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First look: Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3 restores professional features; adds notable new ones

The June 2011 release of Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X set off a firestorm that reverberated across the globe—at least in video circles. The hotly anticipated new version of Apple's flagship video software was unexpectedly accompanied by the immediate removal of the previous version—Final Cut Pro 7—along with the company's Final Cut Server and Final Cut Express apps, from retail distribution. That alone had longtime users jumping ship from the only nonlinear video editor many of them had ever used.

But that wasn't the only bad news. The reviews of the new app were almost universally critical. To longtime videographers who had built careers around Final Cut workflows, the new FCP X lacked the pro-level power features they considered essential.

A new environment without connectivity to broadcast monitoring and networked storage, without the ability to assign audio outputs, and without the ability to open archives of previous FCP 7 projects, caused the industry to respond with shock and outrage. Apple’s competitors meanwhile, rejoiced in vitriolic glee at the prospect of gaining back years of market share they had lost as a result of the FCP’s dominance.

Then something astonishing happened: Cupertino backed down. Apple sent its product managers out into the editing community to reassure video pros that it and FCP X were indeed committed to supporting the product's working professional base, and that Apple would soon restore multicam editing, broadcast monitoring and output, the ability to assign audio tracks in a specific order, and the ability to import and export to and from their favorite third-party applications for audio, color correction, and finishing—as well as connect to Xsan or other networked storage volumes.

In short, Apple told its angry customers not to worry; they had their back.

Complaints addressed

With today’s FCP X 10.0.3 update, Apple made good on its promises in a big way. In fact, it has addressed all but one of my complaints. Before going into detail, a brief history is in order.

With the FCP X version 10.0.2 update, released in Mid-November, users could assign audio tracks to output in a specific order, export XML to other applications, and connect to Xsan or other networked volumes for editing. Now, barely seven months after the program’s initial release in the Mac App Store, the new FCP X 10.0.3 added everything I had asked for—except for native 3D editing—to the package.

Apple’s demo of the new version for Macworld last week employed an iMac attached via Thunderbolt to Promise’s Pegasus array and AJA’s IoXT for playback on a professional broadcast monitor. Seeing that setup as I walked into the room, I knew that many of my original concerns were going to be addressed. But what I saw and heard next was even more surprising.

Apple spent a good deal of time talking about their partners and their relationships within the FCP X ecosystem. Many users do not realize the number of plug-ins that have become available for FCP X since its launch last summer—there are more plug-ins for FCP X than there were for FCP 7, as companies like GenArts and Red Giant supply the community with the tools and effects most high-end moviemakers need.

FCP 7 projects to FCP X

Another big surprise was XML 1.1 integration with FCP via Intelligent Assistance, the company owned by video guru Philip Hodgetts. Available with the launch of this update will be the 7toX for Final Cut Pro conversion app for $10. The new 7toX for Final Cut Pro offers full import functionality that will allow users to convert their older project files into FCP X events. While I am sure there will be many poorly organized FCP 7 projects that may not translate, I urge everyone to treat this news in much the way as when we started converting and sharing our first FCP projects via XML or EDL.

A quantum leap with multicam

Videographers were promised from the introduction of FCP X that in the near future we would once again be able to edit a multi-camera project, and Apple has delivered. With up to 64 active camera angles available, FCP X may actually shake the industry to its core with that level of multicam facility in the basic editing package. This means that you can actively edit more cameras than I have ever heard of being used for any multicam project, with the possible exception of the Super Bowl or, perhaps the bullet-time for The Matrix.

Apple did not stop there. Because FCP X contains the most powerful metadata engine of any NLE, users now have unprecedented control over multicam events, with the ability to access and sync tracks not only via time code, but with keywords, in or out points, or audio tracks.

Multicam functionality is intelligent enough via the underlying metadata structure to be able to dynamically identify multiple takes from the same camera and drop them sequentially onto a multicam track—something that is utterly amazing. Apple augmented FCP X’s audio syncing capacity by allowing the app to exploit audio metadata to sync multiple cameras with similar audio content when there is no matching timecode on the files.

It does not end there. The biggest surprise is that unlike any other NLE, FCP X allows multicam projects to handle cameras with different codecs, image rasters, and frame rates, without conversion. Think about handling a multicam project that includes footage from DSLRs and DV, HDV, and professional cameras, without having to pre-process the content first. You can change, add, or delete camera angles at any time and work with different codecs, frame sizes, and frame rates without conversion.

Critical fixes to the pro workflow

Alongside the major upgrades to FCP X 10.0.3 are a slew of lower-profile but equally critical improvements, the lack of whch makes a video editor's life a bit miserable.

Layered PSD files Hate having to open Motion to use a layered Adobe Photoshop PSD file when editing? No more: Layered PSD files are back, and directly accessible from within FCP X. This was one of those items users expected to be in the inaugural release, and which evoked disgust when it was not.

Media relink Trying to relink a project in FCP X has been abhorrent—until now. A clone of a project could not be opened on any computer except the one it was created on, eliminating editors' ability to shuttle a drive from the office to home in order to work on a project in both places. That capability has returned in this new version, and it will surely inspire a collective sigh of relief.

Advanced chroma keying The keying functionality in the initial release of FCP X was pretty good—and better than FCP 7 ever was, but Apple saw an opportunity to make it even better. FCP X 10.0.3 contains, without a doubt, the best keyer of any NLE, and rivals the abilities of dedicated production tools like Adobe After Effects and Autodesk’s Smoke 2012 for Mac.

More Also look for improved text editing and effects performance; improved keyframing behavior in the inspector—with keyframes automatically added when moving to a new point in time and adjusting a parameter; modified transition behavior so that all newly added transitions use available media and maintain project length; and various additional fixes.(Image Caption: Keying and effects handling are improved in this release. ProRes 4444 green screen footage from an Arri Alexa is color corrected from its native log color space and then keyed with a timecode burn over a generated background—all in realtime. (Image courtesy of Fletcher Camera & Lens and Resolution Digital Studios, Chicago))

It’s about the hardware (Beta)

Apple was harshly criticized when FCP X shipped without any support for the hardware necessities of a vast majority of its users. The(Image Caption: This pulldown menu shows the first Beta A/V output in FCP X. ) company has now released monitoring capability for your project/timeline in this update, and with it has done something I have not seen from the company in a very long time. Hardware support is officially being called Beta, with Apple supporting the Blackmagic Design and AJA Video Systems PCIe card products, alongside some Thunderbolt accessories. Matrox support will follow shortly.

Ready for prime time?

With FCP X 10.0.3, the ugly ducking feel of the first version of this app seems to be receding, as the app’s swan-like feathers begin to emerge. While there are still many improvements needed, especially for those who work in multiuser environments, the current update indicates that Apple is listening to the complaints and concerns of the working video community that put Final Cut Pro on the map.

Seeing the radical improvements in this version, and anticipating more to come in the future, I think many users who hastily abandoned FCP X might want to reconsider.

Whatever happens, this will be an interesting spring for the entire video community.

Gary Adcock is a Chicago-based film and television consultant, technologist, and glassblower. He offers regular commentary on CreativeCow.net and the ProVideoCoalition.com Websites.


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