Is Live Picture set to tackle Photoshop?

Sutherland Lyall rounds up some of the latest developments in digital imaging technology and asks that crucial `little bit less than ú800′ question:

SBHD: Sutherland Lyall rounds up some of the latest developments in digital imaging technology and asks that crucial `little bit less than ú800′ question:

Though the new digital camera mentioned opposite is the only gizmo Kodak has to offer this month, the company is otherwise very active tying up deals with such people as Hewlett Packard and IBM, mostly in the cause of digital image storage, modification and transfer. And in an effort to get its PhotoCD standard adopted universally, it has introduced open licensing of the system. One interesting link is with Live Picture. Kodak is using a mix of its PhotoCD, Live Picture’s compact FITS file format and an Internet/ IBM Global Network-based storage system. The result of all this, due some time next year, is that “moving and editing images over networks becomes as simple as sending a script from place to place. The script, combined with the centrally stored image, allows the recipient to see and work with the previous user’s changes”. Only at the end will the full image be produced.

Experience says that the right response to this is: well, perhaps.

But in any case Live Picture has had a massive price cut from ú3500 to a bit less than ú800. Allegedly this is because it was originally thought of as a specialist app but is now seen as having a broader appeal. Anyone who paid the original price can, for a limited period only, get free Live Picture extensions and additional copies.

Our original view of the program was tempered by its price and its long learning curve. So we thought it prudent to take a fresh look.

The first thing to note is that comparisons between Photoshop and Live Picture are less odious than pointless. The sensible design practice will have both – just as it has both PageMaker and XPress and both FreeHand and Illustrator, using each to do the things they do best. Photoshop’s new layers are immensely useful, but, as we have pointed out before, you need to have lots of memory on board if you are to do much with more than one or two of them. In Live Picture you have a wide diversity of layers and you can use them more or less promiscuously – or at least without worrying about not having enough memory. Once you’ve installed 64Mb there’s no point in fitting more. Realistically, you need that much just to run Photoshop 3.

Because of the file format it’s not possible to scroll or zoom in the conventional way and any move involves re-drawing the screen. As our reviewer put it, “You always need to makes lots of moves. But because you know there is a time penalty for every refresh you tend to become very conservative in what you do”. For an image involving a collage of lots of individual images like the one above, it turned out to be best to use Photoshop for cleaning up odd bits of scruff. But because the images were of high resolution they couldn’t have been worked on in the first place in anything other than Live Picture.

While Photoshop’s file format is based on bitmaps, Live Picture’s file is based on a mathematical description of the image. As a result, the files are very compact but you have to move from a bitmap format to Live Picture FITS format in order to work on a file. That’s fine because the image becomes effectively scale-less – which is to say you can blow it up without loss of resolution – always providing that the original was scanned at high enough a resolution. The one small downside is that FITS can only cope with three colour files, so small black and white image files end up three times the size they would theoretically need to be.

Despite its deployment of stencils, masks and an incredible range of layers – from image distortion through the fabulous silhouette to image cloning – Live Picture currently has no plug-in filters, but now that it has a much wider customer base there will surely be filters all over the place quite soon – especially as it was Kai Krause who designed its front end. Despite this, Live Picture can, according to our reviewers,”do stuff on the Mac which until now could only be done on a high-end workstation”.

Version 2 of Live Picture has just started shipping and we’ll be offering a considered opinion soon. What we’re hoping is that waiting for refreshes will have been abolished, that there will be news of forthcoming filters and the ability to work in CMYK rather than the current RGB-only.

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