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Apple Starts Over with New Final Cut Pro X

Apple did a very un-Apple-like thing in April: It revealed the next version of Final Cut Pro during a user group gathering at the National Association of Broadcasters show (see “Apple Previews Final Cut Pro X: New, Faster, and Cheaper,” 13 April 2011).

Normally, Apple stays mum about new products until they’re officially released (or are soon to be released), at which point the company’s marketing machine kicks into high gear. Teasing a dedicated audience of video professionals in a public forum just isn’t the company’s style, especially for software that hadn’t seen major updates in two years and was at one point rumored to be discontinued.

With Apple’s release of Final Cut Pro X last week, I think the company chose to soft-announce its high-end video editing application so it wouldn’t come as such a shock to many of its power users. This version is a complete rewrite, emphasizing speed and flexibility and a new platform on which to build future versions. It also lacks some important features and capabilities on which current Final Cut Pro 7 owners rely.

(This pattern will sound familiar to iMovie users following the demise of iMovie HD 6 and iMovie ’08. Hopefully, it won’t take three years for Final Cut Pro X to catch up with some of the features that were left out of the initial rewrite.)

I haven’t used Final Cut Pro X yet, but looking at its capabilities and reading hands-on reports from others, I can tell that Final Cut Pro X isn’t yet ready for everyone. However, for people who don’t operate at the highest end of the production process, this version looks quite welcome and has a lot of promise.

If you’re accustomed to iMovie and looking for more editing power, Final Cut Pro X is now the next step up; Final Cut Express (formerly $199.99) has been discontinued. Fortunately, that step from iMovie to Final Cut Pro is also now much cheaper than in the past: Final Cut Pro X costs $299.99, compared to $999.99 for Final Cut Studio.

Apple also released two complementary applications: Motion 5 and Compressor 4, each priced at $49.99.

A New Show — The Final Cut Pro X section of Apple’s Web site is a fun introduction to the software’s major features (the videos solidify some of the editing concepts such as the Inline Precision Editor and Auditions), and Apple has also posted a detailed list of features, but here are some highlights:

  • The traditional multi-track timeline has been replaced by the Magnetic Timeline, which offers more smarts about how to arrange clips when you add or move other clips. It promises more time spent putting together the movie’s narrative and less time spent making fiddly adjustments to avoid clip collisions or gaps.

  • Clip connections keep clips and audio elements together when they’ve been added together. For example, adding a sound effect to the middle of a clip establishes a connection, and moving one element later automatically keeps the other in place. You can also group a series of complex edits into a Compound Clip, which can be moved as a single grouped item.

  • Auditions is a new tool for experimenting. Add clips to an existing clip as an audition, and then preview the sequence without having to re-edit the section several times.

  • Final Cut Pro X gains the same type of media management as iMovie, importing footage into events and making all footage available in a central library. There’s also a robust system for tagging clips with metadata to find them easily later. For example, you can create a smart collection that displays only footage containing specific keywords, shot on a certain day, from a single camera type.

  • During the import process, Final Cut Pro X automatically analyzes the footage to identify clips that include people, that are closeup shots and wide shots, and that match other criteria.

  • Everything has been designed to take advantage of modern Mac architectures, with 64-bit processing (enabling larger projects and the capability to throw more memory at a project), resolution independence up to 4K, ColorSync color management, and extensive background processing for immediate feedback (no more waiting for rendering bars to complete before you can view effects and transitions).

  • Many of the features of Soundtrack Pro, Color, and DVD Studio Pro, formerly independent applications, are now built into Final Cut Pro X. For titles and motion graphics, Motion 5 is still a separate application. Compressor 4 encodes and delivers output, and is also a separate application.

For many more details on what’s new and different from professional editors who have been using Final Cut Pro X during its development, be sure to check out Philip Hodgetts’s “What are the Answers to the Unanswered Questions about Final Cut Pro X?” and Steve Martin’s “Final Cut Pro X — A First Look.”

How “Pro” is Pro? — In the video editing realm, the needs of production editors can be quite specific, and involve more than just a single application. On the Mac App Store, Final Cut Pro X is getting hammered by reviewers who note that this version is missing some key features of the previous Final Cut Studio.

For instance, Final Cut Pro X doesn’t support multi-camera editing, a marquee feature of Final Cut Pro 7 that makes it easy to combine footage of the same scene from several cameras, synchronize their timing, and switch between cuts. Apple has acknowledged that the feature will make its way back into Final Cut Pro X. Tape-based import is limited to a streaming, “capture now” mode, leaving behind the granular method of assigning in points and out points and then batch-importing selections.

Final Cut Pro X also does not currently import projects created with Final Cut Pro 7, although it does open iMovie projects. (However, seasoned editors will tell you that it’s always best to finish a project in the software it was started in.)

For high-end production houses, the lack of support for EDLs (Edit Decision Lists), OMF (Open Media Framework) files, and XML import or export threatens established workflows. For example, editors often hand off OMF files to sound professionals who sweeten the audio using other pro tools. Currently, Final Cut Pro X is comparatively self-contained, but reports indicate Apple is working on conversion utilities until the features can be incorporated into the application. (In the meantime, Pro Export FCP by Automatic Duck offers this capability.)

Apple strongly recommends that you do not run Final Cut Pro X on the same system as Final Cut Studio, although pros such as Larry Jordan claim no problems having both versions on the same system.

Available from the Mac App Store — Unlike the hefty boxes that held older versions, Final Cut Pro X is available only from the Mac App Store. Final Cut Pro X costs $299.99 and is a 1.33 GB download. Motion 5 costs $49.99 and is a 1.09 GB download. Compressor 4 also costs $49.99 and is a comparatively paltry 261 MB download. After installing the software, additional downloads are available: Final Cut Pro X Content (637.5 MB), Motion 5 Content (1.15 GB), and ProApps QuickTime Codecs (1.2 MB).

If you want to preserve your current Final Cut workflows, you can still buy the full version of Final Cut Studio (which includes Final Cut Pro 7, Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5, Compressor 3.5, and DVD Studio Pro 4) from Amazon.com and other outlets; an upgrade from earlier versions of Final Cut is also available. Apple is no longer offering those packages directly.

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