Is

By MIKE PASINI
Editor
Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
SAN FRANCISCO -- As computer shows go, Seybold has always blazed its own trail. It was built for the publishing profession by a couple of publishers, John and Jonathan Seybold. And as the heavy iron at the expo morphed over the years into sophisticated software, the focus has always remained on communicating.

So, unlike other shows, there's a little room in the aisles and the presentations are not Hollywood productions. You can, as we did, spend the whole day talking to product managers and programmers without every running into a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

It's always been a rewarding experience for us -- and we hope to share the spoils with you in our special reports here.

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While we did manage to peek into the bowels of Moscone Convention Center for a shot of the expo set up Monday, we saved our strength for our special show coverage today and tomorrow. We even managed to wrangle a few deals for our readers, extending special show prices to Imaging Resource newsletter subscribers (so sign up now). These prices are valid only for the duration of the show (ending Thursday evening) and only through the contacts we'll publish here.

Jobs Keynote

We've enjoyed Apple iCEO Steve Jobs' presentations in the past, but then he had some surprises up his sleeve. We were particularly interested in what he might have to say without any surprises.

Thanks for the invitation, he began. He just loves making stuff for creative people. And off he went on the hardware review and a preview of the summer public beta release of Mac OS X.

He proudly showed off the new professional 108-key keyboard and optical mouse, both now standard issue. With the optical mouse, you don't need a mouse pad and never have to clean it. The whole top of the soap-bar design is the button. And in our informal tests on the show floor, we found it did exactly what a mouse should. Not get in the way and click when we do. In fact, had it been cordless, we might have taken it home.

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We've often gone to great lengths for our readers, and this exclusive shot of the underbelly of the mouse (that red LED is the optical sensor) is just the latest proof.

iMOVIE

After running through the new iMac lines (now priced at $799), Jobs spoke fondly of the "incredibly nice" iMovie 2 shipping on them. Bring in your "pristine" digital video, drop in an audio CD for a sound track and use the digital transitions and effects to "make a movie without reading a manual." Jobs summed up, "It allows mere mortals to express themselves creatively."

The G4 desktop line has been completely revamped, with the larger units boasting a dual G4 design. In the featured "shootout" between the dual G4 and top-speed Pentium III which built a movie poster in Photoshop from prerecorded actions, the Macintosh finished in 61 seconds while the Pentium took 124. A single G4 Mac took 108 seconds to do the same ad.

The new machines also are the first to feature gigabit Ethernet on the motherboard. Jobs edited uncompressed video -- over a server -- to illustrate the importance of upping that ante.

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PHOTOSHOP 6.0

Jobs introduced Bruce Chizen, Adobe president, who briefly showed off Photoshop 6.0 on the dual processor G4. Among the new features are a context sensitive option bar, up to 8,000 layers that can be organized in sets, on-canvas editing of vector text and a number of Web-specific features (like automatic, dynamic slicing of images based on layers). Version 6.0 is expected to be available in September.

And Greg Niles from Discreet Logic used Combustion running on the dual G4 to create a more realistic shadow using its 3-D imaging model. He showed exactly how to do it using the cheetah cola commercial (from the SuperBowl, if I recall).

"Two brains are better than one," Jobs repeated after each demo. And he didn't mean the cheetah.

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DA CUBE

But then he slipped back into the single G4 world with a long presentation on the new G4 cube. We caught up with the elegant cube on the show floor (the cables connect on the bottom). And as pretty as it is -- and clever (you can put it to sleep by just touching it) -- what thrilled us was the new 15-inch LCD monitor.

Our shot showing it running Photoshop 6.0 under Mac OS 9 is probably all we have to say. Edge-to-edge sharpness, a great density range and priced at $999, which is closer to earth than the Cinema Display. Looking at one of these is like seeing the future.

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MAC OS X

Jobs went on to discuss the release of the summer public beta of Mac OS X, noting that summer doesn't end until the equinox sometime around Sept. 23 (he looked it up). "Well, they're [the programmers] going to beat that," he said, promising to release it at Apple Expo Paris on Sept. 13.

We'll have more coverage of Mac OS X in a special edition of the Imaging Resource newsletter later this week.

On the Expo Floor

If Jobs was bereft of surprises, the expo itself had a few finds tucked away here and there.

READ THIS

Among the first we dug up was Coriolis, a book publisher with a few hefty tomes we wanted to sit right down and pore through. Photoshop Visual Insight (covering the basics) and Photoshop In Depth (which included a CD) looked appetizing, as did Paint Shop Pro Visual Insight and Digital Compositing In Depth (with two CDs).

We only flipped through the titles, but that was long enough to see the attractively designed volumes were full of step-by-step solutions to common imaging problems with plenty of tips, too. We look forward to reviewing them in upcoming issues of the newsletter.

UNSHARP MASKING UNMASKED

We did have a chance to sit down, though, with Nils Kokemohr, Technik president, who showed off his cross-platform Photoshop plug-in nik Sharpener. We've secretly been working on a long expose of Photoshop's unsharp masking filter, with erudite discussions of which channel most profits from it and how factors like output devices affect the process. It's tougher to get right than it might seem.

Well, we might have saved our breath. nik Sharpener automates the process with an elegant plug-in that, after a few sliders are set, avoids aliasing and color distortion, analyzes the image and quickly optimizes sharpening.

