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. Craig says:

    I don’t know if everybody was loving FCPX initially. I was there and you could hear a gasp throughout the room when Apple revealed the UI for the first time. To his credit, the presenter immediately seized the energy and explained the rationale for each change, region by region. This brought folks on board, and admittedly there are some extremely cool things about this application so the Uber-iMovie comparisons (I heard a few Premier Pro comparisons too) began to fade in the moment.

    After the event, as folks began to talk, the iMovie subject resurfaced. I think folks are cautiously optimistic, but may bolt if they don’t like the change. A lot of pros use FCP and Avid, so it’s not like they don’t have a ready option sitting their on their hard drives. Personally, I’m pulling for Apple and liked a lot about FCPX.

  2. Mr. Worried says:

    My background is in narrative TV and film. Like many, I’m very excited and very worried about the new final cut.

    In general:
    -I’m excited that apple has decided to rethink what the non-linear editing experience can be. I couldn’t even conceive of what revolutions were possible in the timeline alone until I saw the videos of the presentation.
    -I’m worried that with this version Apple has chosen a market segment — the do-everything-in-one-box user base. Will there still be OMFs, XMLs, timecode displays, etc? Will we be able to edit multicam, collaborate with editors on another computer, and NOT keep audio in synch if we prefer to use it out of context or swap lines? In other words, will the prestigious FCP users, such as the Coens and the editors of the Social Network, still be using it in a year, or is this goodbye?

    Specific excitement:
    -Magnetic timeline (excited x 1000)
    -Visual browsing
    -All the new clip-organizing stuff
    -The new visual in-timeline trimming
    -The audio stuff
    -The new keyframing
    -Compound clips

    Specific worries:
    -No viewer (worried x 1000)
    -No mentions in the presentation of these essential features: match framing; OMF or XML export; multicam; assistant editor stuff like modifying timecode etc..
    -The overemphasis on “audio staying in synch” — there are lots of reasons to not want audio always in synch. Also, if a clip has say 4 mic channels associated with it, can you selectively turn on and off some of those channels without bending over backwards? Because it looks like it’s all totally married in the timeline.

    Basically, I’m just dying to know if Apple intends for this update to maintain FCP’s current place in the industry — if editors like me will be able to keep using Final Cut in film and TV — or if Avid will finally reassert their dominance in that market, while Final Cut becomes exclusively the tool of film students, wedding and corporate video makers, and others who don’t need to interact with assistant editors, sound houses, colorists, and machine rooms and are content to click “color match” and export.

    The answer to this final question is not evident from anything we’ve seen so far.

  3. Javier says:

    if apple knows what to do is make a better user experience. I think this FCPX will be a leader standard to follow by competitors, in terms of software environment. My major doubt is how the work with effects and plugins will be implemented. Seems that not only user interface is changed but the processes across the entire workflow, so the users will need to learn again a new way of working (surely to a better one, I think).

  4. Jason says:

    So many people are worried about what seems like a missing viewer, but if the interface pics and demo video are studied closely, then it becomes more apparent that all the functions of the old viewer and timeline view are integrated together contextually! If you scrub on a clip in the browser the viewer displays its video. If you then scrub along the timeline, what ever is under your cursor displays in the viewer. But if you hit play then whatever is under the playhead will be displayed in the viewer. If you select a clip and add one of the 117 video effects or looks to the clip, then a control panel will slide out from the side and the viewer will display the current clip plus the effect being applied!

    There is no loss of functionality, its all contextually displayed in one viewer, thus saving a huge amount of screen real-estate!

    The timecode also changes contextually depending on which source is selected at the time. In the demo, it was shown, you can just type new timecode values into the timecode display, just like you can in garage band! No more entry fields, just type it contextually! Simple!!!

    The demo guy also said you can drive everything in the UI with the keyboard, this means you can still set in and out points in the timeline, or in the media listed in the browser or whatever is selected in the timeline. So again this operation is contextual. In and out points are used in Garage Band, Logic, Motion and most likely iMove (haven’t used it) they are not about to disappear in this new version of Final Cut Pro.

    To view large versions of the audio, you can just zoom in on the timeline using the plus and minus keys since the waveforms are completely detailed there along with fade handles and keyframes. No need to see it in a separate viewer.

    Again all video and audio effects are displayed in inspector like control panels that slide out from the side of the screen next to the viewer. It works more like Motion in this regard. But the effects are still stackable, copy and paste-able just like always! Watch the demo with the color corrector as an example!

    As far as Multi-clips go. Camera angles could easily be selected in the timeline, contextually like in the current version of FCP, with some new visual gismo heretofore not demonstrated, or by selecting them using the new audition popup! There are so many ways this could be done, with the new UI, there is no need to fret that it ain’t there!

