Quantity vs. Quality? The old Mac/PC debate

Mac or PC?I’ve convinced many people to buy a Mac over the years, but there’s one person I cannot convert. My mother refuses to go Mac. To put this in proper context, you should know that she is not a computer novice. She has no problem fixing driver problems or troubleshooting a PC. She runs several web sites. You should also know that she is not hostile to the idea of using a Mac.

So, she’s computer-saavy and open minded about trying the Mac OS. So why doesn’t she buy one?

I have to admit that I was disappointed when she recently purchased an HP Pavilion DV740US laptop for $1149. This model came with a 1.67GHz Centrino Core Duo processor, 3GB DDR2 RAM, Windows Vista Premium, a DVD±RW/CD-RW drive with Blu-Ray read support, a 5-in-1 digital media reader, a 320GB hard drive, a TV tuner and a 17-inch screen. It has a built-in camera and wireless capability. In short, it’s designed to be an full-featured entertainment center. It weights in at 7.7 pounds.

She did take a look at the Mac options, but only considered the MacBook Pro — the 17-inch screen was a minimum requirement. But at a starting price of $1,999, the MacBook Pro was just too expensive. It also didn’t have as many features. For her, the HP model was the obvious choice. The primary user of this machine, my father, is happy with it. What’s he doing with it? Primarily surfing the web and checking emails. While he might not use a lot of the power and features of the HP, he gets a zippy machine with a big keyboard and large screen. And when he’s not using it, my mother has access to a powerful second computer in the house (her primary is a Gateway desktop).

I’ve tried to convince her to buy a Mac for years. My main points on why I feel the Mac is the best choice will be familiar to most readers of this site:

You may pay more upfront for a Mac but it’ll generally last longer. I think that most low-cost PCs are designed to be disposable, and they are generally made with cheap components. My second generation iBook G3, though, is seven years old and still going strong. Macs are generally well-crafted machines. Also note that Windows may be much more expensive than the Mac OS in the long run.

I also believe that the Mac user experience is superior thanks to the OS and the aesthetics of the hardware design (and apparently just thinking about Apple makes one more creative, which is kind of scary).

Next, I say that the extra bells and whistles of entertainment machines like the HP DV740US don’t add up to much. I think the Mac excels at honing in on the essentials that people need while steadfastly avoiding feature bloat. This is just my personal choice, but I’m wary of everything-and-the-kitchen sink PCs. In my experience, the base capabilities may appear to be great, but in reality they just don’t work that well. And they generally don’t work well together. We Mac users like to say that our machines ‘just work.’ Well, that’s because Macs just work.

Security is generally considered to be much stronger on the Mac. The main counter-argument I hear on this point is ‘Sure, but just wait until the Mac gets more popular.’ Actually, I think that’s a valid point. We shouldn’t take our relative security for granted. The Mac OS is fairly secure, but it’s far from perfect. It is, however, vastly more secure than a machine on Windows. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

I also think that Mac software (both Apple and third-party software) is vastly superior in terms of quality, user experience, and OS integration to what you can get on a PC. This is subjective, I know. But it’s true!

Finally, the Mac is the only platform today that can (legally) run the Mac OS along with Windows and most other operating systems. And Macs Run Windows Vista Better Than PCs according to just-released Popular Mechanics test.

In the end, my arguments lost out. Here were the main points behind her HP decision:

1. She would love to try out the Mac OS, but she is quite content with Vista
2. The 17-inch screen is a must — and the Mac only offers costly options in this category
3. The HP offers many more features for much less money

I have to say that I understand the decision to go with HP, but I think the cost benefit of the cheaper HP will decline over time. I think you get what you pay for. However, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to back this up. Perhaps the HP will stand the test of time just as well as a Mac, or perhaps it doesn’t matter because it’s cheap enough to be replaced without much concern in two or three years.

Despite the fact that I still haven’t persuaded her to switch, she remains very interested in the Mac OS. She noted that she would like the option to install the Mac OS on a Windows machine so she could test it out. She’s not the only one. This happens to be a current hot topic in the Mac community. For more on this, see the April 17 Macworld article, Frankenmac! What’s in a Mac clone?.

