Digital Performer 8 – Windows at last! But… ready for prime time?

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Ben Newhouse and Brad Hatfield both made copious use of Digital Performer in various in-class demos. I was jealous at the apparent ease with which they were able accomplish some tasks like matching shifting tempo of a project to a live performance, use of the conductor track for high-level project control, etc. I’ve been on the lookout for a Windows version since.

Well, the Windows 7 version is out now and I’m in the process of evaluating the 30-day Demo. Fun times.

BTW, I’m running this eval on a three-plus-year-old “Quad Xtreme” system from ADK: Core i7 920 OC’d to 3.4GHz, 12 GB RAM, multiple OS, Data, Audio and Sample drives, 27” and 2o” displays, no special input devices beyond a standard keyboard, gaming mouse and an old Roland PC-200 MIDI keyboard controller fed through a Presonus FireStudio Mobile (which drives two KRK Rokit5’s for audio output). This application has more functions than anyone could possibly use, so I’ll simply be discussing reactions as I do a basic eval.

First impression: this early port of DP is to Windows DAWs what Blender is to Windows 3D graphics applications. It is not only very non-conventional with regard to terminology (“chunks”? “bundles”?), but also its basic functionality is different from a conventional Windows app. In fact, it’s just this side of user-alien, and definitely requires a shift of perspective to get comfortable with it. I’m not there yet.

For instance, right-clicking doesn’t always work intuitively, Alt-click is used to stand in for the Mac’s one-button-mouse Option-click. Quite often I will Alt-click to bring up a preferences setting and the Preferences window flashes briefly, only to be immediately hidden behind the main window. Hmmm… Double-clicking can also be used for this function in some cases (e.g., to bring up a menu for a button), but the double-click speed is apparently programmatically monitored, not driven by Windows messaging, as it’s not consistent. Hovering over an unknown UI element does nothing… for a moment; then, unexpectedly, a tooltip will appear. Or not.

These are all symptoms of a port “in progress” and they just make operation… cumbersome. This alone makes me inclined to feel that the Windows version – while welcome – really is not yet ready for professional use where deadlines or other factors turn these idiosyncrasies into genuine annoyances. And when cost is considered, well, Reaper looks as good and functions as well.

The download and install of the Demo went great. I was pleased to see that it set up both the 32- and 64-bit versions. At this time I believe Apple STILL hasn’t released a version of the QuickTime video player that supports 64-bit. I’m starting to doubt they ever will at this point. So for evaluating scoring to video and 32-bit-only plugins, having both versions is a nice boost. It looks like the Demo app functionality is not restricted in any way other than the 30-day trial.

Again, I’m immediately made aware that this is a port that doesn’t fully respect the Windows conventions, as the application refuses to open in the location I last left it when I shut it down. Easily fixed, however, with a tweak via Edit / Preferences:  just change General / Document / Startup Options to “Reopen last file”, which appears to also preserve the window settings. Nice, intuitive – didn’t have to go groping through the manual for that little tidbit.

Next obvious annoyance: the app is definitely NOT using ClearType for text. The text on the screen is downright hard to read in some spots (I’m at 1920×1080 here). It looks like a VGA signal, which doesn’t work well with some of the VERY tiny numbers and text. Didn’t find a way to make that any clearer, at least with a few minutes’ searching the Preferences. Again, another obvious symptom of a port. I try out the nice feature of changing a value by dragging and, after a few changes, the program crashes and goes non-responsive. I have to use Task Manager to kill it. Would have been a genuine issue if I’d been an hour into a mixing session and had this happen.

Setting up MIDI was very painless (as it should be, these days), and I was able to bounce through the MIDI tutorial in the “Getting Started” guide. However, contrary to the instructions there, one cannot change the name of a MIDI interface shown in the “Bundle” (??) by double-clicking. Doesn’t work. Alt-click, Ctrl-click, Right-click, Double-click… none of those provide a way to change the MIDI interface name either.

I find that I do like the abililty to arbitrarily drag a window/view off and onto the “Consolidated” (?) window. And I already like the MIDI editor – relatively easy to size, zoom and scroll it as needed, and the cursor doesn’t do anything wierd or unexpected if I accidentally click, etc.

More later…