    As far as insertion behavior, look at the icons just left of the blue arrow along the top of the time line. These icons appear to control how video from the browser is dropped into the timeline or viewer. Also notice there is a little arrow to the right of these icons, meaning there are more controls in a drop down menu.

    For those worried about not having a tool bar, notice the blue arrow icon along the top of the timeline. it also has a drop down menu that may contain the rest of the sacred tool bar icons that no one can live without. This too seems to be borrowed from Motion.

    I believe with thoughtful observation using the several resources given, we can arrive at more constructive ideas how this new interface might operate and cool some of the hot heads that have been posting their worried comments on this site!!


    Jason W.

  5. John J says:

    As a working Editor, I’m worried about the idea of losing a viewer and selectable video and audio tracks on the timeline. It takes time to learn how to use in and out points and target tracks, but once you do, you realize how much faster and more precise this method is. Sure, people who aren’t serious about editing, might find this confusing and prefer drag and drop, but anybody who has worked with a Director/Producer sitting behind them calling out shots knows that drag and drop just doesn’t work. Of course, I’m basing all this on a still picture taken of a screen at a conference, so it’s not time to panic yet. But seriously where the Fu– is the viewer and track numbers? I’m starting to go through all those unopened e-mails that Avid has been sending me-just in case…

  6. Larry, As always it was great seeing you at NAB and thanks for putting this in perspective. Hopefully it will allow folks time to digest and understand it’s not the final product.

  7. Michael Liebergot says:

    Jason, very good detective work and actually taking the time to study the interface. I think most of what you said will be spot on.

    As I mentioned before FCP, I worked in Sony Vegas, and the interface and workflow, at least form the pics and video, seem to resemble Vegas. In Vegas all of the powerful features are available to you (color correction, scopes, multi cam, tools, effects etc.), but they are neatly slotted away over the timeline.

    Editing is primarily done, and quickly and precisely so, on the timeline itself. If one wishes to use a trimmer, one is available, as you can simply click on a clip in the browser and the window that is also the viewer for the timeline changes to a trimmer. Set your in/out points and drag or import to the timeline.

    When you are editing on the timeline, the viewer reflects that.

    So just becuase you don’t see the old familiar things doesn’t mean they’re not there.

  8. Color wheel selectivity for Timeline clips beyond the few available & why– Bill Rabinovitch

    In past forums for years I’ve mentioned desiring the ability to associate viewer selectable individual color for clips in the Timeline — beyond the very few & therefore useless available now. As Projects & Timelines become ever more complex this visual associating, arranging & grouping chosen from a color wheel – especially regarding alternative takes will pay dividends for the artistically inclined a thousand times over in creating better films & far more rapidly than ever before as being visually organized by color priority – besides looking very, very cool.
    Please pass to Apple.

    Bill Rabinovitch

  9. Jason says:


    Their has been concern expressed about plug-ins becoming obsolete in this new version of FCPX, but lets look at a few facts before getting too worried:

    1. Final Cut Pro, Motion and Final Cut Express all use the same modern plug-in architect called FXPlug! It was invented for the more sophisticated needs of Motion and then later adopted by FCP version 5.1.2, to largely replace its antiquated plug-in SDK.

    2. with every new release of Final Cut Studio the FXPlug SDK has been incrementally updated and enhanced without causing major heart ache for Final Cut Pro users or Plug-in developers.

    3. With the 64 bit FCPX, It doesn’t seem likely that Apple would abandon the FXPlug architecture for something new. Its far more plausible that they will simply update FXPlug once again with any required enhancements that FCPX or Motion would require, with little fanfare or major reinvestments required on the user’s part.

    4. Even though the host application runs with 64bit processing, this may or may not require 64bit only plug-ins installed. I can certainly imagine a hybrid situation where FCPX could still hand processing assignments to 32bit plugins for compatibility sake.

    5. Other reason’s why FXPlug might have to be updated, is to handle 4K, resolution independence, new colorspaces, and multi-core processing!

    I believe Apple strives to push their software tech forward with a good deal of strategy! As an apple developer, I’m aquatinted with many of their core technologies and as I see it, FXPlug is relatively young and still has a long life ahead of it, in the upcoming FCPX and future versions of Motion.

    -Jason W.

  10. Per Chr says:

    Thank you for the review,

    I use a lot of editing and effects software, and over the time you learn that there is a line between simplicity and flexibility. To that seems to be the hardest challenge for a software GUI developer. As an Avid editor I wish for some of these functions presented, but changing a user-interface that much can quite a challenge for an editor. If the everything is a easy to use as it looks like I guess its ok, but the we need to be prepared for more editors with a different background stealing you customers by edit for less. But, then again, we have seen that before when final cut entered the marked, an a lot of us are still around.


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