• Price When Reviewed: £635 plus VAT

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LiveStage Professional (LSP) is a media-integration tool for adding polish to content prepared in other packages. Users may want to customize movie presentations by adding more controls to a QuickTime VR or Flash movie, or even set up media downloads to open up full screen MPEG-4 video when streamed over the Internet. Although it’s scriptable, the application can be used with no prior programming knowledge thanks to the implementation of drag-&-drop elements. First among these are Sprites, which allow you more control of the experience when used as interactive buttons or elements in media projects. This interactivity is defined in LSP using the application’s own QScript language (a hefty reference guide is provided); authored from a straightforward programming environment; or by dragging in complete scripts. New in version 4.0 is the ability to record most actions using AppleScript (the application’s AppleScript dictionary has also been expanded), allowing the automation of repetitive media-production workflows. Most of the design work takes place on the Stage, which provides a visual representation of the presentation, with a new Timeline running beneath it. This is where all the elements of the project are laid out in sequence in the form of Tracks – these can be media files (200 different formats are supported, including Flash 5 and QuickTime 6.0), Sprite, text, effects, instruments, and colour tracks. The Library window stores media in Local and Global collections as well as acting as an organized repository for AppleScripts, Qscripts, and behaviours, which can be applied to Sprites using drag-&-drop or scripting. Adding a new track simply entails clicking on the relevant menu button or dragging a folder of files from the Library to the work area. Individual files can be dropped onto the Stage in this way, too. The track is created in the timeline below, with all original dimensions intact. A new Media Synchronizer allows NLE-style composition of multiple tracks using In and Out points, and keyboard shortcuts. Also available are FastTracks: quick track-creation tools that allow drag-&-drop editing. These are accessed through the menu bar, or by context-clicking on the Timeline. Version 4.0 adds four new FastTracks, allowing users to quickly add playback, VR controls, media skins, and a status bar to their movies. MPEG-4 files can be accessed and played back in their original format thanks to the QuickTime 6.0 support. Flash support has also been updated (MX users still have to export files as version 5, however) allowing users to incorporate Flash media within a nested LSP movie project. If you’ve some database and Web-programming skills, LSP is a prime tool to host streaming video. With its ability to export full projects as XML files, it’s possible to set up a database-driven system that creates new movies on demand, streaming them from a server. Though not for the faint-hearted, this provides a reason for buying the package on its own. LSP has many powerful features, but it requires some time to learn how to unlock them. Although it’s possible to pick it up and create simple multimedia controls, users who revel in the scripting side of Flash, Director, and After Effects will gain the most benefit from the package.