Final Cut Pro Goes HD!

Posted on by Larry

Updated July, 2004, with information from a presentation
Apple made at the L.A. Final Cut Pro User Group.
The update is added at the end of this report. ]

Apple this morning (April 18) announced at NAB five new software products for professional editors: Final Cut HD, DVD Studio Pro 3, Shake 3.5, Motion, and Xsan.

I attended the event to learn more. Then, I spoke with Paul Saccone, Final Cut Pro Product Manager, and several Apple engineers to get the inside scoop about the new version of Final Cut.

Click a product name below to read Apple’s press release on each of these packages:

Final Cut Pro HD
“This is the fastest and most stable version of Final Cut that we’ve ever created,” Paul Saccone said when we spoke after the event. “All but three filters are now real-time, FCP fully supports multiple-stream HD video and it’s fully integrated with LiveType and Motion.”

Let’s see whether what Apple announced lives up to Paul’s enthusiasm.

Apple announced Final Cut Pro HD (version 4.5). This is a FREE upgrade for all Final Cut Pro 4 users ($399 for all FCP 1, 2, or 3 users) and focuses on delivering high-quality, real-time HD editing.

Apple’s press release states: “Final Cut Pro HD provides playback of up to four streams of native DVCPRO HD video [in high-quality] or, when adding an Xserve RAID, up to 10 stream in preview quality. Final Cut Pro HD’s support of native DVCPRO HD makes media conversion unnecessary, preserving the full quality of the camera original. Final Cut Pro HD’s frame-accurate, native DVCPRO HD editing environment gives broadcasters, producers and post-production professionals the ability to capture, edit and output broadcast-quality HD video, and the freedom to cut HD video anywhere, even on a PowerBook.”

Ron Schoenben, vice president of Applications Marketing for Apple, rolled out the specs: there are over 250,000 users of Final Cut around the world, the shows “Scrubs” and “nip/tuck” use it, as did the films “Cold Mountain” and “Lady Killers.”

Vendor Support

Vendors continue to support the platform. Pinnacle Systems announced a new version of CineWave, and AJA announced a new version of the Kona card — though neither spoke at the presentation.

Thomson/Grass Valley ( announced the integration of FCP into the Grass Valley Digital News Production family, a “no-compromise editing system.”

BBC Technology ( announced they were integrating FCP into Colledia, it’s production workflow system to “help broadcasters meet their goal of the tapeless production environment.”Schoenben said that while his goal is to take FCP “deeper into the broadcast environment,” there is an even greater need: to improve support for HD within Final Cut. He then re-introduced Apple’s relationship with Panasonic, and introduced the new, Panasonic AJ-HD1200A.

Stuart English, vice president North American Operations, introduced this new deck from Panasonic ( that supports MiniDV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO-50, and DVCPRO HD. Weighing less than 20 pounds, it’s fully portable with both AC and battery support.

Price: an amazing $25,000 and shipping today. (The crowd got very excited.) Best of all, it supports HD video over FireWire 400.

Interview with Paul Saccone

Paul Saccone presented a demo of Final Cut Pro HD. It handled four streams of high-quality 720p HD video as easily as if it were DV footage. He then switched from RT Safe Mode to RT Unlimited and played 10 streams of 720p HD footage. Very smooth. Very impressive.

Talking with Paul after the event, I said that the HD features were amazing, but what were the benefits of upgrading for users that weren’t shooting HD?

“We have significantly beefed up RT Extreme,” Paul replied. “It’s the fastest and most stable version of Final Cut we’ve ever created. All but three of the filters run in real-time, subject to video format, frame rate and the speed of your system.” This means that if you have a G-4, you will see a definite performance improvement, but you won’t be able to play the same number of effects in real-time that a G-5 can.


“Also, we’ve improved the integration between Final Cut and LiveType. You can now drop a LiveType project file on the Final Cut Timeline and Final Cut will display it properly. No more rendering movies in LiveType before importing them into Final Cut.”

I asked Paul what his favorite three features were in the new version that he didn’t present on stage.

