[ This article is an excerpt from the April, 2005, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]
If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that NAB means new versions of Final Cut Pro. And this year was no exception.
Apple announced Final Cut Pro 5, SoundTrack Pro, Motion 2, DVD Studio Pro 4 and a whole flock of related applications.
I have not had a chance to get my hands on them yet, but I have spent time in private briefings with Apple, as well as talking with anyone who could fog a mirror to learn more about what’s in the new apps.
Apple says they will ship “in May,” which means we’ve got time to plan when to upgrade.
By now, you’ve probably read many of the various press releases about these new products, including the new Production Suite. If not, here’s a representative sampling:
Instead of providing an exhaustive list of product specs, I want to focus more on what’s behind the headlines. Keep in mind, I haven’t been able to run the software, I’ve just been asking questions of people who know.
Also, as this report is based on briefings given at NAB, I don’t have any screen shots to show you. So, you’ll just have to use your imagination.
Shipping with FCP 5 are:
- Cinema Tools (it’s more integrated within FCP)
Shipping with Final Cut Studio are all the above, plus:
- SoundTrack Pro
- Motion 2
- DVD Studio Pro 4
Also available is a significant upgrade to Shake, however, as I am not an effects expert, I have no opinion on this upgrade.
For me, the big features of FCP 5 are:
- Multi-channel audio in and out
- Synced multi-camera editing support
- Dynamic RT
- Native HDV editing
But, an even bigger feature of Final Cut 5 is something that didn’t change — the interface. Windows, menus and tools all seem to be exactly the same as FCP HD. This is great because it means we don’t have to relearn how things work.
In order to run FCP 5, you will need either OS X 10.3.9 or 10.4 (Tiger). As well, you’ll also need QuickTime 7. Any dual-processor Mac should run the software with no problem, as well as fast single processor systems.
Editing HDV, however, is complex and a fast system is necessary for smooth performance. Again, please refer to Apple’s website for all the details: http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio
Multi-channel audio requires QuickTime 7, and allows up to 24 channels of audio in or out, depending upon hardware support. At this point, support for more than two channels in or out will require a capture card, or some sort of external device — such as the AJA IO or FireWire-enabled system.
Boy, if Apple was excited by anything, it was SoundTrack Pro. Apple made a big point of showing how you can create music and effects using SoundTrack Pro. Which is great — assuming you have a sense of how to create music that someone else wants to listen to.
But, for me, the much more exciting news is that you can use SoundTrack Pro to mix your Final Cut projects.
The mixer in SoundTrack Pro is light-years ahead of the mixer in FCP. You can:
- Load an FCP sequence into Final Cut Pro and mix it
- Create up to 24 output channels
- Send any audio track to any combination of outputs
- Group faders to provide submixes
- Easily move files between FCP and ST Pro using round-tripping
- Add filters to individual clips or entire tracks
- Design mixing Actions which make changes simple — they are like a PhotoShop adjustment layer
- Use 50 supplied Logic audio plug-ins — including, I’ve been told, some decent audio compressors and limiters
- Use control surfaces, which means you can buy a mixer which supports the Mackie Control Protocol, connect it to the computer via USB, or FireWire, and move mixers and turn pots which, in turn, controls the settings inside SoundTrack Pro to mix your project
- Repair audio problems with audio restoration tools — especially useful for noise-reduction
- Export ST Pro files into OMF for use in ProTools
Even if I never use SoundTrack to create music, this is still great because I’ve finally got some decent mixing ability inside Final Cut. Whether this replaces my need to take complex projects to ProTools, I won’t know until it ships.
By the way, Apple stresses that this version of SoundTrack is new from the ground up, rather than simply retooling version one.
- Soundtrack ships with 5,000 loops, effects, and other stuff
- You can open multiple projects at once, cutting and pasting between projects
- You can display the In and Out from Final Cut in the SoundTrack timeline
- You can edit down to the individual sample level
- Actions are what make SoundTrack so powerful. All editing is non-destructive.
- The audio scrubbing feature is very nice and much better than FCP HD
- ST Pro can compress or expand audio in it’s Timeline without affecting the pitch — not just for loops, but for all imported audio.
Can I record in SoundTrack? Yes.
Does it have a “voice-over” tool? Yes.
How many recording takes does it support? No limit.
Can I shift the video in the timeline of ST Pro? No.
Can I use AppleScript? Yes.
Can I disguise a voice? Yes.
What audio plug-ins are supported? Core Audio plug-ins only.
Can it do surround sound? You can fake it, but, essentially, no.
Is there overload/clipping protection? No.
Can you do live mixing? No.
Can I move a multi-track file from ST Pro to FCP? No, FCP supports mixed tracks only.
