TECH SPOTLIGHT

Controversy In the Edit Suite: Final Cut Pro X

The new, lower-priced version of Apple’s popular editing software has resulted in a firestorm of reaction. Many professional craft editors don’t like a lot of the changes, especially the inability to transfer projects from Final Cut Pro 7 to the new version. But for many television stations — on a mission to lower costs and hire less skilled personnel to spread video content to a wide array of new platforms — the $299 price tag means it may live alongside server-based news editing systems from companies such as Avid and Grass Valley.

Since its introduction in 1999, Apple’s Final Cut Pro has become the most popular editing software in the world. Its users range from all the major television networks and many network affiliated TV stations to “Best Editing” Oscar nominees like Walter Murch (Cold Mountain), Roderick Jaynes (No Country for Old Men) and Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

Last week, however, Apple chief Steve Jobs threw all that success out the window and started over with the introduction of a completely new version of the venerable edit system — Final Cut Pro X.

He left the old behind and broke all continuity with the past. It was an explosive decision, despite the $299 price tag, especially among professional editors who make their living using Final Cut Pro.

Words were harsh. Apple was accused of dumbing down video editing — trying to broaden the market for a new generation of less experienced video users. In a way, that’s exactly what Apple did.

It had to, the company felt, if it was to erase many legacy problems and create a radically new and improved vision of video editing that was simple enough for anyone to learn. This didn’t sit well with the working professionals, who have spent years investing in classes and learning the quirks, twists and turns of a complex suite of software applications.

From the perspective of television stations, where Final Cut Pro 7 — the last version of the software — is used for craft editing and some news production, much has changed in five years. Station budgets have decreased, and the destination for edited video has extended beyond conventional broadcasting to the Internet.  

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Apple introduced FCP X precisely to address those needs. Beyond its low cost, FCP X is a 64-bit application with the ability to scale and use all available cores in a Mac for background rendering. It can import about any format, including DV, HDV, P2, XDCAM and anything else up to 4K resolution. Editing can begin very quickly, before import is complete. The system can work with full resolution or proxy video.

FCP X can analyze video and audio for automatic sorting into groups such as close-ups, medium shots, shots with two people or group shots. It can prepare the video for quick, automatic corrections for defects such as lens flare, camera shake, rolling shutter and color balance. Audio can be automatically fixed during import — removing problems like hum, pops or other noticeable defects.

The new application features a “Magnetic Timeline,” which edits footage in the middle of the timeline without knocking any other clips or audio out of place at other points on the timeline. This makes it much easier for novice editors to keep from losing video on tight deadlines. Users of Apple’s latest iMovie consumer application will see a close similarity with FCP X.

Jim Ocon, VP of technology for the Gray Television station group, oversees Final Cut Pro, Grass Valley Edius and Avid editing systems at the company’s 36 mid-size and small-market television stations. “We are fans of Final Cut Pro and its editing capability,” Ocon said. “We have a good portion of Final Cut systems at our stations. The fact they are bringing out lower priced editing software is a very good thing.”

Ocon, who has not yet closely examined FCP X, said has group has been challenged to find a single editing platform simple and powerful enough for both news and creative services. FCP 7 is currently used at most of Gray’s stations for more sophisticated craft editing.

Another goal of Gray, Ocon said, is to cut the high cost of editing hardware. He said some companies charge extraordinarily high amounts for service contracts that are rarely used. That money is mostly wasted, he said. “We are very much in transition on editing and will be checking out the new Apple product,” Ocon said.

At Cox Media Group, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, Final Cut Pro is now being used at all of the company’s 15 television stations and several of its metro newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Sterling Davis, former VP of technical operations and now a consultant for Cox, said the group is “cautiously optimistic” about FCP X, but doesn’t own it yet. “The biggest problem I’ve experienced with Final Cut Pro over the years is it is not designed for broadcasters,” Davis said. “It was not designed for real-time news editing. It can be used for news and a lot of small market stations use it that way…. But Apple has no interest in the news markets.”

For this reason, Cox uses Final Cut Pro only for craft editing. News editing systems “need to be server-based systems where the server plays directly to air and you’re not transferring files all over the place,” Davis said. Avid and Grass Valley have such systems, but Apple doesn’t.

That’s exactly the point, said Jim Frantzreb, senior broadcast segment manager for Avid’s Media Enterprise. Avid does not plan to do anything in response to Apple’s FCP X, he said, because it doesn’t need to.

“It doesn’t matter what the price of the product is. What our customers are concerned about is value,” said Frantzreb. “Is the capability of this overall solution a reasonable investment. If something is free it doesn’t mean, slam dunk, I’ve got to have it, because it could be worthless. Low price is not such a driving consideration for a customer. They want to know it does the job.”

Avid has long been focused on supporting professional workflows with its Media Composer products and has been totally consistent over the years with that objective, said Frantzreb. “Broadcasting is an absolute core market for Avid.”

At Grass Valley, the company’s news system supports several editors — Edius and Aurora from Grass Valley, both of which run on Windows PCs, as well as Final Cut Pro, which runs on the Macintosh platform. Grass Valley did its first Final Cut Pro integration with its news system in 2004 and now views FCP X as a complementary product.

