The Uncertain Future of Shake

Four days ago Apple announced a new pricing structure for Shake 4.1, dropping the price from $3000 to $499. This was an interesting move, which sparked much discussion and dropped several interesting emails in my inbox. While there is currently much rejoicing amongst faithful macfans and indie filmmakers, not everyone is particularly optimistic about what this change means for Shake’s future as a viable high-end compositing package.

For starters, the official press release announcing the $2500 price cut also mentions the end of official Shake support: “Apple will no longer sell the Apple Maintenance Program for Shake. Current Shake Apple Maintenance customers can contact shake-sales@apple.com for more information.” Those familiar with Apple’s methods of purchasing software and discontinuing it so they can roll its features into new Apple products will recall that support is usually discontinued before the software is (I still have my original “NextStep will no longer be supported” letter somewhere).

In fact, there seems to be a lot of evidence that this may be the last version of Shake, and that Apple is already hard at work on its successor. I don’t want to spread rumors here, but speculating about what Apple is making next seems to be what blogs are for, so here goes: I hear the new Shake is codenamed Phenomenon. And I predict a great departure from its current form. Note that only the Mac version has been repriced; the Linux version is still quite expensive. Obviously, they are trying to attract more of the lower-end filmmakers and video hobbyists rather than large studios.

This has been Apple’s strategy ever since they bought Nothing Real (Shake’s developing company) in 2002. They began by squashing the Windows version, and charging more for the Linux version and Linux render nodes than the Apple flavor. At that time I was working with a number of very large studios that couldn’t afford to rebuild their entire pipeline to accommodate new Apple computers, so they paid the higher software prices to stick with their more powerful, cheaper, and more open original platforms (also, the Linux-flavored Shake has always been faster and more stable).

If Shake is truly an EOL (end of line) app, and not just getting a new name, then Apple is abandoning this market to court their already loyal fanbase of smaller-scale, video filmmakers. This Mac fanbase places a high premium on the simplicity and glossy, one-size-fits-all methodology of Apple, so I predict that Shake’s powerful, scriptable, open-ended and database-networked framework will be replaced by a single-user, one-button-does-everything program. It will be fast, flashy, and very cool, but I don’t think it will be a powerfully flexible high-end production tool.

Adam Wilt’s HD Shootout Report

If you remember, the Texas HD Shootout was masterminded by Mike Curtis, Chris Hurd, and Adam Wilt, and collected so much data on the Canon, JVC, Panasonic, and Sony cameras that the in-depth writeups and results have been long in coming.

But now DV.com has Adam Wilt’s first report, and it is very thorough. He details and compares dozens of features on each camera and provides frame grabs of charts, interiors, exteriors, action shots, and more. And, as originally explained, there are no clear winners; each camera has its own strengths and weaknesses, and here are excerpts from Adam’s conclusion:

Canon XL H1: The sharpest of the bunch, the best-looking 25-Mb codec, impressively low noise (and that’s without engaging any of the noise-reduction options), and no hue shifts in highlights. Shoulder-mounted configuration aids stability, but it’s still a handful. Highlight handling looks better in some shots than in others. Interchangeable lenses are a plus, but the stock servo zooms, while responsive in run ‘n’ gun situations, are frustrating when precise, repeatable moves are called for. Vivid colorimetry is a bit much, but it’s almost infinitely adjustable. 24f and 30f modes compromise vertical resolution.

JVC GY-HD100: Sharpest 720p recording and very pleasing, naturalistic image rendering with excellent highlight handling. A shoulder-mounted HD100 makes stable, steady pictures, and it’s an ergonomic delight. Best focusing aids of the bunch. Interchangeable lenses with calibrated zoom and focus scales. Its codec suffers the most degradation under stress, and long-GOP sticky details detract from subtle motion rendering. It’s a bit noisy, too.

Panasonic AG-HVX200: DVCPROHD recording with consistent, surprise-free rendering of simple and complex scenes alike. Pleasing colorimetry, but lots of noise. Least stable handheld, and softest image…