April 16, 2011

Apple reveals Final Cut Pro X

Two of the top three non-linear editing systems showed off major revamps at NAB. Final Cut Pro X, the next version of Apple's market-leader, and CS5.5, a significant upgrade for Adobe's Creative Suite (see previous story for full article), piled up ever more features and workflow improvements.

The upgrades should be eagerly awaited by most professional editors – given that Final Cut has about 55% of the broadcast and post-production market, while Adobe now has just under 20%, having overtaken a gently declining Avid share last year.

Although Adobe has developed its suite at a faster rate over the last two years than Apple – making its system 64-bit last year where Apple is only just about to achieve this – Apple market share is growing more rapidly and it now has more than two million FCP users.

"We are growing more than twice as fast as the non-linear editing marketplace," at 15% per year, compared to about 7% for the market. It leaves Adobe and Avid "in a race for second place," said Richard Townhill, Apple's Director of Pro Video Product Marketing.

"Now we have every major broadcaster on the planet relying on final Cut Pro for mission critical content delivery day in and day out," he told a packed meeting of enthusiastic editors at the FCP User Group’s SuperMeet in Las Vegas, where a beta of FCP X was shown in public for the first time.

"We have a 94% customer satisfaction ratio. That is absolutely incredible. People absolute love working with Final Cut Pro," he claimed.

The power of ten

“We think we have something as revolutionary as when we unveiled version 1.0 in 1999,” said Townhill, unveiling a Final Cut that owes something to the latest version of Apple's consumer-oriented iMovie, in user interface as well as ease of use, but seems to retain all the functionality required of a professional application.

It will also have a new, lower price when it ships in June, although it is unlikely that the $299 takes in the whole Final Cut Studio that FCP is only available with today (for $999). Until Apple says otherwise, it should be assumed that the suite will cost extra. What will happen with the rest of the applications wasn't mentioned at the SuperMeet, although it is likely that they will also undergo a complete revamp. More likely is that the low price of FCP X will mean an end for the cut-down Final Cut Express.

FCP X "will no longer be hamstrung by the 4GB of memory that are available to 32-bit applications and now can take full advantage of as much memory as you can throw at the application," said FCP architect, Peter Steinauer. Going 64-bit means you can handle "larger, more complex projects, larger formats, more frames in memory, deeper and richer effects stacks; basically all of the things that are ridiculously memory intensive now have full run of all the memory you can throw at the problem."

He said that Apple wanted to look at the problems users were having and "address them in new and unique ways that nobody has ever tried before." Although many of the new features have appeared elsewhere before, their implementation has rarely been as slick, and the interface is a radical overhaul for a broadcast application.

It has a completely redesigned interface, with quick access to everything an editor needs to do – although existing keyboard shortcuts and ways of working have been retained if users want them.

Image quality

Apple wanted to ensure users could deliver "the most beautiful, the most pristine, the most interesting content possible," said Steinauer. To that end FCP X is fully colour managed (based on Colour Sync) "so that you can trust that the pixels coming off a profiled device track all the way through your workflow." It also has full floating-point, linear light-based rendering, which means that when you do effects work "we're able to deliver the highest quality possible on the platform."

Resolution independent playback means users can mix formats, from SD to 2K and 4K, "without having to worry about the origin of the media you are working with" – no transcoding necessary. That is incredibly processor intensive, so FCP X is taking advantage of Grand Central Dispatch in Mac OSX to utilise all CPU and GPU cores on the machine, to render work as quickly as possible. It promises to be the end of the render dialogue box, as rendering will be done in the background, using any spare CPU cycles.

Content Auto-Analysis

To get content into the system as quickly as possible and start editing before the transfer is finished, a lot of content preparation will be done in the background. So, it will automatically perform things like media detection (still, audio, etc.) during ingest, as well as image stabilization (including identifying any rolling shutter defects), people detection (one, two or groups of people in a shot), and shot detection (close up, medium shot, wide shot). There will also be automatic non-destructive colour balance on import, so when you start colour correction you have a pre-balanced image.

