By Tor Rolf Seemann
Issue: August 1, 2004


PRODUCT: Apple Final Cut Pro HD


PRICE: $999, upgrades are $399, free download for V.4 users.

- Edit at 23.976, true 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50 or 60 fps

- 8-bit, 10-bit and HDR (32-bit floating point)

- XML interchange format for custom integration work

If you weren't showing HD at this year's NAB conference in Las Vegas, you might as well throw in the towel. Joining a plethora of manufacturers showcasing software with an HD flavor, Apple unveiled Final Cut Pro HD, the latest milestone for the company?s popular NLE software. The big news here is that it is now possible to import, edit and export HD video over FireWire - no additional hardware required. There's no fussing with media conversion: the program scales from DV to SD, HD and film. With RT Extreme HD, an updated version of Offline RT, you can toggle between full-resolution, awe inspiring high-quality playback or preview mode - further freeing up editors to work on the fly with their G4s or G5s.

RT Extreme leverages the strengths of Mac OS X and the PowerPC processor to support a scalable number of video streams and realtime effects for DV, SD and now HD with fully synchronized output to a broadcast or preview monitor. The number of available video streams and realtime effects increases as processor speeds increase. With these realtime modes you can choose full-resolution output for finishing, or realtime preview for maximum simultaneous streams. Yeah, but what if you can't afford to buy a HD broadcast monitor? No problem, Apple has made it possible to use an attached Cinema Display monitor as your video preview for both standard and high definition video. This allows you to view HD video at full-resolution (1:1) or full screen with realtime effects. Presentation mode allows portable computer users to play back video using the built-in display. Either way, I found the image to be astonishingly sharp and vibrant. If only all the end-viewers could see it this way!


FCP HD is a powerful solution for creating high-quality programming in a broad range of formats, frame rates and resolutions. Built on a resolution-independent architecture that allows it to scale easily from SD to HD, it supports 23.976, true 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50 and 60 frames per second (fps) editing. Apple allows you to work with NTSC and PAL standard definition video or 1080i, 1080p and 720p high definition video at a variety of standard frame rates. I personally appreciate the fact that there is no longer a technical limitation for my post production workflow with FCP HD. I am able to tap into even more power that already exists in the software today. Now if I could just afford an HD camera.

FCP HD includes fully uncompressed 8- and 10-bit 4:2:2 YUV codecs for both SD and HD video. Native support for Panasonic's DVCPRO50 and DVCPRO HD formats lets editors work at low data rates with broadcast-quality SD and HD (4:2:2) video over FireWire. The Final Cut Pro HD render engine has support for 8-, 10- and 32-bit (High Dynamic Range) rendering. HDR imaging can be used for many operations to yield maximum quality. Composites and effects rendered in Final Cut Pro are suitable for SD and HD finishing. For this review I worked primarily with HD 1920x1080 QuickTime files from my Artbeats collection. Which I found to be a great resource for HD material created either digitally or from 35mm motion picture film cameras. The screen shot pictured above shows this 16x9 HD footage from the Artbeats Water Effects 1 and Cyber Journeys V.2 DVDs.


FCP HD uses an XML interchange format for exchanging project, bin, sequence, clip and media information with other nonlinear editing systems, asset management systems and broadcast servers. This format describes every aspect of a program, from edits and transitions to effects, color correction settings and keyframe data. Media-attached metadata is preserved throughout the entire Final Cut Pro workflow. Final Cut Pro HD can generate accurate lists that include speed changes and still-frame information for legacy linear and nonlinear systems.

The new version supports several plug-in formats for adding effects and extending functionality. FXScript is the native visual effects scripting language built into Final Cut Pro. Adobe After Effects plug-ins are also supported (must be compatible with V.3 of the After Effects plug-in specification). Mac OS X Audio Units plug-ins are supported for audio effects and filters. Also supported is the professional DVCPRO HD format but not HDV, a consumer-targeted HD format that five of the major camcorder manufacturers have agreed to use. According to Apple, the company plans to add support for the format in future versions of the software, but this means that Mac users still aren't compatible with the JVC GR-HD1's HD mode.

Although this update cuts both the cost and the time involved in HD video post production, the fact is that it's still not within reach of the average (prosumer) user, especially when it comes to acquisition. The program is available now for $999. If you use FCP 4, you can download a free update from the Apple Web site. To upgrade from an earlier version, you'll spend $399.