The Sound of 1,700 Jaws Dropping

Posted on by Larry

Final Cut Pro X - Main Interface
[Image courtesy Apple Inc. Click for enlarged view.]

Apple this evening provided a “sneak peek” at the next version of Final Cut Pro – now called “Final Cut Pro X” at the NAB SuperMeet in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The new Final Cut Pro is a bold move – a totally redesigned interface, 64-bit memory addressing, multi-processor support, tight integration of metadata in the project file with metadata stored in the clip not just in the project, heavy use of automation to simplify tedious tasks, and a rethinking of the entire concept of what it means to edit.

I can’t think of any other company that could so totally redefine what a non-linear video editor is than Apple. Since the release of Final Cut Pro 1, each version of FCP has contained incremental improvements. This is a complete restatement at every possible level.

As Phil Schiller, senior VP for world-wide marketing for Apple told me after the presentation, “This is a total rethinking of how we tell stories visually.”

Love it or hate it, our editing life won’t be the same again.

Oh, and did I mention — it has a ship date of June, with a suggested retail price of $299, and will be sold through the App Store (more on that in a bit).


But to look at Final Cut Pro in terms of its features or spec list misses a much bigger point that I want to reflect on for a bit. And it all revolves around a term I used in my first line – this was a “sneak peek.”

This is why you won’t see anything about the new Final Cut on Apple’s website – this is a preview, not the launch. There is still much work that needs to be done on the software.

Understanding an Apple event is like understanding a meeting of the Federal Reserve Bank. It is essential to concentrate on both what was said, and what was not said.

After the presentation, I spoke with Richard Townhill, Director of Pro Video Product Marketing for Apple (who served as the host for Apple’s presentation) who told me that “the purpose of today is to focus exclusively on Final Cut Pro, highlight some of the new features, and give people a chance to see and comment on the new interface. We will have much more to say about both Final Cut and our other applications in the future.”

Final Cut has been rewritten from the ground up and borrows a lot from other siblings in the suite. The audio cleanup and processing borrows heavily from Soundtrack Pro, primary and secondary color correction tools are taken from Color (see the screen shot below), and some of the motion effects techniques are taken from Motion.

However, this does not mean these other applications are dead – simply that Apple is not talking about them… yet.

I was reading posts this evening on IMUG and Twitter, where users were saying: “is it iMovie on Steroids?” I think this is a premature question.

Final Cut Pro X - Main Interface
[Image courtesy Apple Inc. Click for enlarged view.]


After the presentation, I went down front to talk with the folks from Apple about what I saw. And I asked Richard directly: “Explain to me why this isn’t a big version of iMovie?”

Richard replied: “We designed this to have professional features for the professional user. The reason we chose to present it here at the Supermeet was that we wanted the professional user to see it and understand what we are doing.”

As one attendee said to me after the event: “Both a Ford and a Ferrari have an accelerator, but that doesn’t make them the same car.”

Also, what viewers in the audience did NOT see was who from Apple was attending the presentation that did not appear on stage.

Somehow, I managed to sit in the Apple executive section of the hall. In front of me was Phil Schiller, Senior VP for Worldwide Marketing. The head of PR was sitting to his right. The two lead engineering directors, or VPs, were sitting on either side of me. I was surrounded by top-level executives from engineering, PR, marketing, product management — literally a dozen extremely senior executives were sitting in the front two rows.

Apple would not send this level of executive talent simply to watch the roll-out of a product that they did not care about.

SIDE NOTE: I was sandwiched between two senior engineering executives who had as much fun as anyone in the audience watching the demo and applauding. I suspect it was because they were finally seeing the public result of years of behind-the-scenes work.

Another interesting data point. This presentation was almost exactly the same one that I saw six weeks ago in Cupertino. Apple used it then to get feedback from a small group; I suspect they are using this exact presentation tonight for the same reason — to get reactions from a much larger group.


