Final Cut Pro 6.0 - or FCP - has evolved over time into a workhorse application that handles everything from basic digital video editing to uncompressed HD video processing.
While Avid's Media Composer, Final Cut Pro 6.0's main competitor, offers more tools at a higher price (and Adobe is readying a new Mac version of Premiere Pro CS3), Final Cut Pro 6.0 is an improvement on an already powerful, flexible, affordable and scalable editing program for a wide range of professional and semiprofessional users.
Final Cut Pro 6.0 is part of Final Cut Studio 2.0, and it can no longer be purchased separately from the suite. It serves as a hub for the other Studio programs: Motion 3.0, Soundtrack Pro 2.0, Compressor 3.0, DVD Studio Pro 4.0, and the new Color.
At first glance, Final Cut Pro 6.0 looks identical to the previous version, but if you look below the surface, you'll find significant new features - such as the Open Format Timeline, the ProRes 422 codec and the SmoothCam plug-in - that can substantially speed up and enhance your workflow and help you get stuff done. In terms of bang for the buck, the Final Cut Studio 2.0 package offers many more features and capabilities than previous versions of the suite.
Open Format Timeline
The most notable new feature in Final Cut Pro 6.0 is the Open Format Timeline. In previous versions, you had to choose one frame size, one frame rate and one codec to process a video sequence - but no longer. If you have a fast enough machine, you can now mix frame sizes, frame rates, and codecs in a sequence.
Final Cut Pro 6.0 automatically handles frame-size and frame-rate conversion in real time. When we tested this feature with a variety of video formats, the quality wasn't perfectly smooth - imperfections were caused by the less-than-ideal frame-repeat patterns that make up the difference between 24- and 30-fps (frames per second) video.
However, you can use Final Cut Studio 2.0's new version of Compressor to improve such troublesome shots (although the process may take multiple iterations). This is a vast improvement on the rigid specificity of previous versions, and it saves a lot of time if you need to edit various kinds of clips from different sources.
ProRes 422 codec
Apple's new ProRes codec comes in two flavours: an 8-bit-per-channel, 145-megabit-per-second version called ProRes 422, and a 10-bit-per-channel, 220-megabit-per-second version called ProResHQ. Each offers several advantages:
The codec resolution is the actual size of the format - so the 1,920x1,080 format equals 1,920x1,080 pixels, instead of 1,440 or 1,280x1,080 (as with the HDV and DVCPRO HD video formats). Similarly, 720p (nominally 1,280x720 pixels) is actually 1,280 pixels wide, not just 960 (as with the DVCPRO HD format and codec).
10 Bits for ProRes HQ
Instead of the 256 colours or shades of gray (and only 8 bits of colour depth) you get with most codecs, you get up to 1,024 shades and 10 bits, for much smoother rendered results of colour correction and other image manipulation.
High Quality Image quality is very well preserved after you apply effects, and there are few compression artifacts, even after multiple generations of recompression. That's far better than HDV can accomplish.
Because the structure of the codec is less complicated than that of the HDV or XDCAM HD video formats, it is faster at rendering colour correction, titles and cross-dissolves. FCP can optionally render timelines to ProRes instead of to HDV or XDCAM, for faster, better-quality results when you're working with the Open Format Timeline.
Low data rate
Despite its high quality, this codec's data rate is relatively low - 145 or 220 megabits per second, so it will play back nicely from a single hard drive instead of requiring a large, costly, complex disk array. A fast Mac is required though, especially for HD.
SmoothCam, a stabilisation plug-in, leverages Shake's powerful Optical Flow technology. You use this Final Cut Pro 6.0 plug-in to stabilise shots, as well as to smooth jerky camera motion in pans and tracking shots where straightforward software stabilisation doesn't work.
This feature, too, has some rough edges. For example, HDV is especially slow to render because SmoothCam always renders the entire shot, regardless of how much of it is actually used in the timeline (there is an awkward workaround). But it's accessible in a way that Shake's more sophisticated and complex features are not.
With DVDs, HD DVDs and home theatres becoming more popular, the addition of surround-sound playback support (5.1 audio channels) to Final Cut Pro 6.0 is significant. You can use Soundtrack Pro 2.0 to do audio mixing and panning for 5.1 surround sound, and then carry the resulting audio into FCP. However, you'll need additional hardware to get those six audio channels out to speakers - the Mac's built-in digital audio optical port won't suffice.