First thoughts on Final Cut Pro X

Well, the long-awaited major rewrite of Final Cut finally dropped yesterday… sort of. Apple’s Supermeet presentation showed off lots of flashy new features that will be extremely convenient for creative editorial, including a dramatically improved timeline. But an on-stage presentation isn’t really the best place to discuss crucially important workflow details, so we still know little on that front.

What we do know is good. The new Final Cut is resolution independent, extensively uses OpenCL and Grand Central dispatch (for¬†leveraging graphics processors and multiple CPU cores), it’s 64-bit (no 4 GB memory limit), and it’s Cocoa. It also uses floating point video processing like, say, DaVinci Resolve, which depending on other details conceivably makes it a valid high-end finishing tool, not just an NLE. And it supports ColorSync. In theory that means you should be able to get something pretty close to accurate color with just a desktop display and a $200 calibration probe. I’m curious to try that next to one of our calibrated video monitors and see how well it works.

On the other hand, this is a new app. A ground-up rewrite. As a consequence, one can’t necessarily assume it has a strict superset of the features of Final Cut Pro 7. There may be some things missing. We just don’t know yet. And many questions about anticipated new features were left unanswered, and may not have clear answers for a while.

Native support for Red files, for instance, wasn’t mentioned yesterday. Maybe once info on FCP X goes live on Apple’s web site, this will be there. But if it’s not, we won’t immediately know the implications of that. If there’s a flexible new plug-in architecture that would allow for it, for instance, it might be better if R3D support was handled entirely by Red, so users wouldn’t have to wait for updates from Apple when Red upgraded its color science, etc. But we probably won’t know this until Red has had some time to kick the tires on the new release. The same applies to formats like DPX — if they’re not there out of the box, the answer to the question of how smoothly they can be added will have extremely significant implications for where FCP X fits into the market.

And then there are all the little entirely un-flashy things that people in the post business deal with every day. Can the new Final Cut finally relink a timeline entirely based on timecode + reel number? Can it batch-sync dual-system audio based on timecode? Can the new PluralEyes-like auto syncing feature be used to sync up dual system audio, or just multiple video tracks?¬†How much has Final Cut’s XML file format changed, and what implications will that have for its integration into complex workflows? Has Apple fixed the bugs FCP 7 has with EDL exports? Some of these questions quite likely won’t be answerable from whatever promotional info Apple posts on its web site, and some of this stuff is sufficiently esoteric that early reviews probably won’t touch on it either. We’ll have to wait until FCP X goes live in the App Store.

Also, before I wrap up here, a few words on pricing. FCP X is going to be $299, available through the App Store in June. Initially this seems like a huge price cut, but there are two things to keep in mind.

First, the App Store lacks upgrade pricing. So yes, FCP X is $299, But FCP 11 (or whatever they call the next major release) will probably be $299 as well, even if you bought FCP X. $299 has long been the upgrade price for Final Cut, so really this is just a discount for first-time customers (which makes sense; Apple seems to be aiming for aggressive growth here).

Secondly, this is just Final Cut Pro. Apple has announced nothing about the rest of Final Cut Studio. My guess is some other FCS apps are slated to be axed, while others will live, see significant upgrades, and be sold separately from Final Cut Pro in the App Store.

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3 Responses to First thoughts on Final Cut Pro X

  1. Pingback: Nice Dissolve Blog | The magnetic timeline’s off switch?

  2. Dave Schultz says:

    Thanks for the blog. Exciting stuff. One question on ColorSync. Does this mean we may no longer need to buy an expensive external monitor for proper color correction? Could I really get accurate colors just from my Apple Display?

  3. Chris Kenny says:

    Dave, in theory, yes. External monitoring through a video interface used to make sense when video ended up getting displayed on interlaced analog CRTs, but now that it ends up getting delivered digitally and shown on natively progressive plasmas and LCDs, the only reason monitoring on standard computer screens hasn’t been a viable option is, essentially, lack of support for operating system color management in pro video software. It seems like FCP X might finally fix that.

    In fact, if you pick up a decent calibration probe (an i1Display 2, maybe), you should be able to get more accurate color on a desktop display than on a broadcast monitor calibrated off of color bars. And with much less manual effort, and at a much lower cost, than a broadcast monitor calibrated with an external color management system.

    The only catch is that OS X’s outputs through standard graphics cards are currently limited to 8 bits/pixel, whereas you can, of course, get 10 bits/pixel through a video I/O interface. But though people will insist otherwise, in practice this doesn’t make much difference for most applications. I did a fair bit of testing with 8-bit vs. 10-bit output from DaVinci Resolve a few months back (because the former runs faster on 2008 Mac Pros), and I frankly never found an instance where there was a critical difference.

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