We grabbed a copy for review later, but we also twisted Vice President Ed Sanchez's arm and he agreed to let Imaging Resource readers in on the show special price of $259 if you call (888) 284-4085 to order. The product otherwise sells for $329.

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STEP RIGHT UP

A rare sighting: an actual CCD. Not only that, but a wafer full of them, at the Kodak booth. If you study this shot carefully, you'll see the DCS-620 wafer with several CCDs in it, a single CCD right in front of the wafer, and the CCD mounted on the camera's motherboard behind it (with the camera body behind that). Now you know what the little buggers actually look like.

A BIRD IN THE BUSH

No trade show is without it's gimmicks, including Seybold. But this gimmick was worth a shot. It's not your typical VW Bug giveaway, at least.

It's called a Sparrow. Three wheels, a compact trunk (more than we can say about our CRX) and, well, an engine. May cut grass, too.

Probably not enough protection for the streets of San Francisco, but we wouldn't have minded tooling up and down the expo aisles in it, conducting interviews.

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COREL STILL KICKING

Corel has gone through some rough seas lately, but it continues to offer some exciting products. We chatted with Sean McLennan, Photo-Paint and Knock Out product manager, about two of them.

Knock-Out is a stand-alone application (and recent Corel acquisition) that takes the art of masking to a new level. After drawing an inside border and an outside border to identify a transition zone, Knock-Out creates an alpha channel mask capable of capturing the fur on a teddy bear.

These aren't paths (so don't ask to export any), but a sophisticated mask employing opacity to blend the transition area into any background you drop in.

The mask can be refined using the pushpin tool to identify color values to keep or the syringe to identify those to drop.

If McLennan is proud of the new Knock-Out (this is the second release since Corel acquired it), he was delirious about the new Photo-Paint. Targeted for machines with 64 megabytes of RAM, it has been completely redesigned as a modular application.

Years ago Jonathan Seybold predicted modular software design was the wave of the future, rather than the bloatware we commonly see. And with Adobe's InDesign and Corel's Photo-Paint, we're starting to see what that might look like.

The advantage for developers is that code is isolated from the engine. "Instantly, our stability went way up," McLennan said. The development team looked at every line of the old code and rewrote it as they developed the new engine and the various modules.

McLennan said this new architecture greatly helps quality assurance, too. If any particular module is giving testers a problem, it can be held back without delaying the product release.

"We wondered if this would be the end of versions," McLennan told us when we asked how, exactly, one might update modular software. "We could give the engine away for free and charge people $30 to download a module," he speculated. Corel plans to release a new module every month, he told us, after the initial release.

But what McLennan hopes users notice in the new Photo-Paint is speed. "We got rid of the Apply button. Just do it," he said to illustrate just how much faster the program is. And has to be to compete with Photoshop. Which he now thinks it can.

He cites the program's new speed as the one thing that makes working with it a pleasure, but the customizable interface is certainly another. You can tell the program to emulate Photoshop or any other interface you are already familiar with. "And you can export your interface settings to a text file you can email to coworkers," he added. It's always been all too easy to fiddle inexpertly with Photoshop's preferences.

He pointed to Photo-Paint's type aliasing at small sizes as another area in which the program shines. And the price. At one-third Photoshop's tag, even without the content that comes bundled with it (images and fonts), it's a bargain.

AN OLD FRIEND

At Macworld Expo in January we raved about Studio Artist 1.1 from Synthetik. The company recently announced version 1.5, which they are showing on the floor. So we hustled over to take a peek.

This program can automatically or interactively turn your digital images into paintings and your digital movies into art. Billed as a graphic synthesizer, it actually can absorb hours at a time as you use its extensive presets and comprehensive custom settings to doodle creatively. There's nothing else like it.

The $329/295 (boxed or CD version) Mac program just keeps getting better, from the demo we saw. What's more, the company is developing a Windows version of Studio Artist. By the time version 2.0 comes along, it will be cross-platform. And sometime between then and now, Synthetik will release a cross-platform Photoshop plug-in called WACK that does textures.

We asked as nicely as we could and got Synthetic to agree to offer Imaging Resource readers the show price of $275/250 (box/CD) by emailing jb@synthetik.com before the show ends Friday.

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WHERE ARE ALL THE INKJETS?

Our regular readers know we promised to look over the current inkjet offerings at Seybold. And, as this picture suggests, it's a big job. So we'll hold off until tomorrow's report to address that topic. But we're on top of it. Or just slightly askew.

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Meanwhile, we'll try to appease you with this charming shot of Masa Saito, associate director of Pictorico inkjet media. After Dave's glowing review of the Pictorico line (paper, film and -- as Saito is demonstrating -- fabric), we were anxious to get a look at the stuff. It is astonishing. Saito said it is now being distributed in photo stores (but not office supply stores).

Home in the Rain

Rain was forecast and we got a civilizing drop or two late in the afternoon. But more somber sites awaited us.

On the ride home we noticed a store selling a John F. Kennedy campaign poster from 1960. It was displayed in the window for $25. "Leadership for the '60s," it promised in solid red and blue bands with a black and white halftone head shot of the candidate. We've come a long way since then, we reflected -- at least in imaging technology.

What will tomorrow bring, we sighed. Then we realized we'll be telling you right here. See you then!













Top 3 photos this month win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate