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Final Cut Pro Goes HD!

April, 2004

Final Cut Pro Goes HD!

by Larry Jordan


Apple this morning (April 18) announced at NAB five new software products for professional editors: Final Cut HD, DVD Studio Pro 3, Shake 3.5, Motion, and Xsan.

I attended the event to learn more, Then, I spoke with Paul Saccone, FCP Product Manager, and several Apple engineers to get the inside scoop about the new version of Final Cut.

Click a product name below to read Apple's press release on each of these packages:

Final Cut Pro HD

"This is the fastest and most stable version of Final Cut that we've ever created," Paul Saccone said when we spoke. "All but three filters are now real-time, it fully supports multiple stream HD video and it's fully integrated with LiveType and Motion."

Let's see whether what Apple announced lives up to Paul's enthusiasm.

Apple announced Final Cut Pro HD (version 4.5). This is a FREE upgrade for all Final Cut Pro 4 users ($399 for all FCP 1, 2, or 3 users) and focuses on delivering high-quality, real-time HD editing.

Apple's press release states: "Final Cut Pro HD provides playback of up to four streams of native DVCPRO HD video [in high-quality] or, when adding an Xserve RAID, up to 10 stream in preview quality. Final Cut Pro HD's support of native DVCPRO HD makes media conversion unnecessary, preserving the full quality of the camera original. Final Cut Pro HD's frame-accurate, native DVCPRO HD editing environment gives broadcasters, producers and post-production professionals the ability to capture, edit and output broadcast-quality HD video, and the freedom to cut HD video anywhere, even on a PowerBook."

Ron Schoenben, vice president of Applications Marketing for Apple, rolled out the specs: there are over 250,000 users of Final Cut around the world, the shows "Scrubs" and "nip/tuck" use it, as did the films "Cold Mountain" and "Lady Killers."

Vendor Support

Vendors continue to support the platform. Pinnacle Systems announced a new version of CineWave, and AJA announced a new version of the Kona card -- though neither spoke at the presentation.

Thomson/Grass Valley announced the integration of FCP into the Grass Valley Digital News Production family, a "no-compromise editing system."

BBC Technology announced they were integrating FCP into Colledia, it's production workflow system to "help broadcasters meet their goal of the tapeless production environment."

Schoenben said that while his goal is to take FCP "deeper into the broadcast environment," there is an even greater need: to improve support for HD within Final Cut. He then re-introduced Apple's relationship with Panasonic, and introduced the new, Panasonic AJ-HD1200A.

Stuart English, vice president North American Operations, introduced this new deck from Panasonic that supports MiniDV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO-50, and DVCPRO HD. Weighing less than 20 pounds, it's fully portable with both AC and battery support.

Price: an amazing $25,000 and shipping today. (The crowd got very excited.) Best of all, it supports HD video over FireWire 400.

Interview with Paul Saccone

Paul Saccone presented a demo of Final Cut Pro HD. It handled four streams of high-quality 720p HD video as easily as if it were DV footage. He then switched from RT Safe Mode to RT Unlimited and played 10 streams of 720p HD footage. Very smooth. Very impressive.

Talking with Paul after the event, I said that the HD features were incredible, but what were the benefits of upgrading for users that weren't shooting HD?

"We have significantly beefed up RT Extreme," Paul replied. "It's the fastest and most stable version of Final Cut we've ever created. All but three of the filters run in real-time, subject to video format, frame rate and the speed of your system." This means that if you have a G-4, you will see a definite performance improvement, but you won't be able to play the same number of effects in real-time that a G-5 can.

"Also, we've improved the integration between Final Cut and LiveType. You can now drop a LiveType project file on the Final Cut Timeline and Final Cut will display it properly. No more rendering movies in LiveType before importing them into Final Cut."

I asked Paul what his favorite three features were in the new version that he didn't present on stage.

"The Digital Cinema Desktop, which, uh, we DID present on stage, is my favorite. This allows you to use your computer monitor to see a full-screen preview of your movie. It works best with progressive video, and it displays in any format. It doesn't do color-space conversions, so you can't use this for final color correction, but it does allow you to use the J-K-L keys to move around the video.

"We've built in an automatic conform from PAL to 24 frame video.

"The HD codec is done entirely in software, so whether you are capturing using a FireWire cable or a PCI card [such as the Cinewave or AJA IO] you can get extremely high-quality with tons of real-time effects."


I asked Paul about Xsan. Xsan is Apple's Storage Area Network File System that allows up to 64 users to share the same hard disk, via Fibre Channel. Priced at $999 per user and available in the fall, Apple says it is "extremely fast." Best of all, from my point of view, it supports file-locking, which means that you no longer need to partition a hard disk in order to give multiple editors access. File-locking, instead of volume-locking, makes much more efficient use of hard disk space.

