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Final Cut Pro Flux
If there is one word I would chose to define the business of post-production, it would have to be "Flux".
the flux of vapor in the tube: continuous change, changeability, variability, inconstancy, fluidity, instability, unsteadiness, fluctuation, variation, shift, movement, oscillation, alternation, rise and fall, seesawing, yo-yoing. ANTONYMS: stability.
For many post-professionals, June 21 will be remembered as the day everything changed
again, the day Apple released Final Cut Pro X for $299. But is it something you can take
to the bank and base your business on?
The fan-boy factor has been running high since NAB when Apple was allowed to completely take over the Final Cut Pro User Group Supermeet in Las Vegas for a "special announcement". For quite some time, Apple had not supported events like Supermeet, so the FCPUG gatherings have featured third party developers and manufacturers, even the likes of Avid, a direct competitor, who many FCP users saw as the enemy.
But April 12 was a different kind of day with Apple showing us that they still "Think Different". Carefully orchestrated demos never fail to impress and Apple wowed the Supermeet crowd enough that I am sure numerous post-production plans and purchases were put on hold in anticipation of the June release of Final Cut Pro X.
When the release date arrived and the downloads began, so too came user ratings and comments in the app store as well as on Twitter and other social media. I don't think Apple was prepared for the reaction, nor were many in the Final Cut Pro community ready for what they had just purchased.
I am reminded of a joke where a person who had died found himself standing in front of two screens marked heaven and hell. On the heaven screen he saw people in white gowns playing harps and floating around, while the hell screen displayed people on a beach resort laughing, drinking, smoking and partying. The man chose hell and was instantly transported away, finding himself alone on an empty beach covered in piles of burning garbage. As he looked around in disbelief, Satan himself came by.
The man asked him, "What happened to all that fun I saw people having in hell?"
Satan smiled as he said, "Oh, you must have seen our demo
Right now the Apple website is only showing a rating of 2.5 out of 5 from 752 respondents, where I fully expected to see at least 4 stars. Here are some of the comments found on the Apple app store and website: Serious compatibility issues, Lots of workflow issues, Not for an editing house, Incomplete and disappointing, Should be called iMovie Pro, I want my money back.
But there was also a positive side: Finally, video editing is fun again, Very different, but very good, No more gamma problems! Great app!
Interestingly, many of the positive comments were also qualified with apologetics, recognizing some of the serious work flow issues and incompatibilities.
Walter Biscardi has already posted a comprehensive review of Final Cut Pro X on Creative Cow called Final Cut Pro X, What's missing for Some Pros
. These are some of the issues he encountered on day one along with other feedback gathered across the net:
- cannot open previous Final Cut Pro projects
- no way to customize the organization of the project media
- media keeps wanting to copy itself to the local drive
- no way to reconnect offline media
- no more multicam editing capability
- no OMF and XML export
- mediocre in app color correction. Apple Color is now end of life.
- cannot assign audio tracks
- no true video output to a broadcast monitor
- only firewire machine control and tape ingest
- no way to lay master to tape for client delivery
- cannot open projects on another Mac. There is no project file per se.
- Final Cut Server has been pulled from the shelves and is now end of life.
In 2008 and 2009, I had the pleasure of consulting for a new European broadcaster. We built the entire production and post-production around Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Server with shared fiber channel storage built out on Apple X-Serves. Some derivative of this is fairly common in broadcast operations and production companies around the world.
But as of June 21, it has become difficult for these facilities to even expand, never mind upgrade their established workflows. If you need a new seat of Final Cut Studio 3 today, you are out of luck because Apple has discontinued sales and asked dealers to return remaining stock for credit. So your only option will be to find a dealer who was smart enough to hold on to Final Cut Studio inventory or you can take the risk of buying existing licenses, which I suspect are going to be fetching a premium price soon on eBay and Craig's List.
It was not so long ago that Apple presented Final Cut Server as the ultimate Mac solution for collaborative post-production work environments. While it was a beast to learn, it allowed for a highly organized and customizable work-sharing environment that automated some tasks and eliminated the possibility of redundancy or lost time due to miscommunication. It also served as a database for Final Cut Pro created digital media assets. It was a brilliant idea at a price point that was a fraction of other solutions. Projects and media assets are stored on Final Cut Server and must be checked out by a user. The server then uploads what the editor needs to his local machine where he completes his assigned part of the project and then checks it back in. Final Cut Server then automatically informs the other stakeholders on the status of the project. Even non-technical people can access the work and add comments and approvals. While a project is checked out, no one else can access or modify it. Brilliant and efficient!" Even boutique operations could afford Final Cut Server at $999.
For smaller facilities, the ability to move a FCP project from one Mac to another has always been a given. Many an editor would copy media and project files to a firewire drive and then take the project home or on the road, rather than be chained to the edit suite. Who hasn't done this? But it doesn't appear that you will be able to do this any time soon with Final Cut Pro X.
For now, Apple seems to have eliminated all collaboration workflows, including the ability to easily send audio tracks to a post-sound facility because there is no XML or OMF support. And there is no longer an obvious project file that you can copy with bins because there are no bins. And to add to confusion, a sequence is now called a project. If you copy the project (sequence) to another machine, you end up with a muddled mess.
