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by Wilson Tang / June 29, 2011
Editors' note (September 20, 2011): Apple has released a major software update to Final Cut Pro X. Additional features added include support for XML, custom starting time codes, Xsan event and project compatibility, support for media stems/audio channeling, full-screen view toggle for Lion users, and GPU acceleration.
The bottom line: Final Cut Pro X is truly a dramatic rewrite of Apple's mature and well-developed video-editing software. It borrows some interface elements from iMovie that may disappoint seasoned professionals, and also it loses many key features that are simply an absolute necessity in the professional world, like XML export. On the other hand, those looking to upgrade from iMovie will find a lot more features in Final Cut Pro X, but there are some caveats.
Final Cut Pro X's bold philosophy of video editing will definitely take some getting used to, but in return, editors will be rewarded with blazing performance and a future where tapes are as outdated as wax cylinders. For amateur video editors, iMovie is still the best balance of features, ease of use, and price. At this stage, Final Cut Pro X is a 1.0 product that still needs some more development. However, Apple has laid the groundwork for versions 2.0 and 3.0 to be much more compelling and usable.
It's been three years since Apple last updated its venerable Final Cut Studio 3 suite of applications. FCS 3, as it was known, included Final Cut Pro 7, DVD Studio Pro 4, Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5, and Compressor 3.5. Forces are at work changing the world of video editing, and even the most hardened video-editing professionals will tell you that editing needs to evolve.
First, the cost of productions has dropped drastically in the last few years. An indie film 10 years ago might have achieved some notoriety for being shot on a consumer MiniDV camcorder, but these days you'll find the same Canon 5D Mark II that you have at home on a $1 million set.
Second, computers have gotten a lot faster, with multithreaded cores and GPUs that can generate lifelike 3D graphics at 120+ frames per second at resolutions double that of even 1080p video.
Now, imagine the frustrations that editors feel when running Final Cut Pro on a Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM and eight cores, only to discover that FCP can only address 4GB of memory and only a few operations and codecs support any multithreaded operations.
It's not that Apple hasn't been throwing resources behind Final Cut Pro. However, it is the same reason that it took Apple six iterations of Mac OS X before the company finally managed to update the ubiquitous Finder app to 64 bits: rewriting applications is hard. Even iTunes, which might be considered Apple's most important application because of its syncing abilities to the iPod and iOS, is still sitting around using 32 bits.
Third, like how blogging gave everyone the ability to compete with the likes of major newspapers, magazines, and publishers, YouTube, Vimeo and other online video-sharing sites are giving legions of wannabe filmmakers a platform to display their work and show Hollywood that you don't need millions of dollars to create something that hundreds of millions of people will see.
Finally, many things can be said about Apple, but one thing that the company truly embraces is change. Ten years ago, Apple transitioned Mac OS 9 to a radically different Mac OS X. The first iteration Mac OS X 10.0 "Cheetah" was slow and missed basic features like DVD playback and CD burning. In the end, the radical transition to Cheetah laid the foundation of the wonderfully featured and much faster Mac OS X Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, and soon-to-be-released Lion.
With all those forces at work, Apple is doing the same transition with Final Cut Pro as it did with Mac OS. Like Cheetah, Final Cut Pro X is missing many features, some of which likely won't make it, but they lay the groundwork for a next generation of video editing.
Under the hood
Apple surprised the Mac world when it announced that Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6 wouldn't contain many major new features, but instead was an under-the-hood improvement to the OS X operating system. Snow Leopard brought improved performance, enhanced support for 64-bit applications, new tools like Grand Central Dispatch for multicore programming, and a new programming framework to take advantage of the massive power of graphics processors called OpenCL.
The original Final Cut Pro took very little advantage of any of these new leaps because it was still shackled to a 10-year-old code base and 32-bit Carbon APIs.
In the new Final Cut Pro X, Apple rewrote the whole application from the ground up to finally support 64-bit Cocoa APIs, but also to take advantage of the power of GPUs through programming frameworks like OpenCL and multithreaded operations. The change is obvious when you look at the Activity Monitor, which shows many more threads. Even better, the native 64-bit code now supports a practically limitless supply of RAM.
Installing and downloading
Final Cut Pro X is only available via the Mac App Store. The previous Final Cut Studio came with heavy instruction manuals, which are now just help files in FCPX. We appreciate reducing paper waste, but be warned that the digital help files won't offer any images unless you are connected to the Internet.