Does it support MIDI? No. ST Pro is not for music creation — for that you use Logic. ST Pro is for post and mixing.
Can you mix multiple audio formats in the same project? Yes.
The big additions to Motion in this version are:
- Support for 8-, 16-, and 32-bit video
- Replicator, which allows for quickly multiplying instances of an object
- Support for third-party filters, with Zaxwerks, Boris FX and DV Garage already releasing products
- MIDI-controlled object manipulation
- Drag-and-drop Motion projects into After Effects
The MIDI control opens up lots of possibilities for third-party control surfaces. Right now, the only options are keyboards, but there’s lots of possibilities for the future.
There wasn’t as much time spent demoing Motion or DVD SP, so my notes are fewer. On the other hand, both programs have features that makes the updates seem very appealing.
I really like DVD SP 3, so DVD SP 4 is, to my way of thinking, icing on the cake. However, there are three features that, if they work, will be REALLY significant:
- Built-in format conversion between NTSC and PAL
- HD downconversion to SD
- Distributed compression, to multiple computers, using QMaster
These features are all accomplished using Compressor, which is also new with this version. This is a key point. Compressor creates files for conversion to MPEG-2 for DVD — not converting DV files for editing inside Final Cut Pro.
Apple is very impressed with the image quality of NTSC / PAL conversions. I did not see any examples, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Other new features in DVD Studio Pro include:
- GPRM partitioning
- Support for H.264
- A.Pack is now integrated into Compressor
H.264 playback of HD requires a G-5. 720p HD can play on a dual G-4. 1080i HD requires a G-5. The H.264 codec is incredibly advanced and needs all the horsepower it can get.
New with this version of QuickTime are support for multiple audio channels in and out and H.264. That’s the big news.
Smaller, but still important, news is that QuickTime now supports:
- Surround sound on playback
- Capturing video and audio directly into QT (though Apple told me that Final Cut would be better to use for capture than QT)
- Live resizing of video playback
- Direct image capture from digital cameras
- Support for Core Video and Core Image architectures
- P2 files are copied faster than real-time, though actual transfer rate depends upon file format
QuickTime does not support BMG audio files from audio recorders.
The benefits of Core Video and Core Image are pointed more toward the developer. By allowing the operating system to process video and images, these simplify the work programmers need to do to support images and video in their applications. Also, by moving video processing to the OS, Final Cut is able to reduce latency and improve performance — which is why there is so much real-time effects and playback in the application.
Here, in no particular order, are more factoids on Final Cut:
- Searching for markers in the Timeline is now supported. (Then, again, this is also supported in FCP HD — I just never knew how to do it. Sigh…)
- The Log and Capture window is somewhat different — it includes an Angle field to record camera angle
- Every audio track has it’s own audio meter in Log & Capture
- You can toggle monitoring audio through your computer speakers during capture using a simply checkbox
- HDV is edited in native format – no intermediate codec is necessary
- HDV ingest is different from DV — the log and capture window is different. When capturing HDV, Start/Stop detection actually captures to separate clips. This is “a glimpse of the future” of Final Cut Pro.
- RT engine was totally changed. Don’t use Unlimited RT, it drops frames
- Dynamic RT controls both frame rate and video playback quality on the fly
- Once a multi-cam clip has been edited to the Timeline, you ripple, roll, slip and slide as though it was a regular clip
- The same audio control surfaces (i.e. mixers) work in FCP and ST Pro
- Audio now supports 8-, 16-, and 24-bit depths and up to 96KHz sample rates
- Preparing video for display is much, MUCH faster
- You can change the displayed size of text in the Browser and Timeline
- Scrolling and zooming in the Timeline is very fast
- New command: Reveal clip in Finder
- Timeline limit increased from 4 hours to 12 hours
- Reconnect dialog has changed, you can now select what folder you want to look in
- Better performance control for FireWire drives
- Timecode, keycode, and ink numbers now display in Viewer and Canvas
- Feet & frames, as well as timecode, now display in Viewer and Canvas
- Match frame works much more logically – no longer needs Auto-Select buttons
- Duplicate frame detection has been vastly improved
- Now natively supports JVC 24p cameras
- Scale and rotation quality of still images significantly improved
Things NOT changed:
- Audio waveform drawing in the Timeline
- FCP does not support more than 4 GB of RAM
- No improvements in keyframe smoothing
- Can not add markers while digitizing
- Variable speed time-remapping
- Preferences are system-wide, not attached to a project
There’s a lot to look forward to in the new version. I hope to have a hands-on report for you soon after the product ships.
Time for a new poll — and, as the name suggests, I’m interested in what new features of FCP most tweak your interest.
Click here to take the poll:
And, as in incentive, I’ll write about your most popular features first. So, take a minute and give me your opinion. Thanks!
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