FCP Goes HD
Apple this morning (April 18) announced
at NAB five new software products for professional editors: Final
Cut HD, DVD Studio Pro 3, Shake 3.5, Motion, and Xsan.
I attended the event to learn more,
Then, I spoke with Paul Saccone, FCP Product Manager, and several
Apple engineers to get the inside scoop about the new version
of Final Cut.
Click a product name
below to read Apple's press release on each of these packages:
- Final Cut Pro HD www.apple.com/finalcutpro
- DVD Studio Pro 3 www.apple.com/dvdstudiopro
- Motion www.apple.com/motion
- Shake 3.5 www.apple.com/shake
- Xsan www.apple.com/xsan
Final Cut Pro HD
"This is the fastest and most
stable version of Final Cut that we've ever created," Paul
Saccone said when we spoke. "All but three filters are now
real-time, it fully supports multiple stream HD video and it's
fully integrated with LiveType and Motion."
Let's see whether what Apple announced
lives up to Paul's enthusiasm.
Apple announced Final Cut Pro HD
(version 4.5). This is a FREE upgrade for all Final Cut Pro 4
users ($399 for all FCP 1, 2, or 3 users) and focuses on delivering
high-quality, real-time HD editing.
Apple's press release states: "Final
Cut Pro HD provides playback of up to four streams of native
DVCPRO HD video [in high-quality] or, when adding an Xserve RAID,
up to 10 stream in preview quality. Final Cut Pro HD's support
of native DVCPRO HD makes media conversion unnecessary, preserving
the full quality of the camera original. Final Cut Pro HD's frame-accurate,
native DVCPRO HD editing environment gives broadcasters, producers
and post-production professionals the ability to capture, edit
and output broadcast-quality HD video, and the freedom to cut
HD video anywhere, even on a PowerBook."
Ron Schoenben, vice president of
Applications Marketing for Apple, rolled out the specs: there
are over 250,000 users of Final Cut around the world, the shows
"Scrubs" and "nip/tuck" use it, as did the
films "Cold Mountain" and "Lady Killers."
Vendors continue to support the
platform. Pinnacle Systems announced a new version of CineWave,
and AJA announced a new version of the Kona card -- though neither
spoke at the presentation.
Thomson/Grass Valley www.thomsongrassvalley.com
announced the integration of FCP into the Grass Valley Digital
News Production family, a "no-compromise editing system."
BBC Technology www.bbctechnology.com
announced they were integrating FCP into Colledia, it's production
workflow system to "help broadcasters meet their goal of
the tapeless production environment."
Schoenben said that while his goal
is to take FCP "deeper into the broadcast environment,"
there is an even greater need: to improve support for HD within
Final Cut. He then re-introduced Apple's relationship with Panasonic,
and introduced the new, Panasonic AJ-HD1200A.
Stuart English, vice president
North American Operations, introduced this new deck from Panasonic
that supports MiniDV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO-50, and DVCPRO HD.
Weighing less than 20 pounds, it's fully portable with both AC
and battery support.
Price: an amazing $25,000 and shipping
today. (The crowd got very excited.) Best of all, it supports
HD video over FireWire 400.
Interview with Paul
Paul Saccone presented a demo of
Final Cut Pro HD. It handled four streams of high-quality 720p
HD video as easily as if it were DV footage. He then switched
from RT Safe Mode to RT Unlimited and played 10 streams of 720p
HD footage. Very smooth. Very impressive.
Talking with Paul after the event,
I said that the HD features were incredible, but what were the
benefits of upgrading for users that weren't shooting HD?
"We have significantly beefed
up RT Extreme," Paul replied. "It's the fastest and
most stable version of Final Cut we've ever created. All but
three of the filters run in real-time, subject to video format,
frame rate and the speed of your system." This means that
if you have a G-4, you will see a definite performance improvement,
but you won't be able to play the same number of effects in real-time
that a G-5 can.
"Also, we've improved the
integration between Final Cut and LiveType. You can now drop
a LiveType project file on the Final Cut Timeline and Final Cut
will display it properly. No more rendering movies in LiveType
before importing them into Final Cut."
I asked Paul what his favorite
three features were in the new version that he didn't present
"The Digital Cinema Desktop,
which, uh, we DID present on stage, is my favorite. This allows
you to use your computer monitor to see a full-screen preview
of your movie. It works best with progressive video, and it displays
in any format. It doesn't do color-space conversions, so you
can't use this for final color correction, but it does allow
you to use the J-K-L keys to move around the video.
"We've built in an automatic
conform from PAL to 24 frame video.
"The HD codec is done entirely
in software, so whether you are capturing using a FireWire cable
or a PCI card [such as the Cinewave or AJA IO] you can get extremely
high-quality with tons of real-time effects."
I asked Paul about Xsan. Xsan is
Apple's Storage Area Network File System that allows up to 64
users to share the same hard disk, via Fibre Channel. Priced
at $999 per user and available in the fall, Apple says it is
"extremely fast." Best of all, from my point of view,
it supports file-locking, which means that you no longer need
to partition a hard disk in order to give multiple editors access.