Final Cut Pro X is available via the Mac App Store for a low price of $299. In comparison, the previous Final Cut Studio costs $999, but of course it came with Motion, Soundtrack Pro, Compressor, LiveType, Cinema Tools, and Color. Some of those apps have disappeared for good in the new Final Cut Pro X with only some of their functionality integrated into the app.
For an extra $49 apiece, you can purchase Motion 5 and Compressor 4 as add-on companion apps to Final Cut Pro X. We'll dive into these apps a bit later in the review.
Final Cut Pro X also has the distinction of being the first app available for voluming licensing. Licenses for businesses and schools will be available via the Apple Online Store for quantities of 20 or more. Users will receive a redemption code, which they can use to download the app from the Mac App Store.
Simply downloading isn't as fun as it sounds. Final Cut Pro X weighs in at 1.33GB, and it can take hours to download if you have a slow connection. In addition, there is 637.2MB of supplemental content like effects and backgrounds, which is downloaded via the Mac OS X Software Update feature because it's shared between applications. Additionally, Motion 5 weighs in at 1.09GB, and Compressor is a relatively paltry 261MB. This will not be fun for the eager enthusiast with a slow DSL line.
Still, it's a far better and easier installation method than the previous Final Cut Studio, which required swapping out DVDs repeatedly for an hour or two.
When you first launch Final Cut Pro X, the old Final Cut loading screen is replaced by a new semitransparent load screen that let's you know this is the 10.0 iteration of the professional software. But what comes after that is nothing like the 10 previous versions of Final Cut.
You'll first notice a prominent option to Import iMovie Events right above the Import Files and Import From Camera options. If you're wondering if we skipped a step, you're wrong. According to Final Cut Pro X's help file, you don't create a project first. Instead, you import media and manage your media first. You can, however, create a project first and import later. But it just goes to show you how much Apple believes that data-based video workflows are the future of post-production.
FCPX's new interface borrows some style elements from iMovie, which will really have many editors scratching their head. But first, multiple windows have largely disappeared.
Instead of windows, like in previous versions, we now get panels. The panels have default positions, but they can fortunately be resized.
For the most part, the panel locations are generally where you want them to be, but we would have preferred more customization options. Users can specify the Viewer or the Events panels to live on secondary monitors, but it's still no match for arranging windows to whatever your project or personal preferences are.
The biggest change is the new Viewer. Previous users of Final Cut Pro will wonder what happened to the Viewer and Canvas windows.
They have been combined into a single panel called the Viewer. In previous versions of Final Cut Pro, the Viewer loaded clips to edit or it let users manipulate the properties of a clip. The Canvas traditionally showed the current frame of the playhead in the Timeline. Final Cut Pro X now combines both the viewer and canvas into one panel simply called the Viewer.
Simpler is better though, right? Actually, we're not so sure.
Final Cut Pro 7 used the decades-old convention of Source and Record editing (which Apple, of course, had to refer differently as the Viewer and Canvas). It traces back to the day of linear editing, when a producer or editor would load up one clip from a video deck, mark the start and stop, and then record on to a second tape.
Old as it might be, the source/record convention is blazingly fast. Watching a professional editor is like watching a pianist. Loading clips, scrubbing through to find the perfect clip, marking an in point and an out point, then laying on the timeline could be accomplished without touching the mouse at all. For Apple, it's a difference of philosophy.
Creating a new project
Starting a new project feels a bit strange because the program does little to explain new concepts like Events. Events are Apple's new way of describing media libraries. An event contains the actual media files of your project, as well as metadata information.
When you create a new project, there are no options like resolution or codec until you select custom. By default, the app will pick a resolution and frame rate based on the first clip you use.
You can select custom options, which will support most of the standard resolutions: 1080i, 1080p, 720p, NTSC, PAL, 2K, and 4K. The Other options curiously do not let you set custom resolutions. Instead, you're limited to 640x480 pixels and 960x540 pixels. Apple says that you can use Compressor to scale and resize your videos.
Frame rates are also limited to standard NTSC, PAL, and film rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, and 60 frames per second. Again, if you have to work in a nonstandard frame rate, you're out of luck. As a sign from the future of where Apple wants to take video editing, FCPX supports 4K resolutions at 60 progressive frames per second.
