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Final Cut Pro Studio: Inside Apples New Production Package

In what has become an eagerly awaited rite of spring,

Apple Computer

announced the latest version of its premier editing program–Final Cut Pro 5–at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas in April. Apple also took the opportunity to announce Final Cut Pro Studio, a software boxed set that contains upgrades to Motion and DVD Studio Pro and a totally rebuilt Soundtrack called Soundtrack Pro. Additionally, Apple announced QuickTime 7, LiveType 2, Compressor 2, Cinema Tools 3 and Qmaster 2 network rendering manager.

Final Cut Pro 5

Final Cut Pro 5 supports working in DV, SD, film and most HD formats, including HDV, DVCPRO HD and fully uncompressed HD. Major new features in this version include native support for editing Long GOP MPEG-2 HDV video, which allows users to edit HDV without transcoding; a very slick multi-camera interface that allows an editor to cut from up to 128 synced video sources with simultaneous real-time playback of up to 16 angles; support for Panasonic’s P2 solid-state media and native support for Sony’s IMX codec; Dynamic RT, which improves real-time playback by dynamically scaling video quality and frame rate; and up to 24 channels of simultaneous audio input and output with support for up to 24-bit 96kHz audio.

There are a host of smaller improvements throughout the program that are detailed in “Under the Hood of FCP 5.” The best news about Final Cut 5 is that the interface hasn’t changed. This means that time spent learning earlier versions of the software rolls right into the new version.

Soundtrack Pro

Soundtrack Pro is a completely new application that takes the conceptual foundation of Soundtrack to a new level. Soundtrack Pro includes full multi-track editing and mixing. The sophisticated multi-track mixer (which includes support for split-feeds and sub-mixes) includes tight integration with Final Cut Pro so that Final Cut project files may be sent to Soundtrack for mixing. When saved, the Final Cut timeline automatically updates with the revised audio.

Other significant features in Soundtrack Pro are utilities that identify and repair common problems with audio files; for example, Find-and-Fix identifies and repairs background noise, pops, clicks and hum; the ability to edit waveforms down to the individual sample level; more than 50 plug-ins from Logic Pro 7 for sound shaping; 5,000+ loops for music and sound effects creation; and full support for AppleScript and OS X Tiger’s Automator.

The most exciting feature of Soundtrack Pro is its ability to perform nondestructive manipulations of audio with Action Layers. Similar to an adjustment layer in Photoshop, changes to a Soundtrack project are applied using Action Layers–the original audio on the hard disk is not changed during mixing. Instead, the Action Layer simply interprets it. Action Layers can be added, moved, bypassed or deleted–all without changing the underlying source sound files. Layers may be applied to an entire file or just a selection or single channel. This functionality allows for unlimited experimentation without compromising the quality of the original audio.

Both Final Cut Pro 5 and Soundtrack support the use of external control surfaces to edit, mix and record multiple fader automations simultaneously. Final Cut Pro 5 is compatible with MCP (Mackie Control Protocol) devices.

Motion 2

The original version of Motion was an 8-bit video application. Motion 2 breaks this barrier by allowing creation of motion graphic files using 32-bit float rendering, which is accelerated by the computer’s Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). The combination of higher bit rate support and GPU-acceleration allows the creation of video files at film-quality resolution.

Other new features include Replicator, which animates multiple copies of the same object using user-defined grids or patterns; new filters including 3D rotation, vignette and caustics; new particle effects; and a published API that allows third-party developers to create plug-ins for Motion.

One of the more interesting, if somewhat surreal, new features is the ability to control Motion’s effects using a MIDI keyboard. The user can trigger changes in Motion parameters by pushing different keys. The combination of MIDI with automatic keyframe recording allows for the creation of effects that would be very time-consuming to achieve using the program alone.

QuickTime Pro 7

The engine that makes many of Final Cut Studio’s features possible is QuickTime 7. This stalwart media architecture continues to evolve. (Apple released the first version of QuickTime on Dec. 2, 1991, as a multimedia add-on for System 7.)