Personally, I would love to have the option to legally install Mac OS X on a PC. In fact, I would be tempted to build my own PC tower if I could run Mac OS X on it. Will Apple ever license the Mac OS to run on non-Apple computers? I doubt it, but then again I never thought I’d see Apple switch to Intel. While I’m interested in installing Mac OS X on non-Apple machines, I fear what this might do to the the OS over time. Apple’s decision to lock the Mac OS to Apple computers no doubt helps to maintain control, security and compatibility.

Of course, Apple could also add more products to their line to compete with low and mid-range PC desktops and laptops. While this would surely increase market share, would this be the beginning of the end of Apple’s distinctive quality? I think it might: these cheaper machines would logically need to integrate cheaper components to get the price down, right?

At any rate, Macs today cost a bit more. And they are not as fully-loaded as many PC offerings out on the market. For your money, you get higher-quality, well-integrated components. You get the only machine that (legally) runs the Mac OS. You get more security. You get better software. And, most importantly, you get the Mac user experience — it’s hard to explain this to PC users, but it’s an experience that is worth the price of admission.

Affordable Tapeless Video Capture

Here’s the second post from guest contributor Brandon who is currently attending the National Association of Broadcaster’s annual convention. Today’s topic is about tapeless video acquisition and how this tech is starting to filter down to consumer cameras. There are also many good tips here for those looking to buy a video camera. Enjoy.

NAB“Day two of NAB 2008 found me exploring yet another hall of the Las Vegas convention center. I know you’re eagerly waiting to find out what cool stuff I found but, unfortunately, there was nothing of direct Mac relevance. Everything I found today was geared (and priced) directly toward the professional video market.

To be honest, I spent the better part of the day evaluating industrial gear cases, and I just don’t think you’d find it that interesting. Unless of course, you’re willing to spend $600 on a camera case… No? Ok, then. In the interest of keeping fresh material coming in, I thought I’d talk a little about one of the trends in professional gear that is making good progress on it’s way down from the halls of NAB to the consumer market: tapeless acquisition.

Tapeless acquisition is a technology that is just now really beginning to realize its potential. A few years ago it was only available in high-end professional cameras. We’re talking cameras that cost more than the gross national products of many small South American countries. More recently, though, the technology has found it’s way into lower-end field cameras such as Panasonic’s P2 and Sony’s XDCAM lines. These are the cameras that serve as the primary tools of documentary crews, independent video journalists and anyone else who needs to move fast and shoot broadcast-quality footage. Essentially, they are BMWs compared to the higher-end ‘Ferraris’ of the camera world. The good news this year is that we’re beginning to see pro technology (such as quality tapeless acquisition) filter down to the consumer level at a Chevrolet price point!

So what does this mean for you? No more spending $5 for a single 60-minute DV cassette. Great! But wait, there’s always a catch isn’t there? Let’s take the JVC Everio line as an example. These cameras can store up to 37.5 hours of standard definition footage onto their 30GB hard drives, so the issue is not how much drive space you will need.

The first major issue is the compression used to obtain that very tempting specification. A great number of internet reviews of the Everio line indicate that the video produced is soft and exhibits obvious artifacts. This is not exactly what I would like to see in my preserved-for-posterity memories. The other issue is compatibility for playback and editing on your computer. Unless you intend to use the bundled proprietary software to chop your precious memories into bite-sized YouTube morsels, you’ll need to carefully check the compatibility of the camera with your editing software before purchasing.

For the readers of this site, you should know that the JVC cameras don’t bundle any Mac love. While the JVC website states that “third-party software is available for Macintosh,” I spent nearly 15 minutes (all my ADD would allow) searching for exactly what “third-party software” was available. Guess what…I need to keep looking. Now, in fairness to the little Everios, every report I’ve read indicates that the ‘direct from camera to DVD burner’ feature worked simply and flawlessly — but that really takes the fun out of the whole process.

While I’ve picked on JVC cameras here, these are issues that should be considered and researched when considering offerings from any of the major manufacturers.