Additionally, there are options for audio and video rendering, which default to Surround Sound at 48KHz, and variable bit rate ProRes 422. ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 4444, and Uncompressed 10-bit are also available as options, if you need those extra bits of color information or editing with an alpha channel. However, for most editors, ProRes 422 offers a good balance between speed and drive space.
Perhaps the most unsettling behavior so far is that Final Cut Pro X doesn't let you specify where you want to save your project file in the New Project dialog box. By default, FCPX creates new projects in the root directory of whatever drive you have selected in the Project Library.
This is highly frustrating. Being able to specify a location for project files is incredibly important. For example, it's common for an editor to routinely save projects in network drives and organize by folders and subfolders.
Render files are saved in the same folder as the project files. Render files are essentially media files that FCP uses to save rendered work, like effects. So even if you are diligent enough to create a new project on a separate hard drive, your render files must live in the same folder.
For Apple, it's again a difference of philosophy. Users lose some granularity when choosing a scratch disk, but they get the benefit of having a single folder that they can move around, complete with their projects' rendered media.
Final Cut Pro X has support for natively importing AVC-Intra, AVCHD (including AVCCAM, AVCHD Lite, and NXCAM), all standard versions of DV (including DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO50, and DVCPRO HD), H.264, HDV, iFrame, Motion JPEG, MPEG IMX (D-10), and standard XDCAM HD/EX/HD422. Additionally, the program can import codecs supported by QuickTime.
Gone are the Log & Capture and Log & Transfer options. Instead, we just get options for importing media files and importing files from a camera. The new Final Cut Pro X really embraces a file-based workflow.
The closest option might be the Import From Camera. This is not the same as Log & Transfer. It's sort of an attempt at combing capture from tape and capture from memory card sources. The new import interface does support FireWire and can read mounted memory cards, as well as control playback options using the classic JKL (rewind-pause-play) keys.
It doesn't support importing certain types of files. For XDCAM users, Apple recommends installing Sony's own transfer and transcoding utility. HDV is still supported, but oddly only over tape on FireWire. You'll have to wait for HDV import from MXF files. Nor does FCPX support the ultrahigh-quality RED RAW natively. For now, you can either set up your RED camera to record QuickTime movie files, which FCPX can import natively, or you can use RED's own free conversion program to convert into Apple's native ProRes format. Apple says it is working with companies like Sony and Red to create plug-ins that will allow FCPX to be a one-stop-shop for importing video.
Final Cut Pro X does have a Supported Cameras page, but it isn't as long as we'd like, nor is it completely up to date. For example, importing P2 footage into the new FCPX is possible, but it is not included in the Support Cameras page. Also, it's also not entirely obvious that some formats like P2 have to be imported through the Import From Camera option and not the Import Files option.
On the bright side, at least it natively supports the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 2, and iPod Touch.
If you do have compatible files or footage to import into Final Cut Pro X, there are some great new options that give you a taste of what Apple has been working on these last three years of developing FCPX.
You can create a new event, or you can add to an existing event. Fortunately, you can select which drive you'd like to import your footage to from this dialog box. By default, Final Cut Pro X will copy over your media files and automatically organize the footage for you using Content Auto-Analysis.
Content Auto-Analysis is arguably one of the coolest new features of Final Cut Pro X. Not only do you get the standard metadata that FCPX would collect like frame rate, codec, resolution, and more, but it also borrows some technology from iPhoto and iMovie to automatically detect people in the shot as well as shot size.
Additionally, Content Auto-Analysis analyzes footage for color balance, audio problems, shaky footage, and even the notorious rolling shutter distortion that occurs with many CMOS-based cameras when panning. FCPX can even transcode supported footage as it imports into native ProRes as well as create small proxy media files, if you're working on a low-power machine. Other smart features include the ability to intelligently group mono or stereo audio channels and remove silent audio channels.
The Events Library organizes your media in a tree with the main branches being the hard drives connected to your system. But not just any drives will be recognized in FCPX; Apple says "spinning disks," so you won't see USB drives. As far as we know, neither will Xsan, NFS, AFP, or SMB-mounted volumes appear in the Event Library.
There are many things in the above sentence that might make a few people unhappy, but fortunately, you can import footage into your local Event Library without having to copy over gigabytes of data. Final Cut Pro X will create links to your remote media. Just be sure to deselect the copy files to FCPX's events folder, otherwise the media will be copied to whatever drive you have set up for your events.