From the point of view of a video professional, here are some of the most salient new features of QuickTime Pro 7: support for H.264 video playback, live resizing, improved surround sound playback, Core Video support, and multi-channel audio import and export. For those running OS X Tiger, QuickTime 7 also provides automatic bandwidth detection, Automator support, improved playback controls and on-screen scaling, and Spotlight support for movie searching.

DVD Studio Pro 4

The big news in DVD Studio Pro 4 is its support for the H.264 codec. DVD Studio Pro 4 integrates scalable H.264 encoding, so you can burn feature-length HD titles using existing drives with existing media and play them back on a computer. (But not set-top DVD players: HD video requires using one of the new high-definition DVD formats, which are still in development, and a television monitor capable of displaying an HD signal.) DVD Studio Pro 4 also supports HDV. DVD SP 4 is clearly a bridge between the old world of standard-definition video and the new world of HD. Still, bridges are good things.

New features include: H.264 codec support, built-in Dolby Digital AC-3 encoder, real-time HD preview, distributed encoding using up to ten networked computers (via Qmaster), improved templates, improved scripting and GPRM partitioning, VTS editing, and automatic transcoding between NTSC and PAL.

Compressor 2

Compressor and LiveType weren’t part of the fanfare at Apple’s press announcement, but the changes to both applications are substantial. Like its predecessor, Compressor 2 is bundled with both Final Cut Pro 5 and DVD Studio Pro 4. It’s also included in Final Cut Studio.

Compressor 2 is an industrial-strength video encoder that gives you the ability to encode several clips in one batch operation to a wide variety of formats and perform advanced format conversions at the same time. For Compressor, the three biggest improvements are distributed encoding to up to 10 networked computers (via Qmaster), the ability to convert an NTSC QuickTime movie into a PAL MPEG-2 file (or PAL to NTSC), and the ability to downconvert an HD QuickTime movie into an SD MPEG-2 file for DVD release.

Other new features include support for the H.264 codec, support for HDV, improved image quality using optical flow image analysis, improved batch processing, better integration with Final Cut Pro 5 and the ability to convert interlaced video to progressive. The A.Pack audio compression utility is now built into Compressor 2.

Qmaster 2

Qmaster, a network render utility first introduced with Shake, is the tool that allows Compressor and DVD Studio Pro to combine the processing power of up to 10 Mac or Xserve systems to compress video files. Using Qmaster over a standard NFS network, jobs can be segmented among computers to speed compression, which means computers that aren’t busy can offload tasks from computers that are. This capability can vastly speed the process of compressing files into MPEG-2 for DVD Studio Pro. Included with Qmaster are QuickCluster, which simplifies getting started, and Qadministrator, which provides fine-grained control for more complex setups.

LiveType 2

Another application bundled with Final Cut is the latest version of LiveType. While many of LiveType’s text animation features are included in Motion, LiveType still remains a simple and fast way to create animated text for use in Final Cut projects and DVD motion menus. Features include improved customization, revised animation previews, improved project templates, a bundled FontMaker utility for creating animated fonts, and the ability to edit LiveType projects inside Final Cut Pro 5 and DVD Studio Pro 4.

Cinema Tools 3

Cinema Tools is a database application that allows editors to track, edit and conform film projects in Final Cut Pro. For those working in a film or 24-frame environment, Cinema Tools is now more closely integrated with Final Cut Pro. 5. For example, if you want to import a telecine log or generate a negative cut list, you can do it within Final Cut Pro. New features include the ability to view feet and frame, Keykode and ink numbers natively inside Final Cut Pro 5; support for 3- and 4-perf 35mm film and 40-perf 16mm film; and the ability to import telecine logs directly into Final Cut Pro.

Final Cut Pro Studio

Final Cut Pro Studio is a boxed set that includes all the applications mentioned in this article, including the Pro version of QuickTime 7.

Pricing and System Requirements

QuickTime 7 and Final Cut Studio require OS X 10.3.9 or later; all applications support OS X Tiger. The retail price of Final Cut Pro 5 is $999. Final Cut Pro Studio retails for $1,299. Apple expects Final Cut Studio to ship this month.