Videoguys NAB2011 Report, Part I: Apple's Final Cut Pro X Sneak Peak – More Than Meets the Eye

One of the big stories leading up to NAB2011 was the rumor that Apple had taken over the FCPUG SuperMeet and that they would be showing a sneak peak of the new Final Cut Pro X. Apple didn’t just take over the SuperMeet, they took over NAB. You could not go to a booth or have a meeting without people talking about FCP X. There was a lot of speculation over what would be announced and what exciting news Apple had up their sleeve.

Videoguys is a long-time supporter of the FCPUG and a sponsor so of the SuperMeet so I was there along with 1,699 other FCP users and let me tell you – I was blown away by the Apple presentation! No more boxed versions, no more dealers to buy it from. Buy a Mac, download the app, edit away. But, the biggest news came at the end ? FCPX will be a $299 download from the app store – coming in June!

Apple did not talk about any of the other applications in Final Cut Studio, but I have no doubt they’ll be coming down the road to the app store (more on that later).

Professional or Prosumer?

This is the BIG question. Is FCPX enough for editing professionals, or is it a really cool prosumer NLE? We won't have that answer until it ships. I think that most Pros will buy it and try it, but they will not switch over to FCPX for a while. They'll stick with FCP7 or they will migrate to Avid or Adobe. Or perhaps Grass Valley Edius or Sony Vegas.

I am not a professional editor. I’m a prosumer editor. I make vacation, sports and event videos of my family and friends using professional tools. My biggest projects are the video montages I made for my children's Bar Mitzvahs. My editing ability is limited, but I have a lot of fun doing it, and I have a pretty good understanding of the technology and what goes into making it work. I’ve also gotten to use just about every version of editing software that has shipped over the last decade. I like the new Final Cut Pro X interface and I like the new tools. I think they will make editing easier and more efficient for me.

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While the overall interface is right out of iMovie, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I don’t really care if it is ‘iMovie on Steroids” if it makes my life easier. I think it will. FCPX allows you to skim through your source video and rather then mark in and out points, you simply highlight and grab the section of the clip you want and drag it into the bigger timeline. I would use this to create my rough edit first, then dig down once the clips are on the timeline to make everything exactly the way I want it. This way of editing is fine for me, but I can see the Pro editors bristle at the thought of it. I hope that there is more buried here then Apple was willing to reveal in the sneak peak.

We can’t really judge how professional FCPX is until Apple makes it available to Pros who will actually use and evaluate the new software. Until then, we should all take a wait and see attitude before we bash it. I think many editors' first impression is that it’s not professional enough for them. But even then, I have a feeling that the things many Pros may initially complain about may become things they can’t live without once they dig in deeper and really unlock the potential. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Apple can maintain their market share in the top part of the market with FCPX.

While FCPX may not have every feature the Pros are looking for, it appears to me that Apple isn’t just launching a new video editing app, they are trying to change the way we edit video. This isn’t really FCP version 10; it is a FCPX 1.0, the first version of the future of video editing. As with all 1.0 versions of software, you’re going to hit some bumps in the road and you’re not going to please everybody.

Optimized for today’s 64 bit hardware, but perhaps not the hardware you own...

No surprise here at all. FCPX is a 64 bit native application. It is also resolution independent. Edit anything from DV thru HD all the way up to 4K. It will take advantage of multiple cores and use Grand Central Dispatch to optimize CPU and GPU core usage. In addition it will handle a ton of RAM. which you will need plenty of, based on all the new features. I don't expect this software to run well on anything less then 4-cores with 8+ GB of RAM. I would not be surprised to see Apple lock out older, less powerful machines from even being able to download the app. While many will see this as Apples way of forcing users to buy new hardware (it is), the reality is also that these features require horsepower. I’m sure someone will hack a way to run this software on inadequate hardware, but it will prove to be frustrating and not worth the effort.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something Blue

The first thought that came to my mind as I started watching the presentation and demo was Yogi Berra’s famous quote – "It’s Déjà Vu all over again." So much of what I saw was actually just Apple taking existing technology and making it their own. As I watched the demo, I chuckled to myself – this is Fast iVegas.