Within the Event Library is the Event Browser, and this is where much of the magic of the new Final Cut Pro X lives. Previous versions of Final Cut Pro X had fairly limited metadata abilities. You could comment and mark a clip as a good or bad take, but the new FCPX brings metadata into the world of Google.
When importing footage, Smart Collections will automatically create a number of premade groups based on things like whether the shot is a wide, medium, or close-up. It will also detect people and group them together.
The power of the new metadata engine comes from its extensibility. Users can now create their own keyword tags, and even tag-specific sections of clips using custom keywords. All this tagging and metadata becomes incredibly powerful when you realize that Final Cut Pro X adds search capabilities.
For example, a user can tag all the footage of an interviewee, and then perform a search query looking for medium-only shots for that interviewee. Loggers and assistant editors will be much happier. Apple also says that the metadata engine will be extensible via third-party plug-ins, so it won't be too far from the day that we see plug-ins that transcribe and auto-sync transcripts to video.
Finally, the Event Browser in Final Cut Pro X does away with Media Manager in Final Cut Pro 7, and now within your Events Library, you can create lightweight proxy versions to take on the road on a laptop.
One project, one timeline
As you discover the quirks of the new interface, one thing that might not be so obvious is that there is exactly one timeline or sequence to every project.
That might sound natural for amateur video editors, but it's a major change for professionals. Editors routinely duplicate sequences in the same project, so that if you have to go back to a previous version because the new sequence just didn't work out, it's right there. For now, Apple says that if you want to create a snapshot of the current sequence, you can use the Duplicate feature in the menu bar, which creates a new copy of your current project. Fortunately, projects are easily viewable from the Project Library.
While many will be upset that projects can only contain a single timeline, Apple has really rethought the old track-based timelines, and in the process created some innovations that might make the lack of multiple timelines more palatable.
Final Cut Pro X's most touted feature has got to be the new Magnetic Timeline and all the features that build off of it. Tracks have disappeared, and instead we have what Apple calls "lanes." Because of this, our favorite tool, the Track tool, is gone, because you don't need it anymore.
Like lanes of traffic, clips automatically make room for one another when you move them on the timeline, so you never have to worry about accidentally overwriting a track of audio or video. It's magnetic because clips automatically ripple (i.e. remove the gap between clips or move out of the way to make room for new clips).
New and amateur video editors will absolutely love the Magnetic Timeline, but it is going to take some time and practice before you see many professional editors embracing it. Most professional editors won't admit it, but we do spend too much time making room for clips we want to insert, closing up gaps and keeping everything in sync. Admittedly, we find ourselves itching to press the T key for the Track tool to make some space in the timeline.
Inline Precision Editor
Without source and record windows, Apple's replacement for the classic Trim Mode is called the Inline Precision Editor. By just double-clicking on the border where two clips meet, the Inline Precision Editor will expand the clips to show all the footage available in the outgoing and incoming clips.
As many gripes as we might have with the loss of separate Viewer and Canvas windows, the Inline Precision Editor is a much better view of footage than Trim Mode. You can now easily see how much more footage you have left in each clip. Once you have extended or decreased the selection, the timeline ripples all the changes through the sequence, keeping everything in sync.
Built on top of the Magnetic Timeline is the new Clip Connections feature. In previous Final Cut Pro apps, you would have to tediously separate out the clips from a sequence before moving them around. Now, with Clip Connections, you can have multiple pieces of video, title and audio move around on the time line and remain perfectly in sync.
Building on top of Clip Connections and the Magnetic Timeline are Compound Clips.
In large projects, once you've finished a complex scene or segment, you can now group all the audio, title, and video clips together to act as a single massive clip. It's a bit like nested sequences, but much easier to use. Effects can be applied as a whole onto Compound Clips, and video can even be retimed as one giant clip. All the while, they remain perfectly in sync. Apple says editors won't have to create multiple sequences for each scene, but can use compound clips instead.
Often, an editor will be the only individual who has seen all the footage, and by the time directors and producers join edit sessions, an editor will have likely laid out the core elements and structure of a video piece.
Inevitably, though, the producer or director will want to see alternate takes. And pulling apart a sequence to slip in an alternate clip is a major headache.