Based on tonight’s presentation several long-standing irritants with Final Cut Pro disappear:

* Rendering is now in the background and much faster because it harnesses the power of the GPU.
* The 4 GB memory limit is gone – FCP will use as much RAM as you have installed on your system.
* FCP X now uses all the processors on your system, not just one and a half.

In addition, a flock of new features were added:
* It supports editing video image sizes from standard definition up to 4K.
* It uses fewer tools from the Tool palette (which is no longer there, by the way) by making the cursor smarter. WHERE you click something determines WHAT you can do with it.
* A lot of existing features are jazzed up (linking and grouping are replaced by the much more elegant Clip Connection and Compound Clips)
* While new features like the magnetic timeline, permanent audio sync and auto-metadata generation are flat-out stunning.

NOTE: Nothing said, or implied tonight, indicated that you would need any special hardware. My guess is that any Mac you buy now will run FCP perfectly. Also, contrary to some rumors, I spoke with Apple engineering about Thunderbolt. This is a system level I/O connection. If your Mac has it, ANY version of FCP – or any other Mac application – will take advantage of it.

Final Cut Pro X - Main Interface
[Image courtesy Apple Inc. Click for enlarged view.]


While the slide show was identical to the February meeting, the demo was not. Randy Ubillos, who did the demo, added more features and additional explanations on effects (see the screen shot above). However, I was told later that the build that was demoed was the same build that was shown in February – and that the application has moved significantly forward since that time.

In other words, what we saw tonight was nowhere near the final form of the application.

I was also very impressed that audio was not treated as an unwelcome step-child. First, the demo paid a lot of attention to setting and maintaining audio sync, however lots of little details were also obvious:

* Sample rate precision in scrolling an audio clip
* Pitch corrected audio scrolling in slow motion
* Displaying waveforms at a size big enough to see what they look like
* Displaying audio levels within the waveform that are approaching clipping (as one engineer near me remarked, “And THAT took us a LONG while to figure out.”)
* Displaying audio peaks for the entire mix that are approaching clipping
* Improved audio cleanup controls, which can be applied or ignored by the user (these look to be borrowed from Soundtrack Pro)
* Adding fades with a keystroke, or by pulling in the top corners of a clip, with four different fade shapes, rather than the limit of two inside FCP 7; these, too, borrow interface ideas from Soundtrack Pro.


In brief, the crowd was loving it. Granted, many of them got well-lubricated at the no-host bar before the event, but nonetheless, everyone seemed to have a good time.

The new interface drew applause, 64-bit support and background rendering had people drooling and the new price of $299 received a standing ovation.


I’ve been thinking hard about this since I first saw the software six weeks ago.

And, truthfully, I’m very torn. There are some features here that I really like a LOT. There are a few that I don’t like at all. But there is a great deal that has not yet been said.

And that, I think, is the key point. The devil is ALWAYS in the details.

Apple has done its usual magnificent job of previewing a new product. But this is only the preview.

I met Randy Ubillos, Chief Architect for Video Applications at Apple, after he presented the demo of the software. I told him that parts of what I saw I liked a lot and parts had me quite concerned. And I asked if Apple was interested in our feedback. He immediately said that Apple is VERY interested in our feedback, that they are listening and want to make this application something that all of us can be proud of using.

I believe him. And I also believe that it is way too early to make any final decisions about this version. There are too many unanswered questions. For example, here are some questions the answers to which are still unknown:

* The retail price for FCP is $299 – but what is the retail price of the other software parts of the Suite? Are we back to ala carte pricing?

* The application will be sold through the Mac App store. What happens to all the great data files that were available with the suite in earlier versions?

* How does FCP X work with existing FCP 7 projects?

* What other applications ship with Final Cut and how do they integrate?

* How many of our existing plug-ins, peripherals, hardware, and other gear need to be updated to work with the new software?

* Editing does not exist in a vacuum, how do we share files, clips, metadata, and project information with other software tools?

* How does it handle media?

* How has QuickTime changed to support what Final Cut Pro X can do?

* Real-time, native video processing is great for editing – however, we still need to encode to get files on the web. How?

