Blog: Apple ships FCP X, defends position
Marc Loftus
June 23, 2011

Blog: Apple ships FCP X, defends position

I met with some folks from Apple just a day after Final Cut Pro X was made available on the App Store, and almost as soon after the new release started coming under fire. Both of the company’s demo artists were well versed in FCP X’s new features and provided a pretty compelling demonstration showing why FCP is well suited for broadcast and independent film work.

What they told me was interesting, and our conversation began with a review of the last 10 years of Final Cut, which was introduced in 1999 as a $999 product. Prior to this week’s announcement, 2009 saw the latest upgrade, with Final Cut Studio, offering editing, motion graphics, DVD authoring and color correction tools. 

They pointed out successes in the broadcast market with users at BBC, CNN, Fox News, Univision, Walt Disney, CBS, ABC, and Turner Studios, among others, and also pointed to the independent film world, where submissions have been accepted at Sundance, the NY Film Festival, Telluride, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Tribeca Film Festival.

On the feature film side, True Grit, with Jeff Bridges, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, were edited with Final Cut Pro, as was The Social Network, which won the Oscar this year for “Best Editing.”

And sales have grown from a half million users in 2006 to more than 2 million in 2010. A Frost & Sullivan survey noted that while the video editing industry grew at a rate of 7 percent overall in 2010, the Final Cut Pro business grew by 15 percent. And a SCRI survey reports that 54 percent of professional broadcast and video post production houses are using Final Cut Pro, suggesting that they are the market leader.

Interesting background, right? Many will however say, “That’s all in the past.”

OK, so let’s look past the “fantastic decade” that they are touting and focus more on the new release – FCP X. 

First off, how did we go from Final Cut Pro 7 to Version 10? What happened to Versions 8 and 9??!

The folks at Apple don’t see Version 10 as an upgrade, but as an entirely new and re-engineered release that was built from the ground up.

“Designed for today’s workflows,” FCP X features a completely new architecture — a 64-bit architecture that’s able to use all memory in today’s newer Macs. The original Final Cut Pro was built during the OS 9 days, and while it evolved, didn’t truly take advantage of the newer Macs’ performance. This release, they say, needed to be an OS X native application with newest Cocoa tools. It was given a new look and provides users with a “more interactive experience.” Their words – not mine.

A look at some of the new features of FCP X

Color sync – guarantees color consistency across the post process and maintains color profile. The new release offers color grading tools for controlling saturation, exposure, and matching color, as well as for keying and creating masks. A vectorscope, waveform monitor and histogram are also built in.

Resolution independence – native file formats in the timeline with no conversion.

Grand Central Dispatch – access all of the cores in a Mac for optimum performance. Rendering takes advantage of it too and, in fact, rendering is pushed to the background. 

Media organization – tools have been added to help in organizing media. And the computer does it for you. Content Auto Analysis, for example, detects the type of media and labels it appropriately. Sections that are shaky will be noted, face detection identifies people in a scene and the size of their faces will determine whether it’s a close up, medium shot, etc. In fact, multiple faces will determine two-shots, group shots, etc. — all automatically. Users can also quickly add metadata tags (sunsets, rain, groups, close ups) and that footage will then appear in several different sections. The media isn’t copied, it’s just the metadata, keeping things light. 

Sync issues – Problems that pop up during editing have also been addressed through Magnetic Timeline, Clip Connection and Compound Clip features. Want to move an entire group of clips, sound effects and transitions? The Magnetic Timeline feature helps to move them so that they butt up against other clips without creating any black space on the timeline. If there is a conflict between elements, a separate lane is created, showing the editor where there is overlap. Clip Connection locks video and audio so that they can be easily moved together. And Compound Clips collect multiple elements and then collapse them in the viewfinder to simplify what you are looking at. They can be moved all at once, and expanded to reveal all of the underlying elements.

Apple pointed to a handful of pros that were working with FCP X before its release on Tuesday and all of them had good things to say. They include Outpost Digital’s Evan Schechtman in New York City;  

Trailer Park Post Production’s Scott Ivers, which posts a high volume of trailer work; and Dean Devlin of LA’s Electric Entertainment, which produces the show Leverage

What about the professional features? I know, I heard this too from pros in the field, so I asked them. Their answer is that FCP X supports all flavors of Pro Res, and a range of cameras that are used by professionals, including AVC HD, Canon’s DSLRs, P2-based cameras, and those that record in the AVC Intra format. Red? Alexa? It looks like those formats need to be converted. Apple does offer a “codec package” that adds support from different codecs, and reminds users to check regularly for updates. 

Also — and this is kind of important — projects that were created in any of the older versions of Final Cut Pro will not open up in FCP X. “You can open the media,” they said, but if you are looking to pick up where you left off on a job, it’s not going to happen.

Apple is only selling Final Cut Pro X through the Mac App store — no boxed product — and the price is $299.99, which they also point out as way less expensive than their competitors. The download takes up approximately 1.3GBs. Once users purchase the product, they can then download the 1,300 royalty free sound effects that come with the release. 

Apple says FCP X will run on any Mac that was released in the past few years. System requirements include 2GBs or RAM (4GBs recommended), Core 2 Duo processor or better, an Open CL capable graphics card, and OS 10.6.7 or later.

In related news, Apple released the 64-bit Motion 5, which is Grand Central Dispatch enabled, and uses the GPU for realtime previewing. The interface has been updated and tools and layouts have been redesigned. Smart motion templates are included and users can create their own motion templates. Chroma keying tools are also included, and the price is just $49.99.

And Compressor 4 is designed to serve as a more advanced encoding companion to FCP X, providing a range of delivery options. Users can set up distributed encoding sessions to farm out encoding jobs, and create streamlined settings libraries for reoccurring encodes. Pricing is also $49.99.