Auditioning will alleviate much of that pain. Editors can try out alternate takes by simply marking an in and an out on alternate clips, drag them onto the existing clip on the timeline, and select "Add to Audition." As you try out alternate takes, the Magnetic Timeline will simply ripple around, removing the gap or making room for clips of various lengths.
Because virtually every part of the Final Cut Pro X application is different from its predecessor, it probably isn't a surprise to many that your old 32-bit Final Cut Pro 7 plug-ins won't work with the new FCPX. That's not to say that Apple is giving up on the third-party plug-in community. In fact, it's relying on it heavily to fill in some missing features.
Final Cut Pro X comes complete with a new plug-in architecture that is 64-bit from the start, called FxPlug 2. Developers can access the full specification, on Apple's Developer Web site, and it's been rearchitectured to take advantage of the new high-performance, multithreaded, floating-point rendering engine.
The work that Apple has put into the new rendering engine really shows. Effects can be applied in real time and require little to no rendering. You may see some resolution drops and a few frames here or there, but in our tests it stayed close to real-time performance.
Applying effects has never been easier. Instead of dragging and dropping effects and taking a coffee break to wait for it to render, you can simply press play in the timeline and try out different effects and looks in real time by hovering over the effect in the Effects Browser.
There might be a lot to get used to when it comes to the changes to the user interface and missing features, but one area where the new Final Cut Pro X deserves universal praise is performance.
In fact, when Apple product marketing managers first demoed FCPX to us, they did not use a top-of-the-line, tricked-out Mac Pro. Instead, they used a non-SSD 27-inch iMac, the same computer that many Mac desktop users have. All the while, we were applying real-time effects and color corrections to untranscoded, 1080p H.264 dSLR footage. In contrast, previous versions of Final Cut would force you to render dSLR footage in a codec like ProRes or DVCPRO HD.
While the previous versions of Final Cut Pro maxed out at 4GB of usable RAM, Apple says users should expect to see a dramatic performance increase the more RAM you throw at FCPX. Final Cut Pro X uses Grand Central Dispatch to harness all the computing power in the new multicore CPUs and even supports Intel's new AVX instruction set extensions in the newly released Sandy Bridge processors.
Final Cut Pro X also requires an OpenCL-compatible graphics card. Be careful, though, and don't assume that every Mac that Apple has released in the last few years is OpenCL-capable. At CNET, we had to switch out our dual-quad-core Mac Pro's standard ATI Radeon HD 2600 card for a ATI Radeon HD 3870, because the former didn't meet Apple's OpenCL requirements.
Part of Final Cut Pro X's new performance increase comes from background processing. While you're pondering your next edit, FCPX will use those down cycles to execute a number of different tasks including transcoding, content auto-analysis for stabilize shaky footage, or removing background noise from audio. Final Cut Pro X even includes a Background Task window, which shows you exactly what FCPX is doing and even offers some manual controls like pausing or canceling a background process.
The new Final Cut Pro X is undoubtedly much faster than its predecessor, but it still maintains high picture quality throughout its rendering engine. The new rendering engine is floating-point based and uses a much wider color space, meaning you could blow out the highlights in one effect and bring back detail into the image with another effect. All the while, FCPX maintains accurate color profiles using ColorSync, so you won't have fret too much about the differences between ITU 709 HD colors and NTSC (Never Twice Same Color).
Unfortunately, all that exceptional color management goes to waste because as of right now, Final Cut Pro X doesn't support monitoring on professional broadcast monitors. Apple does say that it is working closely with partners like AJA and Black Magic Design to introduce Thunderbolt- and PCIe-based accessories that will allow FCPX to both capture footage from an external source like a tape deck and output via industry-standard HD-SDI ports. Still, it's quite a disappointment that for now, Final Cut Pro X users will have to trust their computer monitors and know that it probably won't look the same once it hits a real television set or gets projected in a screening room.
Many video professionals have been wondering for years when Motion would step up into the big leagues of compositing after it shuttered its Academy Award-winning Shake compositing program. While the new Motion 5 inherits Final Cut Pro X's new look and high-quality rendering engine, it is not Shake for mere mortals. And Apple says it's not intended to be.
Motion graphics designers can now set up Smart Motion Templates with editable parameters that can be "rigged" together. For example, a motion graphics artist can give motion graphic titles several variations with different colors and font sizes that work together. Editors can adjust these rigs with simple sliders, pop-up menus, or check boxes.
