The Mac App Store - 6 months in


The Mac App Store is 6 months old today, so let's look at what's good and bad about it.

The Consumer Perspective

There is no doubt that the Mac App Store is a winner for consumers.

The Pros

Here is the good side of the Mac App Store:

  • Multi user licence - I can buy once and install on all my Macs. This will save me a lot of $ over the years.
  • Single point updates - I can update all my apps from one point.
  • Peace of mind - while I already knew, trusted and liked my apps, when finding something new I will be a lot more confident that the apps aren't flaky or malware, knowing that Apple have checked them
  • Easy purchasing - every software developer that I bought stuff from had a different payment process. I hate putting all the details in every time I want to buy something, not to mention the security risk of deciding every time whether the payment site they are using looks OK or not. With the Mac App Store it's all linked to your iTunes account and you don't even need your password if you've set that to be remembered.

Based on how the Mac App Store has worked for me, I don't think it will be long until an independent software developer will only be able to sell via the App Store. The exception to this is the kinds of apps that Apple won't list, like network monitors, downloaders and things like that.

The user experience is excellent and it's just plain cheaper than the old way. Add to that the safety factor of knowing these apps are Apple Tested and the App Store is a winner.

The Cons

From a consumer perspective, the App Store is pretty much all good. A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Licence lock down - Apple has never locked down it's software to a single machine. You install any app as often as you like and the software will just check that only one copy is running at any point in time. This worked well for companies that ran software infrequently but on many machines. This is no longr possible. Also, borrowing your friend's copy of iLife to upgrade you system won't happen any more. You have to buy it yourself!
  • Special Apps - a whole class of apps will never make it to the App Store. You will have to buy these apps separately which will become annoying as most of your apps will be managed via the App Store.

Migrating to a new computer

I bought a new MacBook Pro earlier this year so I thought it was a good time to check out the Mac App Store and see how it helped the laptop setup process.

I run a fairly common computer setup with an iMac for home and a laptop for work.

I upgraded OSX to the latest version on both machines and purchased all the apps that I have been using for a while. I had already purchased the apps the old way, but I was going to need them all on the new laptop, so I needed to buy them again anyway.

The best thing about the Mac App Store from the consumer perspective is that every purchase is a "family" licence where I can install the software on all my Mac computers. I've got 3 Macs now, and that will only grow so this is a big plus.

On to the migration. I ran the Mac Migration Assistant from old to new laptop (over AirPort) and 16 hours later was done. All the App Store apps were there and I just needed to re-enter my iTunes password the first time I ran each one. Too easy!

Now all three of my Macs have the same set of custom apps which I can update with the click of a button on the App Store.

The Developer Perspective

At Shedworx we didn't jump straight into the Mac App Store because we were getting ready for our trip to MacWorld and finishing off Cosmos. We also wanted to try it out for ourselves to see how it worked.

We tried it out early on and decided to jump right in.

Today all of our Mac apps, except Jaksta and HD Quick Look are listed on the Mac App Store.

Here's why two of our Apps aren't listed:

  • Jaksta - requires admin access to listen on the network interface for downloads. Jaksta's big technical strength is it's abilty to run outside of any application and pick up any download entering your machine. Requiring admin access is outside of the App Store guidelines which is fair enough. The full version of Jaksta will not ever be able to run on the Mac App Store.
  • HD Quick Look - this is a QuickTime plug in so needs an installer to run when setting it up. It also copies it's plugin into a special QuickTime plugins folder, which isn't allowed under the Aop Store guidelines

The Pros

The App Store is a great place for customers to buy apps. For us developers it also contains a huge number of benefits:

  • Discovery. It's a big world out there. It's hard to get noticed for some of our smaller apps. Our less popular apps have seen a big sales improvement since going on to the App Store.
  • Purchase. The purchase process on the App Store is second to none. We can never make it as easy as Apple does when it comes to buying. This results in more sales.
  • Testing. Apple actually tests your stuff. Apple picked up a couple of bugs we had missed when putting up our apps. We fixed them and they're live now.
  • Support. We get almost no support emails from our App Store sales. This is because Apple has conditioned customers to not expect software support. It's making our life easier!