Background Rendering – Fast had it a decade ago in a product called Blue, then Liquid and now it is in Pinnacle Studio and has been for years. So as I talk about the new features Apple showed us, you’re also going to see some of my own thoughts about them, which range from WOW! to Ho Hum, and Why not?

content auto detection.jpgThe “Content Auto Detection” analyzes your footage during injest, creating non-destructive corrections automatically. This is very cool, as long as it doesn’t add too much time to my imports. While automatic color correction and audio cleanup is something that I will love and use, they aren’t new. They’ve just never been integrated into an NLE before.

People and Shot Detection is promising, but from my perspective not really living up to the potential. Every time I upload a photo to Facebook it tells me who it thinks is in the picture. Facebook is pretty accurate, so why can’t FCPX not just give me that number of people in the scene, but tell me who they are out of my ‘cast list’ of photos.

The new FCPX “Compound Clip” feature isn’t new at all. Avid has had nesting going back to my first review of Avid Xpress DV over a decade ago. But I will say that the Apple implementation is more elegant, and from what I could tell, potentially more powerful.keywords.jpg

Range-based Keywording” is a new way to organize and find your video clips using tags and keywords. You can add as many tags or keywords as you like to a full clip, and you can tag individual segments. The overly structured bins of the past are gone and you can now organize and navigate your clips similar to how you would navigate and browse the web. You can then organize your keywords into Smart Collections. Obviously the keywords used to edit network sports would be different then those used by an event videographer. But either way they should allow the editor to save tons of time finding the clips they need. This has the potential to revolutionize your workflow.

FCPX has a ton of great audio tools. Being able to scrub thru clips and listen to the audio with pitch correction is shear genius. I love the ability to adjust the audio levels and fade the audio in and out directly on the end of each audio clip, as well as being able to see the waveforms and if the clip is too hot. . Not new technology at all, just a very clever and smart use of existing technology in video editing. In fact, many of the new audio features are found in Sony Vegas editing software which is a Windows-only application but now Apple has expertly implemented them into their video editing workflow for the Mac.

audition.jpgThe Audition tool was something I think Pros are going to love. Basically it allows you to select several different clips, put them in the Audition container, then view how each one will look when it is inserted into the timeline. What an excellent and efficient way to play with your video to find the perfect B-Roll or cut away footage. Especially if the client or director is in the edit suite "helping" you with the edit!

Animal Magnetism

The Magnetic Timeline is AWESOME! I instantly fell in love with it and I think you will too. You can do so much editing and trimming in the actual timeline space. Specific placements for video and audio tracks are a thing of the past. Now, you move a clip into another clip and they won’t collide and destroy each other. The clips move out of the way automatically giving you full access to the media on both sides of the edit. magnetic timeline.jpg

Clip Connections allows you to lock your video to multiple audio tracks to keep them in perfect sync no matter what you do to the timeline. I LOVE THIS! I constantly go into my timeline, make a change and throw something further down the timeline out of sync. It adds so many extra hours of work to each project. The way FCPX automatically shifts the colliding audio track down so that I don’t wreck my work is awesome. If I extend a clip, I don’t have to worry about throwing the project out of sync. For me it is a killer feature.

But I can also see how some professional editors will hate it. Many projects have to be an exact length; a 30 second commercial, a 90 second news story, or a 6 minute talk show segment all require precise time management. If FCPX automatically lengthens or shortens your project it may actually create more work. I hope professionals are going to to be able to toggle this feature on and off.

More Questions Go Unanswered

So what is the verdict on FCPX? There is none. Apple has not given us all of the information yet, especially for professional editors who depend on Final Cut to make a living and feed their families. Here are just a few of the questions I think are most important, with some personal speculation on what I think the answers may be:

Will FCPX support my existing 3rd party hardware for I/O? I think it will, but not out of the gate. I don’t think Apple has given the hardware guys enough time to make their gear work for a June launch. Plus we have another wrinkle - FCPX will run on Snow Leopard, but Lion is around the corner. My gut says the hardware guys skip Snow Leopard and go straight to Lion for FCPX support. I also heard a rumor that FCPX would only support 3rd party hardware via Thunderbolt. I don’t buy this one, but I could see it happening. Just another way for Apple to make us buy new Apple hardware.

What about all my plug-ins – will they work on FCPX? Once again, I think the answer is that they eventually will. But probably not right out of the gate. I’m betting you’ll have to purchase them again as apps, which means Apple will get a piece of the revenue. I also think we’ll find that many of the features brought to FCP via plug-ins are now integrated into FCPX, eliminating the need for many of our favorites. Some plug-in vendors will thrive in this new FCPX ecosystem, while unfortunately many others will not. Time will tell.