“The Digital Cinema Desktop, which, uh, we DID present on stage, is my favorite. This allows you to use your computer monitor to see a full-screen preview of your movie. It works best with progressive video, and it displays in any format. It doesn’t do color-space conversions, so you can’t use this for final color correction, but it does allow you to use the J-K-L keys to move around the video.


“We’ve built-in an automatic conform from PAL to 24 frame video.


“The HD codec is done entirely in software, so whether you are capturing using a FireWire cable or a PCI card [such as the Cinewave or AJA Kona] you can get extremely high-quality with tons of real-time effects.”

I asked Paul about Xsan. Xsan is Apple’s Storage Area Network File System that allows up to 64 users to share the same hard disk, via Fibre Channel. Priced at $999 per user and available in the fall, Apple says it is “extremely fast.” Best of all, from my point of view, it supports file-locking, which means that you no longer need to partition a hard disk in order to give multiple editors access. File-locking, instead of volume-locking, makes much more efficient use of hard disk space.

Apple’s press release: “For the first time on Mac OS X, up to 64 video professionals can simultaneously access a single storage volume that supports multiple high-bandwidth video streams for efficient workflow in video and film editing, audio editing and effects and motion graphics creation.”

“Well, I’m not the product manager, but I have played with it. It shows up just like a hard disk on your desktop. It’s awesome. It just works,” Saccone said.

The Inside Scoop on Final Cut
I then went in search of some Apple engineers to get the inside scoop on other features in Final Cut Pro HD. While this list is not exhaustive, here’s what I learned are some of the unheralded features in FCP:

All-in-all, the changes seem fully worth a .5 upgrade. Especially a free one!

HOWEVER, as we have seen in the past, all the best plans of the best programmers can sometimes go awry. So, while the upgrade is immediately available, wait until you are done with your current projects before upgrading.

The Other Software
I don’t mean to minimize the impact of the other software releases. though I won’t spend as much time discussing them. Here’s a quick summary:

Shake 3.5
Shake now supports warping and morphing, and 10 & 16 bit QuickTime codecs, It’s been optimized for dual processors, improved DPX file support, and QMaster now supports rendering Maya files.

This was the briefest presentation of the morning and they didn’t do a demo.

Pricing: $2,999 for Mac OS X, $4,999 for Linux and Unix. Available now.

DVD Studio Pro 3
The main emphasis seemed to me to be on transitions, HD transcoding and the graphical view.

DVD SP 3 now supports transitions between slides, between menus, and between menus and tracks. It is no longer necessary to use FCP to create slide shows that move. DVD SP does it just fine. There are lots and lots and lots of transitions to choose from.

The Graphical View puts a new spin on the older (DVD SP 1.5) Matrix view, where you are able to see relationships visually between menus and elements. The demo they shows had a DVD with eight elements. While very useful for smaller projects, it remains to be seen if the view is helpful for larger projects — which was the big limitations to the earlier Matrix.

Apple continues to improve Compressor to handle DV, SD and HD streams. No demos were provided, but Apple said they had improved the interface between FCP and Compressor. The new version of Compressor is 1.2.

Pricing: $499 ($199 upgrade). Available in May.

Without question, the highlight of the presentation was Motion — Apple’s Real-time Motion Graphics design tool — and it drew the most applause.

Think of Motion as a combination of After Effects and Final Cut, but without the keyframes. Full HD support. An interface modeled directly after DVD Studio Pro. And an unbelievable ability to make things move.

While not a 3D application, its greatest strengths are its intuitive interface, glossy smooth previews, and a wide-variety of pre-built effects, called “Behaviors,” that you can apply to your elements. Behaviors are similar to, but deeper than, those available in LiveType.

I don’t have the space to go into all the details. Suffice it to say the audience was blown away.

Pricing: $299. Available this summer.

Update — June, 2004
A couple of weeks ago, Brian Meaney, Apple programming lead for Final Cut Pro, spoke at the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group about the new version of Final Cut Pro HD. While the big features of FCP HD have been discussed elsewhere at length, Brian shared some of the smaller improvements that might be of interest to you.

New Stuff

Stuff that’s Fixed

Unresolved Stuff

For DV users, FCP HD coupled with OS 10.3.4 seems like a good idea. For high-end users, be sure your capture card and hard disk drivers support the new version before upgrading.

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