SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - You might think of Apple Computer Inc.'s QuickTime as simply a way to watch movie trailers, listen to Internet radio stations, or explore 360-degree panoramic scenes. But QuickTime also lets you create movies with sophisticated interactivity-clickable hot spots that control playback or that branch to Web pages, for example. Much of QuickTime's potential has remained untapped due to a lack of capable authoring tools; the first offerings, Electrifier's Electrifier Pro and Totally Hip Software Inc.'s LiveStage, showed promise but were burdened by awkward interfaces and feature limitations.
LiveStage Professional 2.0.1 is a big step forward. Gone are its predecessor's most glaring limitations, such as the inability to import existing QuickTime content. Totally Hip has also included a printed manual, which was conspicuously absent from earlier versions.
But LiveStage Professional remains more suited to programmers than to designers. Implementing interactivity usually means writing scripts, and the cumbersome interface lacks the polish of Macromedia Flash's authoring environment.
The Authoring Process
Creating a project in LiveStage Professional involves importing existing content and then creating tracks and sprites. These elements control the project's appearance and interactivity via settings and scripts. Along the way, you use the Stage window to position your project's elements. When you're done, you save the project as a cross-platform QuickTime movie that you can embed in a Web page or play in any QuickTime-savvy program. The Stage window is only slightly improved over that of earlier versions, unfortunately-new tools make aligning objects easy, but the lack of rulers hinders layout chores.
The program can import all the usual suspects-QuickTime movies, sound files, and static images-as well as completed Flash projects (SWF files). The ability to import Flash movies enables developers to create animations and navigation elements in Flash, bring them into LiveStage, and integrate them with QuickTime content or enhance them with scripts. You can't modify Flash content within LiveStage, but you can augment it by attaching scripts to specific frames or events, such as a button press.
LiveStage Professional lets you animate an element by tweening: specify its starting and ending position, and LiveStage creates the intermediate values.
You can tween everything from an object's position, to a QuickTime VR panorama's viewing angle, to an image's graphics mode. But animating an element is awkward; rather than simply drawing an animation path, as in Flash and Director, you must peck values into a dialog box and draw a path in a separate window.
Scripting, Debugging, Delivering
Creating an interactive item, such as a clickable button, usually means creating a sprite track in the Project window and then adding media and scripts to the track in a separate Sprite window. Although LiveStage Professional relies heavily on scripting, it does offer several keystroke-saving features. A palette gives you one-click access to all the keywords and constructs in LiveStage's programming language. Simply drag a keyword to the desired location within a script, and then type any required parameters.
Version 2.0 also features behaviors. These canned scripts handle common tasks, such as displaying a Web page when users click on a button. Drag a behavior into a Sprite window, type any required attributes, and you're done-no manual scripting necessary. Advanced scripters can create their own behaviors and add them to LiveStage Professional's Library or pass them along to colleagues.
Also new to version 2 is support for AppleScript. You can create scripts that automate repetitive tasks, such as specifying compression settings for a large collection of images. A handy Debugging window displays info as a project is running, though it would be more valuable if it displayed the contents of variables as scripts ran.
When you've finished a project, choose Export Wired Movie, and LiveStage Professional produces a stand-alone QuickTime movie ready for publishing-after you hand-code some HTML, that is (unlike Flash, LiveStage doesn't create the HTML necessary to display your movie).
Macworld's Buying Advice
LiveStage Professional 2.0.1 is by far the most versatile and powerful QuickTime-authoring program. Its only competition is Electrifier's Electrifier Pro, which is languishing as its publisher focuses on other ventures. But at $700, LiveStage Professional is overpriced, even when you consider that it includes Totally Hip's terrific WebPainter animation utility. And it needs more polish; its interface can be awkward, its Undo command works inconsistently, and the program occasionally crashed during testing.
Indisputably a powerful tool for adding advanced interactivity to QuickTime movies and for combining Flash and QuickTime content, LiveStage Professional also has a lot to offer QuickTime VR producers, who can use it to create interactive hot spots and add automatic panning and zooming features to VR panoramas. But the program is too expensive and too complex for all but the most dedicated QuickTime authors.
RATING: 3.0 mice
PROS: Powerful scripting features; versatile.
CONS: Can be cumbersome; flaky Undo command; occasional crashes; expensive.
COMPANY: Totally Hip Software (604/685-6525, http://www.totallyhip.com).
LIST PRICE: $700.