Just over two weeks ago, on July 23, Apple released a new version of its video production suite, Final Cut Studio. Now at version 3 (although Apple has decided to drop version numbers from the overall suite in an effort to just jack with people), Final Cut Studio brings significant upgrades to all of its member programs, assuming you’re upgrading to DVD Studio Pro from an old Hi-8 deck.
The release also brings with it a welcome reduction in upgrade pricing. I never bothered jumping from FCS 1 to FCS 2 because that upgrade initially cost $599. The price was eventually lowered to $499, but that was still a bit too juicy for my tastes. The new price to upgrade from any version of FCS or Final Cut Pro, excluding Academic and Not-For-Resale versions, is $299. So if you’re still huffing along on FCP 1.0, your time to upgrade has finally arrived. (Incidentally, the as-new price for the suite has also dropped 300 bones from $1299 to $999.)
I was diligent enough to not order my upgrade immediately, but instead waited a scant five hours for Dealmac.com to alert me to a vendor who was already discounting the upgrade to $250. Shipping would be delayed a bit versus ordering from Apple, but whatever. I’d waited four years for this version; another week wouldn’t kill me. When my shiny white box finally arrived last week, I promptly installed FCS 3 and then proceeded to not run a single program. Mainly because I was at work when I installed it and didn’t have my RAID.
Still, lack of actual experience as never seemed to be a hindrance to most critics, so let’s dive into some of the improvements and features that I may or may not be enjoying in the near future or afterlife.
Final Cut Pro 7
One of the biggest, or at least highly touted, enhancements to Final Cut Pro 7 is the addition of three new variants of its ProRes codec: ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 (LT) and ProRes 422 (Proxy). ProRes 4444 is aimed at high-end editing where ultimate resolution and color fidelity are desired, but bandwidth- and storage-hogging files sizes aren’t. Like its name suggests, ProRes 4444 supports 4:4:4 color sampling in either the Y’CbCr or RGB color spaces. The fourth "4" represents a full-bit alpha channel. All channels are 10 bits. Bandwidth is 330 Mbps without the alpha channel, compared to 2,237 Mbps for uncompressed, 12-bit 4:4:4. Sounds awesome. And as soon as I get one of my "friends" to lend me one of their Red cameras, I’ll give it a shot.
ProRes 422 (LT) is similar to regular-grade ProRes 422, except that it throttles down the bandwidth requirements a bit to stay within the 100 Mbps that many legacy systems in newsrooms and other broadcast areas are limited to. So go nuts, WFAA, and broadcast that story on ponies escaping a hailstorm in all its 4:2:2 HD glory.
ProRes 422 (Proxy) is aimed at offline editing, giving much lower-quality images for cutting before going full-res for final output. While offline editing tends to reek of 1996 to me, I fear I might actually end up using this if I don’t upgrade my machine soon. Building that Hackintosh is looking better all the time.
Apple also introduced iChat Theater to facilitate remote collaboration and asset sharing. Sounds awesome, assuming both parties are directly connect with a fiber trunk.
One very nice addition to Final Cut Pro 7 that I think many of us will enjoy is the native support for AVCHD footage, which is now all the rage in consumer and prosumer-level camcorders. Like the Canon HFS100 that I keep eyeing. Before FCP7, you had to transcode the footage to another format for editing. Which was rather time consuming, as AVCHD is a rather complex codec. I mean, I can transcode HDV in my head and only drop one frame and hour, but AVCHD is just a bastard.
FCP also added more robust for high-end digital workflows with cameras like the Red One and others that Apple won’t name on their site. But I’m assuming cams like the Viper, Phantom and Genesis will work just as well. Again, my old-and-now-departed DVX100a wouldn’t qualify, nor does my current HV20 (which will be up for sale shortly, make an offer).
Doesn’t matter what Apple has done to Motion. I’ve yet to have the time to learn it, so it’s all new to me. As such, I must say it’s pretty dang sweet. Or I will say that once I actually run the thing. Considering I also own the latest version of After Effects, my ability to waste powerful motion-graphics programs is growing exponentially. Okay, that’s a lie. It’s only growing integerally. Which isn’t even a word, so that’s pretty impressive.
Soundtrack Pro 3
I’ve managed to learn just enough about Soundtrack Pro to make it useful to my meager needs. Namely, I use its "noise print" feature to stamp out ambient noise, especially HVAC hum. My lack of location recording equipment and skill sadly makes the phrase "fix it in post" all too true for my audio tracks. To help rubes like me out a bit, Soundtrack Pro 3 adds a feature called "voice level matching" that, umm, matches voice levels. May not sound all that exciting, but when you’ve got one mic and a loud talker, matching levels in a conversation can be tricky. Now it’ll be a snap. Or inherently more frustrating.
Color remains an incredible tool for color matching and grading. Version 1.5 brings support for resolutions up to 4K and compatibility with all the new ProRes codecs. Peter Jackson is still wringing the tears from his beard. On the flip side, the program is still a bear to learn, requires a lot of horsepower under your Mac’s heat sink and a video wall of 24 HD monitors. Or a MacBook Air. I forget.
Since there isn’t much of a market for uncompressed 1080p 4:4:4 12-bit footage at the present time, Compressor serves as your link from FCP (or other sources) to the rest of the world, whether that’s broadcast, the intertubuals or DVD (and even Blu-ray although Apple’s support for such content is still pathetic). This latest version brings some welcome additions to make what can be a confusing process—getting the best video/audio quality at the desired file size/bit rate—easier than catching Nancy Pelosi in a factual misappropriation of truthisms.
Compressor now includes what it calls Job Actions—pre-defined scripts for doing common after-the-fact tasks on jobs. Like posting files to YouTube or DogWhoLookLikeColonelSanders.com. You can even batch Job Actions together and run multiple actions on one file at one time. Witchcraft may be involved.
One feature that I think will a real boon to both pros and the forgetful alike is Compressor’s new ability to copy settings from an existing file. For example, say you managed to compress a video for the web with just the perfect compromise between quality and file size. But in your excitement, you forgot either to write down your settings or to create a preset for them. Well, jackass, just drag that original file to Compressor’s Settings pane and it’ll import the appropriate data nuggets and keep ’em crunchy to boot. While you can get some of these settings by opening a file in QT Pro and viewing the Info pane, Compressor’s method is both more convenient and, I think, more complete.
Compressor is also the only way to burn a Blu-ray disc in the entire flippin’ FCS suite. Not sweet. You can burn compressed content directly to a Blu-ray disc (assuming you have the requisite non-Apple burner) or to a DVD (many BD players will read BD content from standard DVDs). No snazzy menus for you! Come back one year! Or three.
DVD Studio 4
No changes. Fail. Seriously, Apple, put the iTablets down for ten minutes and put in Blu-ray support. And while you’re at it, fix me a turkey pot pie.
So there you have it. If you’ve read this far, I apologize. I’m not a professional reviewer, and I’m only a semi-pro user. But I do know that as FCS continues to advance and add features that I will never even notice, the entire suite becomes easier to use at even the most basic levels. I originally bought FCS because Final Cut Express didn’t support my 24p camera. Given the choice today, well, I’d probably still buy FCS. One day, by gum, I shall film my spawn in 4K, 3D glory. And Final Cut Studio 6 will be ready for my hacking and slashing.