As of tonight, Apple hasn’t provided answers to these, or many other questions. As they do, or as I’m able to find them out, I’ll share them with you in this blog and my newsletter.

As one engineer told me at the Cupertino meeting in February, Final Cut Pro is still a work in progress. We’ve seen the outline of the work – the rough cut, if you will. Now we need to give the engineers time to listen to our feedback, polish it up, and deliver the final cut of Final Cut.


I’ve made a promise to myself to provide training on the new version of Final Cut Pro as soon as possible after the release date.

If you are interested in getting up to speed quickly on the new version – please sign up for my free monthly Final Cut Studio newsletter. As I learn more, I’ll be sharing it with you there.

And as I make new training available, I’ll announce it there first.

For now, I’m going back to the drawing boards. I’ve got a lot of new work to do.


UPDATE – April 13, 2011

I just posted an eight minute audio review and commentary on the new version of Final Cut Pro X, with Michael Kammes. You can hear it here.

177 Responses to The Sound of 1,700 Jaws Dropping

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  1. Chris Blaine says:

    Ok wow just watched the video of the Sneak Peek that’s on Youtube and it explains a ton just seeing it in action rather than reading about it. I can see where Multiclip should fit in ok. And there are some fantastic things for marking up the timeline (could still do with some graphical elements to that though) and it all looks so much easier and efficient to work with, so thumbs up for all that.

    The question of filters remains (and they could do with more options for the copying across of filters too, it’s annoying to only have remove all or to have to go through each clip and each filter, one by one).

    Only worry that I have from watching the demo is the lack of tracks on the timeline. I can see why that can be lovely, but having the ability to keep different shots on different tracks (and therefore easily know which takes you are using, and be able to copy across filters quickly and simply) will be missed.

    And likewise with audio – it’s great to see the magnetic timeline working like that, but I’m sure I can’t be the only person to want to keep dialogue, foley, atmos, SFX and music on separate tracks in order for it to be simple and easy for others to understand, especially if I’m exporting an OMF…

  2. Sokobanja says:

    Great post man. Thanx

  3. Gilles says:

    Brilliant, Larry. As always.
    In real french however, you should write “à la carte” instead ala carte:-))

  4. Bryan says:

    I second all the questions and concerns other posters have asked.

    I’d like to know if Apple has rethought it’s approach to media management. Hopefully they’ve added project management tools, and project-centric media organization tools, and completely redesigned media management, providing more flexible and reliable options for pulling all media into organized folders within a central project folder (ie, graphics, stills, production audio, music, sfx, video, image sequences, etc), as opposed to the current workstation-centric approach, and the current Media Mangler, which dumps every single file in a sequence into one massively cluttered folder.

    On a related note, how does FCPX integrate with Final Cut Server?

    The total loss of a viewer window concerns me the most. Did Apple also reinvent the approach for multiclip editing, ganging, and match framing? If so, it would be nice to see them demonstrate how such crucial tasks are to be handled in FCPX.

    All the new features are great, but the devil is definitely in the details on this one. I will not be shocked if FCPX v1 is missing many of the professional features we rely upon, and we have to wait through at least a couple years worth of revisions before there is a new modern “Final Cut Studio X” suite of applications that fully replaces all the current functionality.

  5. Brandon Ford says:

    I along with many other people was very concerned that Apple was forgetting about the Pro Apps community, I was extremely excited when it became official that Apple was debuting a new FCP. I was and still am concerned about Apple “dumbing down” FCP and turning it into “pro” version of iMovie. I believe there should be a separation of professional and consumer products not some program that meets the both somewhere in the middle. ALOT of people including myself got started with FCP in the beginning and have spent tons of money learning the FCP and have equal or more amounts spent in 3rd party Plugins and stuff. I agree it is too early for a final judgement, however there are some serious questions that need to be asked here. The major one(s) are is all my 3rd party plugins going to work with FCPX i.e. (FX Factory Pro, Digital Juice, etc, etc, will it still work with Skake? People still use Shake 4.1 with FCP 7, I could go on and on but I think you get the point.)