But let’s get back to the main benefit of tapeless acquisition. No capturing tapes! It’s really that simple. Not only do you no longer need to buy the expensive little things, you don’t have to spend all that time capturing them into the computer in order to work on your upcoming Academy Award-nominated cinematography. Assuming you do your research and get yourself a great little camera that works perfectly with your Mac, transferring video from you camera will be as simple as copying files from a thumb drive. If your camera is really cool, it will even utilize super-secret CIA scene detection technology to break your happy little trip to the zoo into distinct clips of monkeys, panda bears and tourists falling into the polar bear pit. You may not realize now how great of a time saver this is, but it is. Put it this way: the pros utilize modern indentured servitude (interns) so they don’t have to do it themselves. Most of us have to do it ourselves.

In summary: do your homework. Look for documented compatibility with your Mac and software. Pay attention to the little stickers that tell you what size CCD the camera has; more megapixels + bigger CCD = higher quality video. HD is cheap — and all HD cameras should give you the option to shoot standard definition as well, so look for HDV or AVCHD format cameras. Finally, be sure to buy a case to protect your investment…and remember: with video gear you really do get what you pay for.”

Live from NAB 2008!

NABI just received a dispatch from Brandon, a friend of mine lucky enough to be at the NAB Show in Nevada this week. He’s going to be sending in some items of interest to share from the convention this week. Here’s what he had to say about Day One:

“The National Association of Broadcasters annual convention is a massive event filling all four halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Having spent an entire day thoroughly exploring just one of the halls, I’d like to share a few items that caught my eye:

1. Logic Keyboard Refresh

Logic KeyboardFirst off are new keyboards offerings from Logic Keyboard. Switching from the old G5-style Apple keyboards to the newly redesigned Apple USB slim style, Logic Keyboard provides input devices with shortcut markings for many major creative applications such as Photoshop, Final Cut, Aperture and Avid. If your are frequent user of any of these programs but haven’t yet memorized the shortcuts, these keyboards are an excellent visual aid. The new style keyboards will be shipping in about a month and will maintain the previous model’s $50 price markup over the standard Apple keyboard.

2. Flip4Mac News

MacHeistNext, I’d like to share a little information I received from a Telestream rep regarding Flip4Mac. Since upgrading to Leopard, I’ve been experiencing serious problems with WMV playback. When trying to play any WMV file larger than 7-8MB, I get a status bar, the “spinning beach ball of doom” and a very, very, long wait. I’ve posted over various forums looking for help with this issue but it appeared I was the only one experiencing it. Thanks to the very helpful Telestream reps, I learned today that mine is not an isolated occurrence and they have received reports from many other users with same or similar issues. According to them, it is a (currently) unresolved conflict between Flip4Mac and any version of QuickTime more recent than 7.4.1. So how do you fix it? At this point the only options are to roll back QuickTime to 7.4.1 or live with it in the hopes that the next QuickTime update does the job. An ideal solution this isn’t, as many of the changes in the recent QuickTime updates are critical security fixes. I should point out that, as a long time user of Telestream’s professional products, I have found the company to be very quick at resolving issues I’ve had. Initial problems that arose after the release of Leopard resulted in an update within two or three short days. I’m confident that if a fix is not available in a reasonable time that the issue is beyond their control. My next conversation about it will be with Apple.

3. New offerings from LaCie

LaCieLast note of interest for today is a preview of new portable hard drive offerings from LaCie. Large capacity, small form and bus-powered! Everything a road warrior media producer could ask for! A new model of the Little Big Disk Quadra gives you 500GB from two drives in a RAID 0 configuration for read/write speed with eSATA, FireWire 400, FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 connections to get all that data to and from your computer. If you’re running FireWire, you will won’t even need the included power brick — so you end up with a package that would fit in my overly style-conscious girlfriend’s Italian purse, with room for all the mysterious things she carries in there! Of course, if you’re afraid she might hit you with said purse, as I often am, you may choose to go with the new Rugged Hard Disk with rubber bumper that surrounds a metal enclosure containing a shock absorber-mounted 320GB drive! In any case, now you can worry more about your head than your hard drive.

Hopefully day two will bring plenty more interesting and exciting things for me to drool over. If so, and provided I don’t electrocute myself with my slobber, I’ll be back tomorrow with some more fun ideas for spending your tax refund from NAB 2008!”