Will I be able to import my existing FCP timelines into FCPX? This is a BIG question, especially for shops looking to migrate over. My guess is that you will be able to import your old timelines, but the import may be less then perfect initially. That said I’ll bet the gang over at Automatic Duck will be able to give us a more reliable and accurate tool for the job.

What about the rest of the Suite? I can’t imagine Apple would have introduced FCPX to the world during the NAB show if they didn’t have a roadmap for the rest of the Pro apps. But they may take months or even a year to roll them all out as 64 bit apps. Or they may not even be stand alone apps, but Plug-ins to the main FCPX application. Some may already be integrated into FCPX, but Apple just didn’t let us see it. I’m not sure how they will be delivered, but I’m confident that eventually we’ll get them and a whole lot more!!

What about QuickTime and ProRes? I have read several posts from people far more knowledgeable then me that FCPX is not based on Quicktime, but on a more advanced 64 bit video architecture Apple already has in Snow Leopard. This makes perfectly good sense to me, but it doesn’t really matter to me either. All I care about is that it works as good or better than QuickTime.

ProRes started as an intermediary CODEC for editing HD footage but has now evolved into an acquisition format!! The NAB floor was loaded with ProRes field recorders like the AJA KiPro and KiPro mini, Atomos Ninja, and Fast Forward Video sideKick HD, just to name a few. So while FCPX can handle all the various HD formats natively, many of us will be choosing ProRes as our acquisition format and I expect full support in FCPX.

Is this the future of professional video editing, or is FCPX just the advanced video editor for the masses?

As I was walking out of the SuperMeet I had a bit of an “Ah Ha” moment. While the new features and especially the magnetic timeline are cool today, I was thinking about how important it would be in the future. In a 3D stereoscopic workflow every clip now has two video tracks - one for each eye – that must be kept in perfect sync. Imagine a 3D timeline with several layers of video, as well as multiple audio tracks. Can you imagine how much easier it will be to manage and work in 3D using the magnetic timeline vs. today’s traditional timeline? Now let’s take this even further, what if we could use a multi-touch surface like an iPad or an iMac with a touch sensitive screen and FCPX’s magnetic timeline? Re-arranging and moving your clips around with your fingers; shortening them by simply dragging your finger on the end of a clip; using two fingers to lengthen the clip; using our fingers to manipulate the size, shape and motion of PIP video layers; flicking though clips like we go though our messages on an iPhone. It’s not quite “Minority Report”, but it’s a big first step in that direction. Which once again goes to my point that this isn’t Final Cut Pro ver 10 - it’s FCPX ver 1.0!

I can’t wait until FCPX ships (well actually it will never “Ship” but it will become available to buy as an app), and I can’t wait to see how Avid and Adobe and the rest of the NLE world react to and improve on it. Competition is great, and Apple has definitely upped the ante. Here's a Quick snapshot at what Avid and Adobe did at the show:

Avid launched the next version of Media Composer, version 5.5, a few weeks before NAB. When the news started coming about the FCPX "Sneak Peak," they took a pre-emptive strike to FCPX and launched a direct promotion aimed at FCP editors with a $995 crossgrade to MC5.5. The crossgrade simply requires your FCP Serial number and proof that you are the owner. You still keep your Final Cut software, and the MC 5.5 you get is the full retail version complete with the Avid Production Studio of 3rd party software. Avid also lowered the price of the MC5.5 upgrade for owners of MC4 or older Avid software (including Xpress Pro and DV) to $595.

Adobe officially launched CS5.5 at NAB. While not every product in the Adobe Master Collection will get a 5.5 upgrade, many will, and the two most important products in the suite for video editors, Premiere Pro and After Effects, have some big improvements. Perhaps the biggest feature is the new "Warp Stabilizer" image stabilization technology in After Effects, and how easily you can round trip footage from Premiere into AE using improved Dynamic Linking. While supplies last you can purchase CS5 Production Premium upgrades now at our special upgrade pricing, register ASAP and then get CS5.5 when it ships by calling Adobe directly.

I'll go more into what Avid, Adobe and our other NLE software vendors announced at NAB in Part II of this years NAB Report. Videoguys NAB2011 Report, Part II: Avid, Adobe and more Software News

In Part III we'll look at what new stuff our hardware vendors were showing.



More FCPX info from around the web:

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