Sadly, this is not the first time Apple has put it to professional end users and developers with their sudden about face changes. I already mentioned Apple's cancellation of the Xserve product. While Mac Pros and in some cases, Mac Minis can be substituted, neither has the proper form factor for a server installation and lack features like redundant power supplies. It's still doable, just more difficult and less elegant.
In the 1990's Avid built their entire non-linear product line around a 5 slot Mac. Then Apple began to release machines with only 3 slots, forcing Avid to use outboard expansion chassis to hold the necessary processing cards. Eventually, Avid shifted development to the Windows PC platform where they did not have to be completely dependent on any one supplier of computers. Mac releases were lagging behind the PC for a number of years. I seem to recall a period when even Adobe also lost interest in releasing some products for Mac and focused more on Windows.
Apple may have succeeded in telling consumers how they are allowed to use their products by restricting what will or will not run on iPhones, iPods and iPads, but the consumption of these products is mostly about entertainment. On the other hand, pro apps and pro hardware are foundations for business. We depend these tools to put bread on the table and keep the lights on. If I can't make money with your product, I have to look elsewhere. While new innovation is appreciated, suppliers like Apple need to listen to their customers rather than dictate to them. Who was Apple listening to by eliminating features like multicam or input-output options? Certainly that is not something that post houses and TV stations asked for. We still have to deliver a master on tape. I am having a nasty flashback right now to Media 100's "Kill the Editor" advertising campaign of the 1990s when they too wanted to tell producers what they needed, insulting professional editors along the way.
What Apple has achieved with the release of Final Cut Pro X is the alienation of many post production professionals with a product that while innovative in many respects, if adopted, will put a halt to many long established, very functional, still used, still needed and still profitable workflows, while offering no alternative solutions other than migration to another product or maintain the status quo with Final Cut Pro 7 for as long as possible. But eventually this will become impractical as technology advances and there might no longer be updates for Final Cut Pro 7 to accommodate things like a next new tapeless format. In the short term, Apple is going to sell a ton of seats of FCP X because everyone is going to want to learn it, even if just to learn to hate it. But in the long term, many companies are going to seriously consider a migration to another product. One forum poster on the Cow was even told by Apple inside sales that perhaps it is time for him to take his business elsewhere.
Apple is telling us that enhancements and additional features are coming, but that is of no help today. I don't buy products for what they might do later, but for what they will do for me right now. By pulling Final Cut Pro 7 off the shelves, Apple is not even giving us the option to expand on the status quo while we wait and see what missing features may or may not make it into product updates down the road. If you need one more seat of Final Cut Pro 7 for a current production, I am afraid your only option might soon be eBay.
So, where does this leave the post-production professional?
- Continue on with Final Cut Pro 7 until it becomes obsoleted by companion technologies it will not be able to support.
- If you were planning on implementing Final Cut Server for cataloging and storing media assets, then consider CatDV, a product that is far better at asset management and far more user friendly. However, it is not a collaboration and automation tool like Final Cut Server. CatDV has plans to soon support Final Cut Pro X.
- Begin a migration to another editor.
- Adobe Premiere. This makes the most economic sense. Got After Effects and Photoshop? If so, then you've already got Premiere if you bought the Production Premium bundle. It will work with your existing hardware from Matrox, AJA, etc. and will work fine with Final Cut Pro media. CS5 and CS5.5 are 64 bit and have a feel not unlike FCP 7, just a lot faster. Easy.
- Avid Media Composer. The Cadillac is still pricier, but with support for third party hardware increasing (now Matrox MXO2 mini and AJA i/o Express), the cost of entry is such that it can be amortized over one project. Avid offers collaborative workflow solutions and integrates particularly well into a TV station environment, but you can forget about your existing shared storage-you have to go all Avid. Features like the (always has been) robust media management that just does not lose track of media, the recent ability to read almost any file format without importing and a mixed frame rate timeline that actually works with smooth results, make Avid a really efficient workhorse. The feature list is too extensive to go into here, but the tools are deep. Script sync for example, is a unique feature that goes far beyond anything else out there by eliminating the need to search bins. You just follow the script and all shots are there. This is an option, but if you are doing features and episodic work, this is going to make you much more efficient at your job.
- And finally, you could look to companies like Automatic Duck or BorisFX to provide workflow solutions.
- You can move a Final Cut Pro 7 project to an Avid for example.
- And right on day 1 of FCP X, Automatic Duck provides a conduit from Final Cut Pro X to Protools, but now your $299 software just became worth $794.00.
- We can only hope that Automatic Duck will develop the ability to move Final Cut Pro 7 projects to Final Cut Pro X. This is the kind of solution they have become known for in the industry.
As a broadcast and post production consultant, it is going to be very difficult for me to recommend a Final Cut Pro solution again until we see just exactly where the dust settles once Apple adds more features to this very incomplete release of a version 1 product. A radical departure in interface can be a very good thing, but not at the sacrifice of established, needed and far from obsolete workflows. No doubt Apple will sell a lot of copies of Final Cut Pro X in the short term, based on price and curiosity; but as an editor, I for one am not afraid of being call upon to edit on Final Cut Pro X by a serious film or television production any time soon.
Dennis Kutchera is a veteran broadcast editor who has used both Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro since the early days of each. Dennis is also a broadcast technology consultant who has worked with international broadcasters. Dennis is also the Creative COW leader responsible for working with Ronald and Kathlyn Lindeboom to expand the original forum line-up and add a wide array of products that Dennis then hosted, including Avid and Autodesk. Dennis lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.