Presentations that sparkle. (MacroMind Action! multimedia presentation software) (Evaluation)
by David English
Multimedia is finally here. Some of you may already have bought a Multimedia PC. Even more of you are probably thinking about buying one. You've seen the flashy multimedia demos at your local computer store or industry trade show, and you want in on the action. Some of you may even want to take the bull by the horns and create your own multimedia applications or presentations. The hardware is easy--pick a certified MPC computer or appropriate MPC upgrade kit--but which software should you choose?
If you want to create a self-contained multimedia application, your best bet is probably Asymetrix's Multimedia Resource Kit, which adds support for CD-ROM, laser disc players, animation software, audio- and overlay-video cards, and MIDI synthesizers to Asymetrix ToolBook 1.5. But if you want to create a presentation--much like the kind you can produce with Microsoft PowerPoint, Aldus Persuasion, or Harvard Graphics, with extensive animation and digitized sound--take a good look at MacroMind Action! (MacroMind, 600 Townsend Street, Suite 310W, San Francisco, California (4103; 415-442-0200; $495).
MacroMind is best known for its Macintosh program, MacroMind Director, which is ourrently the best program on any platform for creating multimedia applications. While officials from the company have hinted that we'll eventually see a version of Director for Windows, MacroMind's first PC program is actually a traditional presentation program--though one that offers a surprisingly large number of Director-like features. Like its older brother, Action! lets you quickly combine sound, motion, text, and graphics and even make the whole thing interactive. The programs are so similar that you can use Action! to playback Director files on your PC--though imported files do lose their interactiveness.
Like Director, Action! offers a variety of tools in floating windows that let you view and alter the objects in your presentation. The Tool Palette window has the usual drawing program tools (pointer, text, circle, oval, and so on) as well as some unique multimedia tools. The multimedia applying movement duration, and special effects to an object; a Sound tool for attaching a WAV-format digitized sound or CD-audio sound to an object; and a Link tool for creating interactive buttons or linking an object so that it operates like a button.
The other floating windows include a VCR-like Control Panel with play, stop, rewind, fast forward, half-second-forward, and half-second-back buttons; a Timeline panel that lets you quickly view and shift objects over a linear time line; a Scene Sorter that lets you rearrange the order of your scenes and select each scene's duration, color plette, template, and transition and a Content List that provides yet another view of the structure of your presentation--this time as an outline. If you have a NTSC video card, you can use the Print to Video option to copy your presentation to a videotape recorder.
Fortunately, all this is laid out so you only have to deal with the tools and controls that you need at the moment. In addition, the package includes more than 100 professionally designed templates; a ClipMedia Library of sounds, graphics, and animations; and Adobe Type Manager for smooth type in any size. In may cases, you can simply load a template, edit the text and graphics, and create an instant presentation. You can also use the windows clip-board to import graphics and charts (in BIB and BMP formats) from other applications. You could scan your company's logo, inport it into Action!, and have it zip across the screen to the sound of a speeding rocket.
MacroMind has billed Action! as "instant multimedia presentation software." On the one hand, this is marketing hype--don't expect to be able to learn this program completely in an hour or two. There are just too many elements involved. On the other hand, once you do learn it, you can put together an impressive presentation in just 15 or 20 minutes. MacroMind Action! comes as close to a cut-and-paste multimedia construction kit as we've seen on the PC. The fact that a program this powerful is so easy to use means we're likely to see more great things from the fertile minds of MacroMind.