Motion 5's new Smart Motion Templates are also more intelligent than their predecessor. Artists can now define intro animations and out animations, but leave a flexible title "body" to fit the correct timing in the middle. The days of slicing motion graphics and fading between the two to extend a title that just wasn't long enough to cover an edit are over.
The most useful improvement to Final Cut Pro X motion graphics is that you can now edit the text right in the Viewer panel. No more opening up a title's controls in the Viewer, changing a bit of text, and then clicking somewhere else on the timeline for your text to update.
Finally, Final Cut Pro X also comes with a new Apple-made chroma keyer. Primatte is gone from the package, but Apple says that the new chroma keyer is better than ever. It utilizes the same 64-bit high-quality rendering engine, and our limited testing shows it to be at least on par with Motion 4's Primatte keyer.
The other companion app in the Final Cut Pro X suite is Compressor 4. For the most part, it looks a lot like its previous incarnations, but Apple has cleaned up some of the interface, mostly by getting rid of all those extra Compressor presets that most people only ever used in a blue moon.
Many Final Cut Pro X users may never use Motion 5, but it's far more likely that they would use Compressor 4. Considering Final Cut Pro X lost support for laying off video to tape, it's even more important that editors have a compression tool like Compressor 4 to upload files to YouTube, Vimeo, FTP, or whatever future platform, though admittedly FCPX builds some upload functions right into the menu bar.
Finally, Compressor 4 incorporates Apple's Qmaster rendering engine into the application itself rather than as a separate background application or installation. Users can now designate encoding nodes within the application to take advantage of unused CPU cores or machines on your network. You will, however, need to install Compressor 4 on other machines on your network to take advantage of the distributed encoding.
Say goodbye to DVD Studio Pro, Color, and Soundtrack Pro
We'll start with DVD Studio Pro. It's not coming back. Apple sees iTunes as the future model of media distribution, and if you've been following the development of Final Cut Studio, you'll know that DVD Studio Pro hasn't really changed in more than five years. Final Cut Pro X does include the ability to burn DVDs from the application, but don't kid yourself. It is nowhere close to the power and customizability of DVD Studio Pro. If you absolutely still need to create DVDs, you might try Adobe's Encore application.
Color was always the odd-man out in the Final Cut Studio suite. Originally, it was called FinalTouch and was developed by Silicon Color until the company was acquired by Apple. But it was always obvious that the app was not very Apple-like, nor is the idea of stepping out of your video-editing application to perform a color correction.
The new Final Cut Pro X incorporates most of the basic features of Color without ever having to leave the application. Color correction is no longer a special effect, but it's built into every clip you lay on the timeline. By just tabbing over, you'll be able to create global color corrections within FCPX, as well as additional secondaries. The color board does take a bit of getting used to, and many users will miss Final Cut Pro's iconic three-way color corrector. In return, however, they will get features like masking and even selective keying to make fine adjustments.
It's not as powerful as Color. You won't be able to track faces or moving elements on screen. For that, Apple recommends using Motion 5's built-in trackers and color correction engine.
Finally, we get to Soundtrack Pro. Fortunately, Final Cut Pro X upgrades much of the audio-editing tools. For instance, sound can now be edited to precision levels. One reason you needed apps like Soundtrack was because Final Cut Pro audio tools still lived in a world where frames are king. Editors around the world know the pain and frustration of trying to remove that half-frame long pop or click. As part of Final Cut Pro X's massive rewrite, the company also included support for 64-bit Audio Unit plug-ins. Even better is that they support Audio Unit plug-in custom interfaces, so you don't have to worry about using imprecise sliders to make your adjustments.
Honestly, though, Soundtrack is not an application we will miss much; others might disagree. Yes, you could clean up audio, mix multiple tracks, and look for sound effects, but in the professional world, Soundtrack Pro simply did not compare with the industry-standard Pro Tools, which leads us into perhaps the biggest gripe of all.
OMG! Where are the EDLs, AAFs, OMFs, and XMLs?
If you don't know what these acronyms mean, you're probably not a person who needs to upgrade to Final Cut Pro X. Also, if you've read the early reviews of Final Cut Pro X, then none of what we're about to say will be a surprise. Final Cut Pro X is a complete overhaul of a very mature application. Unfortunately, Apple failed to include some features that aren't simply missed, but are very much needed.
