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iChat. Now it's time to weigh in on the biggest disappointment that I found in the otherwise pretty damn good Leopard: iChat - more specifically, iChat Theater.
Don't get me wrong; I don't think that all of iChat's latest iteration is a buggy morass. Lots of the new features are quite attractive. Tabbed chats, for example, and audio and video recording. All good stuff. But I never could get iChat Theater working exactly right, and my experience with the new backdrops was a complete disappointment.
Let me start with the oddest bug I uncovered. Take a quick look at this photo of my Power Mac G5 (right) sharing a PDF with my Mac Pro (left) using iChat Theater's file-sharing capability and viewing the PDF in full-screen mode. Notice anything, well, amiss?
When I used full-screen mode to view a PDF shared in iChat Theater, the image reversed - but only on one of my test Macs.
I reported this oddity to Apple, but they haven't been able to replicate it - though it's completely replicable on my Mac Pro. Ah, bugs.
More distressing is iChat Theater's poor quality when I shared a PDF over my home network with a Dual 1GHz Mirrored Drive Door Power Mac G4 running Tiger. (Tiger-based Macs can see all of the new iChat's effects; they just can't generate them.) While the full-screen quality of the reverse PDF on the Mac Pro was quite good, the full-screen PDF shared using iChat Theater on the mirror Door looked like this:
Here's an actual-size detail of a PDF shared with a Tiger user on a Power Mac G4. "Crisp" is not the first word that leaps to mind, now, is it?
Sharing the same page with another Leopard user - Roman at the Mac|Life offices, by the way - elicited no complaints about image quality from him. I don't know whether it was the low power of the G4 here at home or the fact that it was running Tiger, but something was certainly degrading image quality.
Things got wonkier when Roman and I tried out iChat Theater's backdrops capabilities. As you'll recall, you can substitute either still-image or video backdrops for your real - and, presumably, boring - surroundings. First Roman tried instigating an iChat Theater session with him sitting in front of one of Apple's supplied still images, the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the poor man's head appeared to be full of holes.
Shall we say, "suboptimal?"
Video whiz and MacLife.com Web guru Robbie Baldwin proffered the opinion that since iChat Theater uses a process similar to green-screen chroma-keying to map out all the colors in Roman's background, the fact that Roman was sitting in front of a dark, jumbled array of shelves, books, and equipment was throwing iChat Theater for a loop. We decided, therefore, that I should initiate the iChat Theater session from my far-more-boring home office.
Unfortunately, my Dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 wasn't up to the task, as Apple's iChat specs make clear. In fact, it wouldn't even let me try - the option to initiate a backdrop session wasn't available. Now, I wouldn't exactly call a Dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 a dog, but apparently the trickery needed for iChat Theater's backdrops requires some serious horsepower - I'm guessing that it relies heavily on Intel processors' advanced SSE media-processing instructions.
So I switched over to my Dual 2.66GHz Dual-Core Mac Pro. iChat Theater was definitely happier with my office's duller background, but the quality of the illusion was still far from anything that I have seen in any of the many Apple-managed demos I've seen of backdrops. There was still plenty of breakup in my image, and the borders between the backdrop - still or video - and my image were far from crisp and visibly unstable.
Roman and I then tried sharing a PDF using iChat Theater, but after our audio kept breaking up and our video froze entirely, we simply gave up - although the PDF looked quite nice, indeed. At this point in its development, Roman and I give iChat Theater two thumbs down.
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