I spoke with Richard Townhill, Director of Video Application Marketing for Apple, the day the new version of Final Cut Studio was released.
Not only is Richard the public face of Final Cut, probably no one in Apple has more direct control over the future of these applications than he does. For this reason, it was good to get his take on the latest release. What follows are my notes from our conversation.
Apple’s goal for this upgrade was to integrate user requested features, improve performance, and increase stability for all the applications.
From his point view, the key big features are:
* New versions of ProRes, including support for alpha channels
* Improved export from Final Cut Pro
* Blu-ray support within FCP
* Improved collaboration tools with iChat Theater
* And over 100 new features
Many of these are detailed on Apple’s website, so in my conversation I wanted to dig a bit deeper.
One of the questions I ask Richard every year is whether Apple has improved the interface. This year, Richard’s answer was the same: they did not change the interface because “it works great just the way it is.” However, I finally realized that Richard and I are thinking different things when it comes to the interface. I suspect when Richard hears that question, he’s thinking about the operation of the program; while I’m thinking usability. And, based solely on what I’ve read on Apple’s website, they’ve done a lot to improve usability.
(As a note, I’m writing this after our interview, but before I’ve installed the new software. I’ll have a detailed report on the new version in a later posting.)
The new version is Intel-only system, requiring both OS X 10.5.6 and QuickTime 7.6.2. So, this rules out using my trusty G-5 for editing. I’m already shopping for a new MacPro.
(As a note, I can’t recommend purchasing the new MacBook Pro 15″ for Final Cut, principally because Apple has removed both the second FireWire port and the ExpressCard/34 slot. Yes, you can connect a FireWire external drive, but nothing faster. Why should I limit myself to data rates that AT BEST hover around 50 MB/sec, when an eSATA drive is almost double that and a PCIe drive is four times faster? This is a severe limitation as we move into HD and multi-camera work. I see no reason to reward short-sighted hardware development with my money.)
I asked whether this version supports Snow Leopard. Richard said: “I can’t comment on unreleased products.” I then asked the same question differently; does that mean that editors should hold off upgrading until Snow Leopard is released in two months? Richard replied: “We have been testing this version of Final Cut Studio with current builds of Snow Leopard and we don’t anticipate any significant problems when the new OS is released.”
According to Richard, DVD Studio Pro remains an application that creates Standard-Def DVDs. They have not added Blu-ray support to it. However, FCP and Compressor can create Blu-ray discs — with some limitations. If you need multiple movies and full motion menus, you’ll still need to use Adobe Encore. However, to export and burn a sequence out of Final Cut – say for a client review – you can now do that easily.
Richard made a point to describe how you can create a Blu-ray-playable disc using the red laser burner in every Mac. This is similar to what DVD Studio Pro used to do with HD-DVD, it can now do something similar with Blu-ray. In talking later with Brian Gary, author of the up-coming book on Compressor 3.5, he agreed that the current implementation of Blu-ray authoring in Final Cut Studio is limited compared to Adobe Encore, but there is still value in the new features; especially for creating client-review discs.
The ease of getting files out of Final Cut – what Apple calls “Easy Export” – is very exciting. It now requires only a single click to publish your project to YouTube, or Blu-ray, or the web. You can even establish post-encode options that compress a file, then FTP it to the website of your choice.
Much to my personal sadness, LiveType did not make the cut. However, it is not completely dead. The text effects in LiveType were integrated into Motion and the text capabilities of Motion were significantly beefed up. The good news is that FCP 7 will support existing Livetype projects. This means that if you now own LiveType, you’ll be able to create animations for the new version. However, new purchasers of the system won’t have access to LiveType. Richard tells me that when you install the upgrade, existing LiveType files are not removed.
There is no change in rendering speed or the video processing engine. FCP 7 does not take advantage of the GPU, though Motion 4 does. What I learned is that FCP rendering is codec-dependent and most codecs don’t support GPU rendering.
However, ProRes has been optimized for mulit-core processing. Where possible, transcoding video formats like AVCHD, HDV, XDCAM HD, or XDCAM EX to ProRes will significantly, according to Richard, improve both speed and quality. ProRes now supports both YUV and RGB video, along with 4:4:4:4 (uncompressed Red, Green, Blue, and alpha channels) color sampling.
Apple has done significant work inside Soundtrack, which is a program I use daily, as well as the other applications inside Studio. However, I’ll save that for another report at a later time.
I’m already working on a detailed report for my next Final Cut newsletter – subscriptions are free, so please sign up! In the meantime, as I’m researching my report, please let me know your comments and questions.
Finally, the last Digital Production BuZZ podcast had extensive coverage of the new version with extended conversations with people who have been beta-testing the product. You can listen to it here.
THOUGHTS ON UPGRADING
The new version looks very promising, but it is brand-new. My feeling is that unless a client is rushing up to you, waving a checkbook and demanding you edit using the latest version, you would be fine to wait a month or two to make sure the third-party development community supports the new version. Also, Snow Leopard adds another level of insecurity that needs to be resolved before committing mission-critical projects to the new software.
What I read looks very good. Over the next few weeks, we’ll have a better understanding of how it works. I’ll report back when I know more.