    As far as the rest of the suite I am sure since FCP was rewritten the others will be too, I just hope they are or will be available, even if they are separate downloads in the App Store, I have questions about that as well… So many questions, so little information. I just hope in the end it is and will be worth the major changes going on. Good job on the article as usual Mr. Jordan, take care everyone.

  6. Drew Pickard says:

    One thing I can say – most likely ALL 3rd party plugins will have to be updated to run on FCP X as 32-bit plugins do not integrate with 64-bit applications.

    This was true with the current 64-bit version of AE and Photoshop but in general, the updated for plugins came within a few months.

    So those editors/workflows with heavy reliance on plugins might have to wait a bit or run concurrent different versions.

    Hopefully these software vendors have seen the writing on the wall and are prepared or aware that they’ll have to upgrade since Apple has been very clearly and steadily moving towards 64-bit everything.

  7. David Ransley says:

    Now that FCP-X has been shown to the world there is one feature that I would like them to fix and that is the Autosave function (not the Autosave Vault, it’s OK) I’ve been a non-linear owner/editor since 1993. Back then there was one feature that both D-Vision & LightWorks had that was just wonderful! Each edit was saved when created. If the power went out or if the system crashed none of my edits would be lost. None! Nor would I have to worry about saving my project every few minutes as I do now. Neither was there the intrusion of the Autosave function every few minutes. When my system crashes I become very frustrated. I know that I will loose the last 5 to 10 minutes of my work. (30 minutes if left in the default setting.) So I’m asking you to please share this with your readers. If they are as frustrated with this problem as I am, I encourage them to write to Apple using the “Provide Final Cut Pro Feedback” under the “Final Cut Pro” menu. My hope is that this problem can be buried forever.

  8. bobdmac says:

    It’s refreshing to see actual reporting and to see someone asking questions on our behalf.

  9. Newsman says:

    John b, no one doubts the brilliance, genius and ability of Randy Ubillos. The guy is tops in his field. He’s an editing Xs & Os God.

    In fact, only somebody with his experience and clout could have so badly messed up iMovie, especially the excellent audio editing functions that used to exist in the now-defunct iMovie HD Timeline. My first editing experience with Apple was with iMovie. So I know what I’m talking about. That’s why I flippantly used the word “guy.” That guy badly messed me up with iMovie.

    Some audio functions have been improved in the latest iMovie, perhaps an acknowledgment that they made mistakes.

    I’ve grown to love most Apple products. I want that to continue. But let’s hope that strategic business decisions do not negatively affect a great product like FCP.

    In fact, if FCP has such an extraordinary rate of satisfaction, why would Apple want to upset people?

    FCP and my Mac Pro and MacBook Pro kick ass. For example, I’ve produced and edited dozens of multicam projects. I’ve used as many as nine cameras. (Yes, I know, I should get a switcher.) Many of those projects have been longer than one hour. I often have two and three sequences going at the same time. The contraption has never crashed and has never given me a problem. I think that’s amazing.

    I think that most folks here would agree that we need complete manual control over every video and audio clip in our Timeline.

    So now that I’ve said more than my two cents, I’ll shut up and hope that Apple will listen to and respect their customers.

    Thanks to Larry for letting us state our opinions.

  10. Michael Long says:

    If Newsman and some of the others would use the links others have provided and watch the videos, you’d find many of your questions concerning in/out points (Precision Editor) or waveform editing answered.

    It looks to me like Apple has done a fantastic job of upgrading a system and an interface that hasn’t changed much since Avid introduced the original timeline-based system in 1987.

    That’s 24 years ago folks. Things have changed.

    Reading between the lines, it seems to me that what a few people are REALLY worried about is how Apple has made many of the things they do much, much easier… rendering their previous training and hard won knowledge somewhat superfluous.

    Again, watch the videos. But this time pay attention to the reactions of the professionals in the audience, who weren’t too shy in demonstrating just how THEY felt about the changes.

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