As great as Final Cut Pro X's new tools are, they simply aren't a match for dedicated applications like DaVinci Resolve for color correcting or Pro Tools for audio editing. Virtually, every post production facility for sound uses Pro Tools.
Fortunately, Automattic Duck is filling in the major void with its Pro Export FCP 5.0 plug-in. With the Pro Export FCP plug-in, users will be able to export "tracks" to Pro Tools at 96KHz, 24-bit quality. Still, it's a shame that "pro" video-editing software doesn't do this natively. It's even more of a hit to the gut when you also realize that Pro Export FCP 5.0 doesn't come cheap at $495.
As far as EDLs and AAF export options, you're not likely to see them in future updates to the software. Apple says its priority is to build XML export, and we expect third-party companies to come up with XML-to-EDL or XML-to-AAF translation tools.
Our last file compatibility gripe: Final Cut Pro X does not support the import of Final Cut Pro 7 project files. For some editors, this won't be much of a big issue. It's an article of faith that you never upgrade your NLE software in the middle of post-production. But there will always be a time when you need to crack open an old project file to grab a still or rejigger an edit. The official Apple line so far is that it won't be developing FCP7-to-FCPX file conversion tools. The company says that because of the major architecture changes, it would create more problems than it would solve.
Final Cut Pro X 10.0 is a major, bold step in a new future of post-production, where tapes are an anachronism and a single application can handle all of your color grading, title effects and sound-editing needs. It's clear from the price and the new workflow of FCPX that Apple believes that video will be even more ubiquitous in the near future.
It wasn't too long ago that writing for the masses meant landing a coveted job at a major newspaper, but then blogging came around. Now, anybody with barely a modicum of an interesting thought can blog, and the writing can be seen by millions. Apple believes the same thing with video.
There are three groups of users that the new Final Cut Pro X might appeal to, and to each of them, there are three different conclusions.
For professionals, it is hard to recommend Final Cut Pro X 10.0 in its current state as a replacement or upgrade to Final Cut Pro 7, Avid, or whatever the preferred nonlinear editor.
Enlightened editors who envision the day that file-based workflows will be the norm still have to deal with the reality that the network still wants an HDCAM SR archive. To be sure, the bean counters won't be happy when an editor asks to replace a rack of $100,000 HDCAM SR decks that they're still paying off for an SD card reader and a pair of $100 drives.
Apple knows this.
The company has already assured us that it will be updating Final Cut Pro X with some much needed features, like XML export and multicam-editing support. Third-party manufacturers like AJA and Black Magic Design will likely be releasing Thunderbolt and PCIe accessories soon that will let editors lay off to tape and professionally monitor on broadcast-quality displays. Automattic Duck has already released a tool to export FCPX sequences to OMF.
Apple has already said that the company will be moving to a more rapid release schedule, but it would not be a surprise to see an update to FCPX in the next few months instead of the next two years. Meanwhile, Apple says your current Final Cut Pro 7 setup still works. (It would also not be a surprise if Apple makes Final Cut Studio still available for purchase again in the interim.)
For amateur video editors, Final Cut Pro X is not iMovie Pro. It's iMovie way too much. Clip connection may be amazing when a producer wants to see the scene moved around, but it's too much for amateurs, who just want to edit out the part where they forgot to shut off the video camera. The latest version of iMovie is a fine video-editing program, and it comes with a whole suite of programs like iPhoto that video-making newbies will find immensely more useful. Still, if you're willing to spend the money to sample pro features and haven't used the app for years (like professionals), you might find the new way of doing things more palatable.
In other words, for that portion of the post-production world that keeps an open mind and is comfortable with the lack of tape, XML, and Pro Tools support, Final Cut Pro X is worth your consideration. Still, we can't help but think that sticking with Final Cut Studio 3 or waiting a few months for Final Cut Pro X 10.1 would make life just a little bit easier on the blade's edge.
Editors' note: Wilson G. Tang is a CNET and CBS producer, who has directed, shot and edited award-winning pieces. He hosts a daily technology and culture show on CNET called The 404. As a video and film professional, he has had almost a decade of experience with Final Cut Pro and other nonlinear video-editing software on a day-to-day basis. In addition, he has had extensive experience in the field, using everything from film cameras to new digital cinema video cameras that shoot to memory cards.