The Cons

There are some negatives to the App Store.

  • Won't list some kinds of apps. Jaksta and HD Quick Look won't be listed because they don't fit in. This is disappointing, but I can see why Apple don't want to support these kinds of apps
  • No bundles. It's no secret that we want you to buy the Shedworx bundle rather than just one product. We don't have any ability to upsell to a bundle on the Mac App Store. We can still use in-app promotions to highlight features of our other apps though.
  • No customer details. We run a mailing list where we send out news, run the occasional survey and generally try to understand our user base better. This is all gone with the Mac App Store. Apple owns the customer and as a developer you will never know who they are. As a software developer we have to come up with other ways to find out what is going on.
  • Impact on regular sales. As soon as the Mac App Store opened we saw a reduction in sales from www.shedworx.com. Since listing on the Mac App Store we have more than recovered these sales. This makes Mac App Store listing mandatory for us and I'm sure all the other software developers are finding the same thing.

There is one thing I haven't put on the Cons side which most other developers list. It's the 30% Apple commission. I havent listed it because I see this as a cost of using their store. They handle all payments, reduce support and provide us with a new customer base that would possibly never get to our site to find software.

The Bottom Line

The Mac App Store is great way to buy apps. The ease of purchasing, peace of mind and multi-seat licensing making it a real winner compared to the old way of buying apps.

There is anecdotal evidence out on the web that a large percentage of people don't buy software from anyone but Apple. If this is true, the App Store will open up a huge new market for small software companies like Shedworx.

There are a few restrictions about what can be sold on the App Store which hold back some developers. These restrictions will force us to look at our apps in a different way to make sure all our stuff can get into the App Store and get in front of millions of potential new customers.

AVCHD 3D and Progressive update

The AVCHD Format Co-Promoters (the owners of the AVCHD Format) have just released an update to the AVCHD Spec that covers 3D, Progessive and 3D Progressive.

AVCHD 3D

Panasonic started shipping 3D cameras using 'side by side' encoding in 2010 and Sony joined the 3D race in March 2011 with Full HD 3D which means two video channels are used (instead of side by side recording).

The Sony approach uses a 50i or 60i video stream capturing 25 or 30 interlaced frames per second, per side.

AVCHD now supports a true 3D mode, but until we see the new spec we don't know whether the official AVCHD 3D mode will be side-by-side, Full HD or both.

AVCHD Progressive

Panasonic again was first with this format to the camcorder market and now Sony camcorders support 50p and 60p shooting. We have supported Panasonic 1080/50p and 1080/60p since last year but now we'll have a spec to see exactly what is going in with this videos.

AVCHD 3D Progressive

This one is new to us. We will have to see the spec to know what this is all about, but we're guessing it's 3D 50p and 60p support, so that each video channel (one for each eye) is a progressive video stream.

Next Steps

It's good to see AVCHD finally formalise the 3D and Progressive video formats which have been shipping for over 6 months now. We have to go through the paperwork now to get licenced under the new AVCHD Spec, then we will check out how it all works.

Once we have access to the official AVCHD spec we will post another update.

Cosmos upgrade out now!

FREE Upgrade to Cosmos for Mac and iOS

We've just released a major update to Cosmos on both the Mac and iPhone/iPad.

Current owners of Cosmos for Mac can get the update via Auto-update or you can download it here.

Cosmos for Mac is now also available on the Mac App Store for the first time!

Cosmos for iPhone and iPad can be updated from the iTunes App Store.

This release of Cosmos has a lot of improvements. Here are the highlights...

Cosmos for Mac changes:

  • Improved Photo support - all Photo metadata is now captured by Cosmos on Import, and key details are displayed in the Information panel.
  • Added Ratings and Flags to metadata you can now set ratings and flag assets of interest
  • Improved Information display for all assets - you can now see more info about your assets in the Information panel.
  • Notes - you can now add Notes to Albums to help you keep track of what the photos or videos were taken of.
  • Improved Sync feedback - the Syncing process now gives you feedback in the bottom of the Cosmos window so that you can see what's going on
  • Import Fixes - Fixed a number of bugs around large scale imports. Cosmos has now been tested and verified against batch imports of up to 10,000 assets at a time.