Apple's press release: "For the first time on Mac OS X, up to 64 video professionals can simultaneously access a single storage volume that supports multiple high-bandwidth video streams for efficient workflow in video and film editing, audio editing and effects and motion graphics creation."

"Well, I'm not the product manager, but I have played with it. It shows up just like a hard disk on your desktop. It's awesome. It just works," Saccone said.

The Inside Scoop

I then went in search of some Apple engineers to get the inside scoop on other features in Final Cut Pro HD. While this list is not exhaustive, here's what I learned are the unheralded features in FCP:

  • They spent a LOT of time supporting the different frame rates and frame sizes for HD.
  • There were only minor tweaks to the interface. FCP 4 users won't notice much difference.
  • This is version 4.5, not 5.0
  • The technical name for the DVCPRO HD codec is DVCPRO 100.
  • A new View menu was added to improve handling of external video
  • There is now a checkbox in Media Manager to make clips independent (YAY! This vastly simplifies the whole process of converting a project from off-line to on-line)
  • It is possible to capture video directly to the DV-100 codec (the HD codec). This means that if you have a Cinewave or Kona card, you can use them to capture the video into the HD codec and get all the benefits of faster real-time performance with "pristine image quality" without sacrificing the investment you've made in your capture card.
  • CineWave uses the hardware on its card to process video. It may now be faster to use CineWave simply for capture and output, and let FCP handle all the image processing.
  • Copy/paste has changed, again. If you copy a clip that's on, say, V2, when you paste it, it will remain on V2. If, on the other hand, you want to copy a clip from one track and paste it to another, use the Auto-Select buttons on the Timeline to tell FCP where to put the clip.
  • Rotation effects are now real-time
  • All but three filters display in real-time
  • They've improved audio trimming in the Trim Edit window
  • Auto-Save works better, more reliably
  • "Round-tripping" files between LiveType and Motion and Final Cut is now possible. You don't need to render a file before bringing it into Final Cut.

All-in-all, the changes seem fully worth a .5 upgrade. Especially a free one!

HOWEVER, as we have seen in the past, all the best plans of the best programmers can sometimes go awry. So, while the upgrade is immediately available, wait until you are done with your current projects before upgrading.

The Other Software

I don't mean to minimize the impact of the other software releases. Here's a quick summary:

Shake 3.5
Shake now supports warping and morphing, and 10 & 16 bit QuickTime codecs, It's been optimized for dual processors, improved DPX file support, and QMaster now supports rendering Maya files.

This was the briefest presentation of the morning and they didn't do a demo.

Pricing: $2,999 for Mac OS X, $4,999 for Linux and Unix. Available now.

DVD Studio Pro 3
The main emphasis seemed to me to be on transitions, HD transcoding and the graphical view.

DVD SP 3 now supports transitions between slides, between menus, and between menus and tracks. It is no longer necessary to use FCP to create slide shows that move. DVD SP does it just fine. There are lots and lots and lots of transitions to choose from.

The Graphical View puts a new spin on the older (DVD SP 1.5) Matrix view, where you are able to see relationships visually between menus and elements. The demo they shows had a DVD with eight elements. While very useful for smaller projects, it remains to be seen if the view is helpful for larger projects -- which was the big limitations to the earlier Matrix.

Apple continues to improve Compressor to handle DV, SD and HD streams. No demos were provided, but Apple said they had improved the interface between FCP and Compressor. The new version of Compressor is 1.2.

Pricing: $499 ($199 upgrade). Available in May.

Without question, the highlight of the presentation was Motion -- Apple's Real-time Motion Graphics design tool.

This was the highlight of the presentation and drew the most applause.

Think of Motion as a combination of After Effects and Final Cut, but without the keyframes. Full HD support. An interface modeled directly after DVD Studio Pro. And an unbelievable ability to make things move.

While not a 3D application, its greatest strengths are that the interface is intuitive, previews are glossy smooth and there are a wide-variety of pre-built effects, called "Behaviors," that you can apply to your elements. Similar to, but deeper than, those available in LiveType.

I don't have the space to go into all the details. Suffice it to say the audience was blown away.

Pricing: $299. Available this summer.


Apple continues it's theme of placing Final Cut at the core of professional editing, around which revolve a stunning array of amazingly powerful, yet easy-to-use software.

The greater support for HD in Final Cut shows that Apple is continuing its efforts to put Mac users at the cutting edge of the latest technology, while the subtle operational improvements shows that Apple is continuing to listen to its users.

I'm looking forward to getting the upgrade to see if this is all really true.

Larry Jordan is an Apple-Certified Trainer in Digital Media with over 25 years experience as a producer, director and editor. Based in Los Angeles, he's a member of both the Directors Guild and Producers Guild.

Larry publishes a free monthly FCP newsletter. He invites you to subscribe at:

copyright © Larry Jordan 2004

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