Grass Valley’s K2 FCP Connect 2.0 application, including the GV Connect Plug-in for Final Cut Pro and the GV Browse application, allows a FCP X system to be integrated with a K2 system and Aurora Production Suite. The plug-in enables edit in place and file transfers between K2 storage and FCP X, including the ability to browse K2 content from within FCP.

“We feel we have never competed with Apple or with Final Cut Pro,” said Ed Casaccia, director of product marketing for Grass Valley’s servers and digital production. “Some people are Mac people and some are PC people. We are not trying to take a devotee of Mac and try to convert him to PC or vice versa. We support both and there are underlying technologies that make that much easier now.”

Apple refused to comment for this article, and has responded very sparingly to the criticism that has amassed during the past week. FCP X’s product managers, however, gave an interview to the New York Times to address the complaints from professional editors.

Some missing features, like multi-camera editing, are being restored as a “top priority,” Apple said. An issue like “trackless design,” which makes it impossible to assign audio tracks to outsiders, and AAF and OMF export, are being addressed through software from third parties. “Final Cut Pro X 1.0 is the beginning of a road, not the end,” an Apple executive said.

But one area where there were no apologies is the inability to transfer projects from Final Cut Pro 7 to the new version. The revision is so dramatic it would not be possible, Apple said. Links between connections in the new version of FCP are built into the timeline, while those same connections in older versions are in the editor’s head.

The bottom line is Apple has reinvented video editing to make it easier for the masses to use. This will probably help television stations, which are on a mission to lower costs and hire less skilled personnel to spread video content to a wide array of new platforms.

Professional video editors will no doubt be resistant and some probably won’t upgrade. But Apple figures most video professionals will eventually get on board — especially when the feature set is complete — and throw out a generation of products that are looking increasingly ancient.

“Great design, like great music, is almost always foreign at first, if not disturbingly strange,” filmmaker David Leitner wrote about FCP X in Filmmaker Magazine. “You have to spend time with it. But if it is great, and if you invest your attention, it will change the way you look at the world.”


Comments (7)

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Ellen Samrock says:

June 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm

There’s much to like about the new FCP X. But like anything new and in this case radically different, it should be implemented cautiously. I know of several stations and production houses that are currently testing FCP X while still keeping and using version 7 for their day-to-day editing. I’m not sure what Mr. Davis means about FCP not being designed for broadcasters. It edits easily and quickly and works well in an environment where several editors are working on files from a single server. I know of many stations that use FCP, the most notable being KTLA channel 5 in Los Angeles.

Christopher Kretchmar says:

June 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I agree that FCPX should be evaluated, learned and transitioned into over time. My belief (and it may be wishful thinking) is that some of the missing features will be implemented after Apple ships its new Lion version of OSX in July, and that at least one major update will be made by the end of 2011 that will implement multicam editing and some other missing features.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    July 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Apple has said that multicam editing is coming to FCP X. Personally, if I had been Apple I would have waited until that feature was part of the software before releasing version 10 (or if necessary release FCP X at the same time as Lion). But they somehow neglected to ask my input.

Emily Walsh Parry says:

July 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I think your missing the reasons why editors are upset about FCPX. It’s not that we’ve invested so many training dollars in the old interface that we can’t adapt, it’s that Apple end-of-lifed FCP7 and recalled all existing upgrades from resellers the day they released FCPX. FCPX is also missing many BASIC features like VIDEO OUT or Deck Control which most professional TV Stations might require. Also, Avid and Adobe are responding to this gigantic fumble by Apple and have aggressively priced their products with special offers to disenchanted FCP7 users. FCPX is not a new product that professionals are reluctant to adapt to, but a consumer product that masquerades as a successor to Final Cut Pro. I would love to be optimistic about the future of Apple’s post-production workflow but with FCPX they are clearly telling, not listening and the room is soon going to be empty.

tom denman says:

July 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I laughed at the comment from Avid: “”It doesn’t matter what the price of the product is. What our customers are concerned about is value,” Okay so what if Avid provides neither? The cost for Media Composer is WAY out of step with other products like Edius and FCP and Avid’s support plans are an antiquated non-cost effective model from a station perspective. So other than being ‘broadcast-centric’ where’s the value again?? In this day and age, broadcasters will find a way to make a $300 application work before spending thousands on one from Avid.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    July 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Yeah, I don’t care how badly Apple stumbled with the PR on FCP X, there will be no mass return to Avid with editors and production houses paying upwards of 30K for Media Composer. The days of the dedicated hardware/software editing work stations are gone. The genie is out of the bottle. I suppose we’ll hear next from Media 100. What we might see is a technology gap between new users who have downloaded FCP X verses the old guard who won’t give up version 7. But if Apple won’t include it in FCP X then it would be nice if they had a utility for working with tape-based formats (a log and capture and output to tape utility). Many stations and post houses still use tape and will for years to come.

    Joseph Rubbinaccio says:

    August 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    30K, dedicated hardware? You obviously don’t know what you are talking about, did you just escape from a bomb shelter?


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