Cosmos for iPhone and iPad changes:

  • Import and Shoot Photos - you can now take photos on your iPhone and iPad and have them added to your Cosmos Library immediately. As soon as the photo is taken, Cosmos sends them back to the Cloud for safe keeping and syncing to other devices
  • Take Notes - you can now add Notes to any Album to help you keep track of what the Album is about
  • Ratings and Flags - you can Flag and Rate you assets and have this data sent to the cloud
  • Improved Sync feedback - its now easier to Connect and see what is going on with your Sync process
  • Sync Reliability - We have fixed a number of bugs around how Cosmos behaved when going in and out of the background. Cosmos is now a lot more reliable when you start and stop it.

This upgrade has also required us to upgrade the CloudSync system. Those of you using the CloudSync service will have to switch to the new version of Cosmos OSX and iOS in order to run against the upgraded CloudSync. Your Library will have been upgraded on the Cloud.

Final Cut Pro X AVCHD support

Final Cut Pro X is here!

Today we fired up Final Cut Pro X for the first time to see how it goes with AVCHD editing and support.

Getting Started

Final Cut Pro X looks a lot more like iMovie than the old Final Cut Pro.

On startup, you have the Event Library in the top left. This Event Library looks just the same as the iMovie Event Library that you see down the bottom of the iMovie window.

The Final Cut Pro X Event Library replaces the previous Asset Browser window, so that you can now browse assets from all of your imported Events, rather than assets from the open Project only.

In the bottom of the Final Cut Pro X window you have a Project browser, which is similar to the Project Browser you see up in the top left of iMovie. This allows you to open Projects from within Final Cut Pro X rather than loading each Project from the filesystem.

Overall, Final Cut Pro X is very similar to iMovie in the way it deals with Events and Projects. iMovie users will find it much easier moving up to Final Cut Pro X than moving up to the old Final Cut Pro 7.

AVCHD support

FCPX claims 'Native AVCHD Support'. What does this mean?

Importing

FCPX can import AVCHD video from an AVCHD camcorder. The difference this time is that FCPX does not have to convert to ProRes as part of the import workflow.

Note that the import process does 'rewrap' the AVCHD video file to a QuickTime container. This means that the video and audio streams from the file are unaltered, but they are re-wrapped to a QuickTime format.

A nice option on Import is the ability to 'Create Optimised Media' when importing. This allows you to convert to ProRes on the way in, if thats what you still want to do. Going to ProRes will still be important when working on older, lower powered Macs.

Final Cut Pro X will still not import a stand-alone AVCHD video file. Importing AVCHD still requires access to the original AVCHD camcorder, or a valid Camera Archive disk structure.

Editing

Once you get through the import process, editing is smooth and easy. No rendering is required - the AVCHD just works.

We haven't done extensive edit testing yet - that will come soon. We will look at mixing AVCHD formats (e.g. 1080p and 720p) on the timeline.

Exporting your finished Movie

FCPX gives you some basic exporting options from within the application, but to do anything fancy you still need to use Compressor. Compressor is a Apple's full-featured video converter available via the App Store.

FCPX now includes AVCHD DVD exporting from the Share menu. You can take a project and create an AVCHD DVD which will play back on most Blu-ray players. You can also create a Blu-ray disc, but you need to have an external Blu-ray burner for this.

Buying

FCPX is now $300 US. Compressor (multi-purpose video converter) and Motion (for titles and special effects) are $50 each. No sign yet of Color (used for colour correction and tuning in video), but Color is only for Pros.

That brings the new 'Final Cut Studio' equivalent to the grand total of $400, down from $1,200 for its previous version.

FCPX, Compressor and Motion are only available on the Mac App Store. This is great news as you only have to buy it once and you get it on all your machines. Its not such good news if you installed Final Cut Pro across many machines under different Apple IDs in the past (not that anyone would do that).

