Review: Trans Lucy 1.01
Developer: CE Software Inc.
Requirements: Mac that supports Quartz Extreme, Mac OS X 10.3.
Trial: Feature-limited (quits after 20 minutes)
It’s quite a show, watching Apple’s effect on software development. In some cases, it has the “Microsoft effect,” shoving out competition, as in Final Cut and maybe with GarageBand. But there are lots of examples where Apple supplies a good basic application, leaving room for developers to do far better. This happens in many areas: e-mail, browsing, script editing, notebooking, maybe even the Finder.
We have such a case with Apple’s DVD Player. It does the job, but now comes Trans Lucy, an alternative DVD player with some cool features that so far exceed Apple’s that it has the potential to become a hit, like SoundJam was in the old days. (SoundJam became iTunes.)
That’s because Apple likes to keep its versions of these types of applications simple. Plus, there are all sorts of property rights issues that it treads lightly around. For instance, you cannot pause a DVD and “copy” a screenshot with Apple’s player. Also, these small programs that emulate hardware seem to be under very strict, dogmatic user interface control, depending on larger Apple strategies.
Trans Lucy is an application that has a radically novel and apt interface. Its most notable feature is the ability to play a movie—in full screen if desired—as a translucent layer over your work, allowing you to click and type through as if it weren’t there. This is one of those things that sounds like it really wouldn’t work. And it may not for some people.
I was skeptical myself, but then I tried it and now find myself addicted. It’s because the thing is so well thought out. You can adjust the level of translucency to suit your taste; I find 50% works the best on my 17" PowerBook for most films. If you keep the controller visible in full screen mode, it fades away just like Apple’s. And if you move the cursor over it (or where it was), the entire movie becomes opaque like normal.
Trans Lucy on My Desktop
It is a great trick. As you probably know, I write ATPM’s outliner column. My present outliner project is a huge specialized survey of movies. There’s a certain “folding” in the way many films are made that can be captured by advanced “folded” outliner modes. I have literally watched thousands in the past two years, during which I take notes, and must watch many more.
You won’t want to watch a fine film in translucent mode nor divide your attention away from it. But many films aren’t of that type, and if you can multitask this is a great little tool. Even the most cinematic films are given a new, more ethereal “stained glass” quality.
I use Trans Lucy as the default player for all my DVD watching, even when not using transparency. That’s because I like the controller better.
The Trans Lucy Controller
Most of the controls should be obvious. Those three things that look like dials? Well, they are dials that you can grab and then swing around in huge arcs, like we had in an older version of QuickTime Player’s controller. The lower left knob controls the percentage of translucence and the lower right the volume.
That one in the upper right is what they call the Jog Shuttle. By turning this dial, you can make the movie go backwards or forwards at varying rates. Clicking in various quadrants steps forward discrete amounts.
One of the things that annoys me with Apple’s controller is that it doesn’t have variable controls for backing up or fast-forward. That’s fixed here.
That colorful DVD icon in the middle is a menu. It appears in three places: here, in the menu bar, and in the lower right of the screen when a DVD is playing. Everything in the menu is self-explanatory.
The Pop-up Menu
Trans Lucy has assignable hot keys for all the common functions, but you have to be really careful; usually the keyboard is controlling whatever is underneath, so you have to pick your shortcuts to be some that are never used elsewhere.
That cuts both ways, too. All DVDs have menus that you need to click to select items, even just to play the movie. But you just punch through a translucent Trans Lucy screen as if it were a ghost. They’ve solved this with a little pop-out drawer that appears when a DVD menu is on-screen. Oddly, some DVD menus just work the regular way, even in translucent mode!
The Trans Lucy Pop-out Navigator
So far, it sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Well, it is not. It offers three advantages over Apple’s free player: it does the translucent thing, it has an arguably better controller, and it supports many non-Apple-supplied DVD drives. (Apple’s controller only supports the Apple SuperDrive and combo drives.)
But it has a couple of disadvantages also: it ain’t free (though $15 is almost free); it drops more frames than Apple’s player (meaning you get occasionally jumpy playback, but some of this is because you are doing stuff underneath); and it is not scriptable.
Apple has a very bad record of making its own applications scriptable. DVD Player is possibly the most scriptable application it currently supplies. But if you are not a scripter it won’t matter to you. On the other hand, Trans Lucy is sold by CE Software, the same folks who brought us the venerable QuicKeys. It would be terrific if QuicKeys could better integrate with Trans Lucy.
Here’s what I think Trans Lucy needs to be perfect:
- Give us scriptability of some kind;
- Figure out how to make the black letterbox bands completely transparent instead of a bothersome grey;
- Give subtitles their own display area and translucence controls;
- Factor logically into Exposé behavior;
- Provide region-free playback;
- Play video media other than DVDs;
- Perform the superior DVD de-interlaced mode like the free VLC Media Player does (and Apple does not).
If it did this, it would be awesome, earth-shaking. Open source code exists to allow the last three already. As it is, Trans Lucy is very nice and worth checking out.