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. Alex Roberts says:

    Cheers Larry & Cheers Jason,

    Interesting insight. Whenever a new version of Final Cut is released I always have this pang of fear that i’ll be completely lost on it but soon I forget the old version and only notices the new benefits.

    Really looking forward to Larry’s new tutorials on this when they hit Lynda.

    Thanks again


  2. Color wheel selectivity for clips on Timeline beyond the few available. FURTHER Explanation & followup on a radical new way of envisioning this.

    It’s the labels I want this ability with — & actually to take this further in a whole new way never done before within FCP X. Possibly some sort of alternative interactive overlay that can be Toggled on & off where things can be organized by color — that will shift things around & on a layered clip level show them in a whole new light — by color & color gradation. This will be primarily a visual tool for artist editors who think in terms of color. Am sure some Apple guy can run far with this.

    Bill Rabinovitch

  3. Andrew C. says:

    wow, this is amazing
    i currently work with FCE (not FCP) and am eager to know if there will be an express version, which i find to be a bit un-apple-like and hard to use
    looking forward to the release!
    Andrew C.

  4. Deano says:

    I would have to say having watched the presentation that there was a lot of talk about “how to edit” which is unusual pitch for seasoned professional editors.

    A lot of automation was shown and again I would suggest that somebody editing for a living would like to control those changes themselves. There was also a lot of mouse based editing and no talk of keyboard editing and the all important probably most complained about Media Management for large projects.

    No timeline could be a headache in the making and that interface I could imagine strain the eyes after long sessions editing.

    Little of what I saw was new 64bit, (Adobe CS5), Background rendering (Pinnacle/Avid Liquid), Handles on audio (Sony Vegas).

    The Apple business structure means they can sell this for a relatively low price and make the money on hardware which is where they have the largest profit margins, couple that with the potential cost of the FCS applications and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cost more than the current FCS overall.

  5. Michael Liebergot says:

    BTW, since there are lots of general questions about what is or isn’t in the new FCPX, one of which was the inclusion of multicam.

    If one looks at the pics of the interface:

    You’ll notice a button 3rd from the right above the timeline, which has a movie symbol with the number 2 on it. I bet you that this is the button for multicam.

    I really find it hard to believe that Apple would take much if anything out of the new FCPX. However with that being said one of the things that I do see going away are tools for tape ingest ie. “Log and Capture.”
    This is because Apple really seems to have been pushing the masses to move away from tape and focusing on digital content and deliver.

    So tape is obsolete to them.

    Just a guess but this seems to have been Apple stance for the last couple of years.

  6. Kevin Davis says:

    Contrary to popular belief tape is not obsolete. It really irritates me when a small minority of folks throw words about without fully appreciating the meaning of what they say.

    I work as a freelance FCP compliance editor via agency bookings. I’ve worked on a vast number of commercial projects for TX. I can categorically say with 100 percent certainty that tape is NOT dead. The fast number (over 90%) of media acquisitions come as HDCAM SR tapes, some of which are ingested via fcp offline suites. To suggest FCP X will cease to support such functionality is an absolute nonsense.

    The future is certainly bright but not orange – its Apple.

  7. First off, thank you Larry for a great post. I find it amazing the other posts and comments that can be found at other sites and sources. If I see the term “fanboy” used one more time, I think I’m going to scream! I’m inspired by what is happening with FCP X and can’t wait to start learning it and using it and more importantly, making money with it. It surprises me that so many so called creative editors seem so uninspired!

    Something I noticed today, CrumplePop announced a new plugin called Lumineux. On the web page for this plugin, it says “for Final Cut Pro 6+7+X”. Do they know something new or are they just banking that FX Plug will be supported? Could be great news!

  8. On closer inspection of the CrumplePop Lumineux product shows that it is not actually a plugin, but a collection of video clips.

  9. Mike Janowski says:

    the ultra-exciting black-on-black “growl” interface, even tinier buttons, more crap per surface area of screen…don’t they realize their market is, ahem, “maturing”, and would like something a bit more, uh, readable?

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