As a side note, Compressor is now available for the first time as a stand-alone app. This means that for $50 US, you can now have a top quality video converter from Apple without having to buy Final Cut Pro as well.

What happened to Final Cut Express?

Final Cut Express used to be $200 compared to $1200 for Final Cut Studio. With FCPX now down to $300, Apple doesn't need to provide a 'budget' version of Final Cut. At $300, FCPX is now a realistic 'step up' option for home video editing enthusiasts as well as any video editor that needs something more than iMovie.

Wrap up

Final Cut Pro X now supports native editing of AVCHD video, but still requires you to import from a Camera or Camera Archive. If you have stand-alone AVCHD (.MTS) video files, you are stuck.

You can now create AVCHD DVDs from a Final Cut Pro X project. These DVDs will play in Full HD on most Blu-ray players sold today.

Final Cut Pro X contains improved, but not complete AVCHD support. Final Cut Pro X still does not support the workflow of 'Editor to HDTV playback' without going through a Blu-ray player or AppleTV (not that AppleTVs are anywhere near Full HD capable). The Shedworx Full HD playback workflow is still the best way to go straight from an edited Project to playback on a HDTV.

Overall, Final Cut Pro X is far easier to get started with than its predecessor, Final Cut Pro 7. It will be interesting to see what the Pros think of it, but for the prosumer and part-time video editor, Final Cut Pro X is a winner.

3D Editing on a Mac - RevolverHD

Panasonic was first to the home 3D camera market with its HDC-SDT750 (also called the TM750) 3D camcorder. We put up a quick review back in November 2010 and now it's time to show you how to edit 3D!

The Panasonic camcorder came with some software to do importing from the camera and simple edits on a PC but, as usual, nothing for the Mac. We've updated both Cosmos and RevolverHD to take care of this.

Shooting

First, go and shoot some footage. Keep in mind the limitations of 3D - there is no zoom and the depth of field is quite shallow so you need to keep your subject between 6 and 10 feet away.

Once you have your footage, it's time to get it off the camera and into your Mac.

If you want to try this 3D game out, but you don't have a 3D camera, feel free to download our sample disk image containing 3D footage straight from our camera. You will need a Panansonic 3D TV to view the results though.

Importing

There are two ways to do this - using Cosmos or doing a manual copy from the camera's filesystem to your Mac.

Cosmos

Fire up Cosmos and plug in your camera. Cosmos will do the rest!

Manual Import

Plug in your camera and wait for the SD Card to mount as a drive. Drill into the drive and go into PRIVATE/AVCHD/STREAM to find the video clips. Copy the whole lot to your hard drive somewhere for safe keeping, then eject and switch off your camera.

Editing

Now load up your clips into RevolverHD. If you use Cosmos to import and manage your clips, just navigate to the album containing your clips and right click to 'Send to Revolver'.

If you imported manually, find your MTS video clips and drag them onto RevolverHD.

Once your clips are in RevolverHD you can run a preview and set in/out points to trim the clips as required. If you find some dud clips in there, just remove them from the list.

Exporting

Your simple edit is now complete and it's time to export.

We have added a special TV Export option for Panasonic TVs to create the file structure that Panasonic requires for 3D playback.

The export that you create will playback directly on the TV, straight from your USB drive, so go and find a USB drive and stick it in your Mac.

Click on TV Export in RevolverHD. On the next screen select Panasonic as the TV type and select your USB Drive as the destination for your Export.

RevolverHD now does its magic, trimming your clips then putting them into a structure to play back on your TV.

Eject your drive and plug it into your 3D Panasonic TV. Enjoy!

The process described here works just as well for regular 2D high definition video too. For quick edits and perfect quality HD playback, its a great way to go.

Digital SLR vs Camcorder video - which is the best for you?

For the past 12 months we've been using our regular HD Camcorders and also some of the new Digital SLR video cameras.

The Digital SLRs are very impressive video cameras, but there's some gotchas.

This review pits the Panasonic GH-1 Digital SLR against the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 (also sold as the TM750) HD Camcorder.

