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My thoughts on the new Final Cut Studio

Wow, I go away for a couple of days and Apple has a brand new version of FCS waiting for me when I get back (although I do think the fact that it is simply called Final Cut Studio and not Final Cut Studio 3 will cause confusion).

Here are my first impressions:


This is Leopard and Intel-only, which is a little surprising because there's only a couple of months until Snow Leopard comes out, and I think many of us thought a Snow Leopard-only release in September was likely. There is no word on whether or not it takes advantage of the new features of Snow Leopard such as Grand Central Dispatch or OpenCL, nor any indication that Final Cut Pro has been rewritten in Cocoa as has been so often speculated. I noticed a lot of the screenshots in Apple's examples were taken in Tiger, suggesting that perhaps the feature list was set long before Snow Leopard was announced.

Apple claims that Final Cut Studio will not work on a device with integrated graphics - such as a MacBook or Mac Mini. However, they also say that ProRes 422 Proxy is designed for editing on a MacBook or MacBook Pro, so it would appear that Final Cut Pro can at least be used on a machine with integrated graphics, if not some of the other apps in the suite.

It's also worth noting that the minor applications in the suite only received minor updates, as indicated by their version numbers. So it is likely that the problems with Compressor have not gone away.


Blu-ray burning directly in Compressor - I certainly didn't expect this. And integrating it into Compressor is significant too. Although I never really thought about it before, the majority of the DVDs I make in DVDSP are rough cuts for client approval that don't need a fancy custom menu and I never make use of any of the advanced features like scripting. I would imagine many people are in the same boat and therefore burning a basic disc in Compressor is a much faster and more efficient way to work.

It is telling though, that DVD Studio Pro did not receive a significant update for the second time running. We have been using essentially the same version for the past three years (an eternity in the technology world), and it suggests that Apple may perhaps discontinue this product in the future.

More ProRes options

Don't underestimate the importance of this. ProRes 4444 (the extra 4 refers to the alpha channel) allows you to convert footage shot with a high-end 4:4:4 camera to ProRes without sacrificing color information. With previous versions of Final Cut Studio, you would have had to leave it uncompressed (using up significantly more disk space and bandwidth), use Animation (slow) or explore a third-party codec.

The mastering possibilities are interesting too. HDCAM SR has long been the industry choice for HD mastering but it is expensive. Using ProRes 4444, you could create an HD master of equivalent quality to HDCAM SR but on a significantly cheaper LTO tape (LTO drives cost less than 1/10th of the cost of an HDCAM SR deck). LTO is the standard for data backup / archiving in the IT world and offers a number of other benefits such as potentially faster-than-realtime writing and also being format, frame size and frame rate agnostic. Of course, the receiver would have to have an LTO deck and necessary equipment.

LiveType discontinued

LiveType has long been superseded by Motion so it was only a matter of time before it was canned. In Motion 4 you can now adjust individual letters in a text object, meaning the one advantage LiveType had over Motion has now disappeared and consequently, LiveType has been discontinued. It was inevitable really.

Avid-like features

There are some nice new features to emulate Avid functionality, such as the new floating timecode display, global transitions and the ability to automatically import clips just by plugging in a drive. This is the benefit of competition.

Faster, better quality

I am a big fan of anything that makes things faster and/or improves video or audio quality. Background rendering and exporting is a huge feature and arguably should have been in Final Cut Pro 6 because they'd already laid the foundations with background SmoothCam processing.

Soundtrack Pro has a significantly redesigned architecture which improves performance and will hopefully address some of the issues I have experienced, such as working for a while on a project and then suddenly not being able to save it. It also features improved audio cleanup tools.

Faster frame control processing in Compressor gets my vote too.

RED support

The RED post workflow has always had issues and Apple has clearly developed the new Color and Cinema Tools with RED in mind. The main stumbling block in the RED workflow seems to be conforming the R3Ds once the offline edit is complete, and some third-party solutions have been created in an attempt to address this.

Now you can maintain the relationship between your original RED camera footage and your editing proxies inside a Cinema Tools database (hopefully CT creates and links the proxies automatically). You edit the proxies, export to Color and grade the original R3Ds using the data from the database to conform. This greatly simplifies things, although some would argue that native REDCODE support in the FCP timeline would be even better - perhaps when RED Rocket comes out?

Color also now supports 4K - although Apple will still be behind if the 6K Scarlet comes out this year as predicted.

Media Management

One thing people haven't commented much on is the improved media management, which has been the bane of every Final Cut Pro user at one point or another. Spotlight in Mac OS X indexes the files on your hard disk in a database and Final Cut Pro 7 uses that data to quickly reconnect the files, as opposed to querying them directly.

What this means is that FCP can reconnect files faster (so projects will presumably load a lot quicker) and hopefully be more intelligent when a file changes.

Missed opportunities

  • No ScriptSync (Avid) / Speech-to-Text (Premiere) - There is no way of syncing dialogue up to a script or automatically converting it to text. This means that, unless you have an assistant to transcribe it for you, you have to search through a load of footage in order to find the line of dialogue or the soundbite you are looking for.

  • No XML project files - Please Apple, this would make it far, far easier to seamlessly integrate Final Cut Pro with other applications.

  • No word on Phenomenon - Contrary to speculation, the Shake replacement codenamed Phenomenon was not included in Final Cut Studio or bundled into Motion, which begs the question of whether it will ever arrive.

Final Thoughts

There's some good stuff here - Apple has (eventually) listened to a lot of our complaints about media management, exports typing up the application, etc. But how well these work in reality will remain to be seen. I won't get my copy until next week.

But maybe it's not called Final Cut Studio 3 because there's not really anything there to justify calling it that. Although Final Cut Studio 2 also had few major features, it did at least come with a brand new application that used to cost $20k (Color). I think the new price cut reflects Apple's recognition that selling the upgrade at $499 would perhaps not be value for money, meaning future updates may not necessarily be as cheap.

Interesting Links

Official Final Cut Studio page
Fully-indexed online Final Cut Pro manual
Final Cut Studio in Depth - 66 page document from Apple detailing all the changes
Apple ProRes white paper
Apple KB: Installing content when upgrading
MacWorld review by Mike Curtis
How to Install Final Cut Studio 3
Norman Hollyn's take
In-depth review by Jan Ozer
Mike Jones compares Final Cut Pro 7 to his wishlist
Installing Final Cut Pro 6 and 7 side-by-side
Changes in FCP 7.0 XML - for developers
Studio Daily summary
More links from
Posted by Jon Chappell on Jul 24 2009 to Analysis, Final Cut Studio, Apple