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).
TAKING A STEP BACK
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.
THIS IS A PRO APP APPLE DESIGNED FOR PROS
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.
LOOKING AT THE NUTS AND BOLTS
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.
THINGS I WAS STRUCK BY
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.
THE CROWD’S REACTIONS
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.
ONE LAST THOUGHT
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.