File-locking, instead of volume-locking, makes much more efficient
use of hard disk space.
Apple's press release: "For
the first time on Mac OS X, up to 64 video professionals can
simultaneously access a single storage volume that supports multiple
high-bandwidth video streams for efficient workflow in video
and film editing, audio editing and effects and motion graphics
"Well, I'm not the product
manager, but I have played with it. It shows up just like a hard
disk on your desktop. It's awesome. It just works," Saccone
The Inside Scoop
I then went in search of some Apple
engineers to get the inside scoop on other features in Final
Cut Pro HD. While this list is not exhaustive, here's what I
learned are the unheralded features in FCP:
- They spent a LOT of time supporting
the different frame rates and frame sizes for HD.
- There were only minor tweaks to
the interface. FCP 4 users won't notice much difference.
- This is version 4.5, not 5.0
- The technical name for the DVCPRO
HD codec is DVCPRO 100.
- A new View menu was added to improve
handling of external video
- There is now a checkbox in Media
Manager to make clips independent (YAY! This vastly simplifies
the whole process of converting a project from off-line to on-line)
- It is possible to capture video
directly to the DV-100 codec (the HD codec). This means that
if you have a Cinewave or Kona card, you can use them to capture
the video into the HD codec and get all the benefits of faster
real-time performance with "pristine image quality"
without sacrificing the investment you've made in your capture
- CineWave uses the hardware on
its card to process video. It may now be faster to use CineWave
simply for capture and output, and let FCP handle all the image
- Copy/paste has changed, again.
If you copy a clip that's on, say, V2, when you paste it, it
will remain on V2. If, on the other hand, you want to copy a
clip from one track and paste it to another, use the Auto-Select
buttons on the Timeline to tell FCP where to put the clip.
- Rotation effects are now real-time
- All but three filters display
- They've improved audio trimming
in the Trim Edit window
- Auto-Save works better, more reliably
- "Round-tripping" files
between LiveType and Motion and Final Cut is now possible. You
don't need to render a file before bringing it into Final Cut.
All-in-all, the changes seem fully
worth a .5 upgrade. Especially a free one!
HOWEVER, as we have seen in the
past, all the best plans of the best programmers can sometimes
go awry. So, while the upgrade is immediately available, wait
until you are done with your current projects before upgrading.
The Other Software
I don't mean to minimize the impact
of the other software releases. Here's a quick summary:
Shake now supports warping and morphing, and 10 & 16 bit QuickTime
codecs, It's been optimized for dual processors, improved DPX
file support, and QMaster now supports rendering Maya files.
This was the briefest presentation
of the morning and they didn't do a demo.
Pricing: $2,999 for Mac OS X, $4,999
for Linux and Unix. Available now.
DVD Studio Pro 3
The main emphasis seemed to me to be on transitions, HD transcoding
and the graphical view.
DVD SP 3 now supports transitions
between slides, between menus, and between menus and tracks.
It is no longer necessary to use FCP to create slide shows that
move. DVD SP does it just fine. There are lots and lots and lots
of transitions to choose from.
The Graphical View puts a new spin
on the older (DVD SP 1.5) Matrix view, where you are able to
see relationships visually between menus and elements. The demo
they shows had a DVD with eight elements. While very useful for
smaller projects, it remains to be seen if the view is helpful
for larger projects -- which was the big limitations to the earlier
Apple continues to improve Compressor
to handle DV, SD and HD streams. No demos were provided, but
Apple said they had improved the interface between FCP and Compressor.
The new version of Compressor is 1.2.
Pricing: $499 ($199 upgrade). Available
Without question, the highlight of the presentation was Motion
-- Apple's Real-time Motion Graphics design tool.
This was the highlight of the presentation
and drew the most applause.
Think of Motion as a combination
of After Effects and Final Cut, but without the keyframes. Full
HD support. An interface modeled directly after DVD Studio Pro.
And an unbelievable ability to make things move.
While not a 3D application, its
greatest strengths are that the interface is intuitive, previews
are glossy smooth and there are a wide-variety of pre-built effects,
called "Behaviors," that you can apply to your elements.
Similar to, but deeper than, those available in LiveType.
I don't have the space to go into
all the details. Suffice it to say the audience was blown away.
Pricing: $299. Available this summer.
Apple continues it's theme of placing
Final Cut at the core of professional editing, around which revolve
a stunning array of amazingly powerful, yet easy-to-use software.
The greater support for HD in Final
Cut shows that Apple is continuing its efforts to put Mac users
at the cutting edge of the latest technology, while the subtle
operational improvements shows that Apple is continuing to listen
to its users.
I'm looking forward to getting
the upgrade to see if this is all really true.
Larry Jordan is an Apple-Certified Trainer in Digital
Media with over 25 years experience as a producer, director and
editor. Based in Los Angeles, he's a member of both the Directors
Guild and Producers Guild.
Larry publishes a free monthly
FCP newsletter. He invites you to subscribe at: www.larryjordan.biz.
copyright © Larry