By Joe Herman and Dan Ochiva
Although “best of” lists can seem indulgent, they serve a purpose. By focussing attention on tech gear and software that you may have missed in a year’s typical new product rush, you’ll stay up to date on products that might help solve a real problem. Meanwhile, hearing about new apps for popular products like Apple’s iPad could tip you off to a good production solution you can apply today.
In any case, here’s our first of three lists of the best, most useful software and hardware from the past 12 months.
While we’ve had eBook readers, tablet computers and smart phones for any number of years, this past year Apple’s iPad stormed the portable media platform category to the point that Strategy Analytics estimated that the device had gained a 95 percent share of Tablet PC sales by the end of second quarter 2010.
The iPad is said to be a hit in Hollywood, both on set for directors and for client playback during post. An app like Movie Slate– an all-in-one digital slate, clapper board, shot log, and shot notepad–shows how quickly new uses are turning up. According to DigiTimes, Apple is expected to order 35 million iPad panels from LG in 2011 for its iPad 2, rumored for release later this month.
We recently had a chance to work with Mudbox 2011, the digital sculpting tool by Autodesk that competes with ZBrush. We’re impressed.
Tools such as Mudbox allow the artist to build highly complex and detailed models by painting on their meshes with brushes. The resulting displacement and texture maps are later applied to the models in Maya for animation and rendering. We were struck by the quality of the real time rendering and ambient occlusion while painting and sculpting. Mudbox 2011, now a 64 bit app, adds useful enhancements such as a posing toolkit, improved brushes for 3D painting and texturing, texture extraction, 2D painting of 3D maps, paint layers, and interoperability with Adobe Photoshop.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS5
Almost all of the Creative Suite 5 applications have significant new enhancements and upgrades including the old standards such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects. However, most impressive are the advancements made in Premiere Pro, which has become a highly advanced, pro editing package. Premiere Pro CS5 now runs as a 64-bit app only, pointing out how serious Adobe is targeting high-end film and video producers.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new Premiere Pro is Adobe’s Mercury Playback Engine, which takes advantage of today’s potent GPUs to speed project opening, scrubbing through and playing back HD and even higher-res footage with effects.
Not really a product but a technology, USB 3.0 brings the promise of greatly improved bandwidth of around 3.2 Gbs, some 6 times the speed of USB 2.0. Since USB has become ubiquitous throughout the computer industry, expect to see cheaper RAID arrays and other storage solutions over the coming year. Other peripherals such as scanners and audio post gear will also benefit.