July 04, 2011

X-rated: Apple FCP X - an analysis

Final Cut Pro X is a radical revamp of the world's most popular broadcast editor, but that revamp isn't proving popular WITH broadcast editors.

As with most things Apple does, its release of FCP X has resulted in a lot of noise, heat and light (admittedly not so much of the latter). It appears that while FCP 7 users merely wanted a faster horse (with reins that could be controlled from their iPads, oh, and their tummies rubbed too…), Apple followed Henry Ford's dictum and just gave them something black (the deep, dark depths of despair).

Apple did amazingly well with Final Cut Pro 7. It sold more than two million copies (that's approaching $2bilion in revenue, plus all the high-end hardware needed to run it – and as there could have been another one or two million pirate copies in use, all running on Apple hardware, it was a significant earner). It had about 55% of the broadcast market, compared to less than 20% each for Adobe and Avid, and recorded 94% user satisfaction (which is high even by Apple's standards).

So, it would have been easy for Apple to just issue an incremental upgrade: FCP 8 – the same but faster (and 64-bit).

Instead, it jumped straight to ten. It abandoned its legacy programming in favour of all new clean code, hoping this can provide a platform for video editing for the next decade. In doing so it made some brave (ie foolish) decisions, and some courageous (ie correct) choices.

Some people have derided its decision to ditch legacy standards, such as the EDL (Edit Decision List). But how many people need an EDL any more? It was superseded years ago (by OMF, AAF, and XML – admittedly FCP X doesn't fully support them currently either).

Having tried FCP X, it really does have some wonderful features and makes FCP 7 (and almost every other NLE) look very old fashioned. If you shoot tapeless, don't have to export to AAF or produce an EDL (and very few of that 2m do), and aren't part of a workgroup, then X hits the spot.

If you need to do multicam editing, output to tape, or do multi-track audio recording, then it may not be ready for you, yet. But at a background briefing we went to, Apple promised that "you will see updates coming fast and furious, and significant updates every six months or so."

Multicam editing

There are some things that will be added in the next few iterations. Multicam editing may not be one of the first, because Apple's developers are still trying to find the perfect way of doing it. "We want to knock everybody's socks off and do it in an innovative way," we were told. Besides, it is not that difficult to do a multicam-style edit, we've worked around it in the past, and the main thing is to get the synchronisation right – and FCP X does that automatically – have a look at the YouTube video by Bill Savage below for a simple tutorial.

However, there are some things that Apple will leave to others to do, such as EDLs, playout to tape (where AJA and Blackmagic Design have already announced upgrades so that their interface users have full tape access), export to OMF and AAF (Automatic Duck has a solution –although it seems expensive), and film work (Cinema Tools is no more, and X doesn't even display feet and frames).

Most broadcast users should look at FCP X as a work in progress that may not be ready for serious use for them for at least six months, maybe a year. Some editors are angry that they may have to wait, or that much-needed features are no more, dismissing it as iMovie Pro; but FCP 7 still works – although anyone trying to buy a new license may have difficulty (resellers like Root6 report high demand for remaining copies of the old system). Unfortunately, projects created in FCP 7 can't (at least yet) be exported to X.

This does seem like a mistake. As FCP X is so obviously a work in progress (at least as far as its high-end features are concerned), why not continue selling FCP 7 until the end of the year, say, so that anyone that has started a project (a TV documentary series may take a few years in production) can add extra bodies if necessary to their post-production workflows as deadlines loom. I'm sure that exporting a project from 7 to X isn't going to be simple, as the two don't map straight onto each other, but it's not impossible. There may need to be user parameters to select (to set priorities or if/then choices), but wouldn't it be worth it to see all those happy, chubby-cheeked, tear-stained faces of editors as they find they can migrate all their past projects into one glossy new interface?

Apple's long game

FCP X is such a radical overhaul, requiring users to relearn many aspects of how they edit, and raises so many questions about how to replace missing features, that Avid and Adobe will relish the opportunity to win over any dissidents (and are already offering fantastic crossgrade deals); but Apple appears to be playing the long game here. It wants to be best for tapeless, for DSLRs, for ease of use, and can probably rely on increased sales to all those who've used iMovie and want more power (iMovie projects CAN be imported into X), at a significantly lower price (£180/$300) than FCP 7.

Besides, it is amazing what you can make half-baked software do. As trainer, Larry Jordan (pictured), pointed out at the FCPUG London SuperMeet, "Walter Murch edited Cold Mountain on Final Cut Pro 3, which didn't support output to film, but he won an Oscar."

Jordan believes that FCP X "will be perfect for some people out of the box, but not for everybody," particularly as it will take third parties time to test their software with X, maybe three months. Only a few major companies seem to have had pre-launch access to perfect their applications.

"We've got to give it time," he added. "There are some things I'm not going to use FCP X for [such as his multicam podcasts], but I will use it for others."

Related post: Apple ships Final Cut Pro X

David Fox

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