It also does audio analysis, identifying silent channels, channel configuration (stereo, mono, 5.1 surround sound), and looks for issues with the audio, such as excessive noise or hum, and will automatically fix them if you wish.

To make media management simpler, there is Range-Based Keywording. You can apply multiple different criteria to your media and select ranges within a clip and apply a keyword just to that without having to create a subclip.

These can be located in Smart Collections, which can find the same clip via all the different criteria that applies to it. To save typing, users can just drag a range into any appropriate folder.

Smart Collections and keywording is very useful if you have a long sequence where you might only need a few short clips, such as an interview where you might want to specify a few sentences about the same subject spread over the whole recording. It seems to be quick and simple to do, and you instantly have a smart collection you can click on with all the relevant clips gathered together. "The keywords can overlap, so you can have the same section of media with multiple keywords on it, so it's really powerful for being able to organize your footage," explained Randy Ubillos, Chief Architect, Video Applications. You can have list view or filmstrip view, which can make it a lot quicker to identify the sequences you want.

Magnetic Timeline

Clip Connections mean you can now establish relationships between primary and secondary content. First, the primary audio and video are locked together, including sound from an external audio recorder, so there is no way to accidentally knock them out of sync. Users can also lock audio effects, for example, to a shot, which will travel together if you move the primary clip.

It will also auto-sync matching audio waveforms, in the same way as the PluralEyes plug-in does now, for adding audio from an external recorder. There is much more accurate audio alignment, audio scrubbing is pitch corrected so you get a better idea what people are saying, and audio level adjustments are much simpler. It makes it very easy to locate the word you want an edit to happen on.

For adjusting audio levels, there will be no need to create keyframe dots. There are fade handles that allow you to right click to choose how you fade up or down, and in the middle of an audio level line you use the range select tool (as used when adding keywords) to adjust the line without any keyframing, and the waveform shows if you are getting near to clipping, "so you can visually balance the levels out a lot of the time without even having to listen to it," said Ubillos.

The Magnetic Timeline is a more dynamic way of dealing with media in the timeline. You can slide a clip down the timeline and things move out of the way. "So sync issues and trim collisions are a thing of the past," said Steinauer.

"Your timelines are no longer fragile," said Ubilos, you no longer have to worry about what else you might affect when you move something. There are no hard tracks in the new interface. Tracks come and go as necessary. If you do push an audio track out of sync, you have sample accurate resolution for aligning audio.

Compound Clips

The more complex the project the more unwieldy it becomes and harder to understand, so the new Compound Clips function allows you to select everything you need and collapse that down to a single clip with one keystroke. It allows you to do all the things you would do with a single clip, but it is non-destructive flattening so you can also expand it again to deal with any individual aspect when you need to. "Which allows you to build whole building blocks of a story in your timeline," and rearrange them without inadvertently doing damage, said Steinauer.

Most of what people do is a range of standard cuts, but it can be hard to understand what media you have available to you (for example if you want to extend a shot), and where is the best place to make the cut. The Inline Precision Editor allows you to double click on the seam between two clips and it opens to show exactly what is available, on both sides of the edit, in the timeline. "This vastly simplifies the overall editorial process in the non-linear editor."

If you want to check if shot A is better than B, or effect X is better than Y, you traditionally have to stack a lot of things in the timeline and switch between them (enabling and disabling as you go), or do a lot of replace/edit/undo. It can become a bit of a nightmare. With Auditioning you can assemble the options as you edit, click on the auditions control, which brings up the auditions hub (which uses a Cover Flow-like display that allows you try out different options, and the sequence will automatically reflow to cope with a variety of options). Once you've made your decision, you close the hub.

Editors who had seen the beta before NAB were enthusiastic. "I love the new interface. The Magnetic Timeline is a huge advancement, which lets me focus on editing instead of worrying about sync. Editors just want to make great cuts and Final Cut Pro X makes that easy," commented Scott Ivers, Post Production Supervisor, Trailer Park Post Production.

"Once again Apple brings us a game changer. This program represents the beginning of a new era in digital editing," added producer/director, Dean Devlin, Electric Entertainment.

By David Fox

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