Kicking off the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference this week, Apple reinvigorated its line of professional video applications, which will collectively be bundled as Final Cut Studio 2. The studio includes Final Cut Pro 6, Motion 3, Soundtrack Pro 2, and Compressor 3; DVD Studio Pro 4 is also included, though it hasn't been updated (perhaps because the high-definition DVD format war between Blu-Ray and HD DVD continues to rage). In addition, Apple is including a new application, Color, which enables professional color grading and adjustment.
The studio will be available in May 2007 for $1,300; owners of Final Cut Studio can upgrade for $500, while owners of any version of Final Cut Pro or Production Suite can get the latest set for $700. The applications are available only as part of the studio, and are not sold separately.
Separately, Apple introduced Final Cut Server, a new application designed to manage the massive amount of video and audio assets a big project typically requires, and share that material with several members of a team. Final Cut Server is priced at $1,000 for a 10-seat license or $2,000 for unlimited licenses; although that sounds pricey, the crowd at NAB reportedly cheered about how relatively inexpensive that is compared to other video production costs. The software will be available sometime in the third quarter ("summer" in North America).
Final Cut Pro 6 -- The last major update to Final Cut Pro brought native support for HDV video and multi-camera editing, but that was two years ago, and editors have been waiting to see what Apple would do next. (Re-engineering Final Cut Pro for Intel-based Macs accounts for the two-year gap between versions 5 and 6.) The latest revision, by contrast, appears to be geared toward making the Final Cut Studio beefy enough to handle any job. Final Cut Pro 6 now features an open format Timeline that can accept video in multiple formats and frame rates. So, for example, you can easily combine 1080i HD, 720p HDV, SD PAL at 25 frames per second (fps), SD NTSC at 30 fps, and SD NTSC at 24 fps footage in the same project. A nice touch is a feature that lets you drag a clip to a new project's Timeline to set the default format, rather than defining the settings beforehand.
Final Cut Pro 6 also introduces Apple ProRes 422, a new format that promises high video quality in small file sizes. During the Apple announcement, the company demonstrated 1 TB of uncompressed HD video converted to 170 GB of ProRes 422 video with no noticeable loss of detail. This format is designed to speed up data transfers using an Apple Xsan storage network, working with video on a laptop, or dealing with non-native camera formats.
Other new features include a SmoothCam feature for smoothing out shaky footage, and support for FxPlug filters and transitions, the plug-in technology currently used in Motion.
The biggest overall change that will affect most editors is Final Cut Pro's integration with other applications in the suite. For example, clips can be sent from Final Cut Pro to Motion, and effects created in Motion 3 can be edited live in Final Cut Pro, including drop zones and text fields; changes are made in both applications.
Color -- Color is the result of Apple's acquisition of Silicon Color's Final Touch, a professional tool for making color grade adjustments to video. An editor can use Color to maintain consistent color throughout multiple takes, or create a custom look throughout a project; Apple used the Coen brothers movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou," which features a rustic, washed out color palette, as an example of the type of color grading that Color is capable of. (In a Web interview, Joel and Ethan Coen note that this movie was the first to be converted to a digital intermediate (DI) and then color graded on the computer - though not using Color, of course.)
Motion 3 -- Apple has added depth to its motion-graphics application - as in, tools for making three-dimensional effects. Motion 3's 3D multiplane environment gives designers the freedom to place a camera anywhere and manipulate objects such as lights, motion paths, particles, and other elements. Also new is point tracking and match moving, enabling objects to follow an item in a video clip; an example on the Motion 3 Web page shows a simulated computer screen appearing in a car's in-dash GPS display.
A new paint tool lets users draw vector lines (such as with a pressure-sensitive tablet) that can be rendered in a variety of brush strokes or animated particles. Audio behaviors can trigger effects based on sound frequencies; for example, a visible distortion effect could kick in when the soundtrack reaches a certain volume or pitch.
Soundtrack Pro 2 -- Soundtrack Pro 2 features a revamped interface that will be more familiar to editors accustomed to working in Final Cut Pro, combining the Timeline with the Waveform Editor. It also adds controls for manipulating 5.1 surround sound (which can be played back faithfully in Final Cut Pro 6). Other improvements include a Take Manager for combining different takes (such as from dialog looping sessions), and a multi-point video HUD to make it easier to place sound effects and other audio.
As one might expect, Final Cut Studio 2 is a suite that will demand power, especially in terms of graphics cards; check the system requirements for minimum and recommended configurations.