Handling

Weight

The TM750 weighs in at 450g while the GH-1 is 850g. In fact, the GH-1 lens weighs more than the entire TM750. If you've ever had to shoot a long scene with your camcorder, this is a big deal. In our real world tests, it is easy to hold up the TM750 in one hand for long periods. The GH-1 takes two hands to hold it for for long periods and eventually gets too hard!

Zoom

The TM750 camcorder has powered zoom while the DSLR is manual. This means that you really can't zoom while shooting with the DSLR, while its easy with the camcorder. Even on a tripod, zooming on the DSLR moves the camera far too much to keep shooting.

Auto-focus

The DSLR has a narrow depth of field (DOF) which gives you the 'professional' look where your subject is in focus while the background isn't. The problem with this is that the camera has to work hard to auto focus, especially in a moving scene.

The camcorders on the other hand have a very wide depth of field (like a compact still camera) so don't need to do much at all to keep the subject in focus.

The result of all this is that DSLRs really struggle in high movement scenes while the camcorders do a very good job.

Shooting Conditions

In a crowd

Because of it's narrow DOF, the DSLR will find it impossible to auto-focus into a crowd scene. It will always focus on the nearest person, leaving everyone else out of focus. If you have to shoot someone in a crowd you will have to go to manual focus. Manual focus isn't easy with a video camera.

The camcorders do a good job in a crowd because the whole crowd will be in focus, so you can just zoom right in to your subject.

Action scenes

In fast moving scenes the DSLR falls down again because of it's need to continually auto focus. Te camcorders shine again due to their limited need to change focus as subjects move around.

Powered zoom on the camcorder lets you shoot one-handed and zoom, allowing you to keep tracking your subject. The DSLR requires two hands to hold and zoom, and you will probably lose your subject when you bump the camera around.

Video Quality

For this article I'm going to look at video quality under action or high-movement scenes. This is the technical bit of the article. The short answer is the GH-1 struggles while the TM750 does a good job. Read on to find out whats going on under the hood...

When shooting video yourself, panning is not good. You should avoid panning as a rule since it creates too much movement and the consumer cameras just can't handle it.

Having said that, if you want to take a sport or action video, panning has to happen.

DSLR video cameras (and cheaper camcorders) suffer from what is known as 'rolling shutter'. This is caused by the image sensor taking some time to record each frame, and the sensors scans from top to bottom. It means that the image recorded at the bottom of the frame is slightly different to the image recorded at the top.

Camcorders are less prone to this due to a number of reasons but the main one being that the high-end consumer camcorders use multiple sensors (rather than one for the DSLRs) and have built-in processing software to deal with this.

Rolling shutter, and a number of other problems that come up with fast panning, can be reduced on any DSLR by using a higher frame rate (the GH-1 can shoot at 50 frames per second) and higher shutter speeds. The manual controls on the DSLR video cameras are very good and you can control shutter speed, just like shooting still photos. If you do this remember that shutter speed on a video camera works the same as for your still photos - go too quick and you will not get enough light.

With its 3 sensors and better video capture, the TM750 camcorder easily out-performs the GH-1 in this area. Its more than out-performing too. Fast action shots at Full HD (1920x1080, 25fps) on the GH-1 just don't work. The quality is almost unwatchable.

Conclusion

The Panasonic GH-1 got rave reviews from Indy filmmakers all over the world because it gave them professional video results with a $1,500 camera. These rave reviews made it look like the new DSLRs would take over the home video world.

Under ideal conditions (like you get when shooting a movie) the GH-1 is outstanding. See our Parrot video for a sample. Put a DSLR video camera in the real world and the story isn't so good.

Throw in busy scenes, fast moving subjects, camera panning and low light and the traditional camcorders look a lot better.

If you need a video camera for all those usual things like family events, sports, holidays and so on, I recommend a top of the line HD camcorder. Panasonic is still our number one choice, but you won't go wrong with a Canon or Sony.

If you want to get creative and take control over your movies, the Digital SLR can be for you.

For me, it's back to the HD camcorder for regular video shooting. The GH-1 will be our special project camera.

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