The Future of Editing
Tuesday was a whirlwind day. Started off early at a breakfast meeting with the top level executives of Avid and ended with the always entertaining Supermeet. Ok, maybe this year's Supermeet was a little more entertaining than most.
Let's start with the morning. For the first time I can truly say that "Avid is listening." I've seen the moniker on their site in the past and I kind of laughed. I mean this is Avid we're talking about. The company that tells us how we can purchase their software and hardware and if we don't like it we can go somewhere else.
Ok, maybe that's how they used to do things, but it was clear from our meeting today, Avid is truly changing the way they do business. It seems to have taken a while for it to really sink in but there is a definite shift in the tone coming from the company. There is a real willingness now to open up the software to third party hardware as we have seen from last year's Matrox reveal to this year's AJA Io Express.
First off, it was impressive to me that not only was I meeting with their PR folks, but the CEO and many of the top management and marketing team. One on one for about 90 minutes and I was free to ask any question. Generally I'm used to having many layers of separation between me and the head of the company that makes my NLE. Of course being a Final Cut Pro guy with a bunch of AJA Kona cards, my primary interest is seeing Avid continue their migration to open up the software to even more hardware options not only from AJA and Matrox, but Blackmagic Design as well. Obviously Avid would not answer me directly on any of the hardware questions, but I get the sense that their migration towards openness will continue at some point in the future.
Then there was Apple and the SuperMeet presentation. As expected, the new Final Cut Pro appears to have been built on the foundation of iMovie. But there's nothing wrong with that, the interface is actually very efficient. You will have to re-think your way of operating, but there's nothing wrong with taking the iMovie base and building upon that.
What Apple actually chose to show was quite nice. Background rendering, Magnetic timeline with the audio always moving out of the way, and "open" timeline with no hard tracks that appear and disappear as needed, pitch corrected audio skimming, improved color correction, Audio fade controls much better, simple retiming in the timeline, color matching with single click and of course, no more transcoding / mixing and matching of formats in the timeline. These are all the super cool, wiz bang features that are the hallmark of any Apple marketing event.
The two highlights for me were Audition and the Magnetic audio. Audition allows us to essentially create a floating bin of multiple clips to insert into the timeline and with simple keystroke try out each shot in the timeline.
But Apple was presenting to 1500 video editors, many of whom look past the slick marketing demo and want to know about how it works under the hood and with all the rest of the pro apps that we all use every day. That's probably why with each new item presented, about half of the room was very excited and the other half was quiet. The only uniform applause throughout the room seemed to be for the price, which garnered about half a standing ovation from the room. So now it's just $299 for Final Cut Pro only and there was no mention of the rest of the suite period. I guess part of the marketing strategy is "well it's so cheap now nobody can complain."
The big question among the pro editors I spoke to after the presentation was what didn't we see?
Multi format, multi frame rate, multi codec playback. We were told it's now supported, but it was not shown, at least not that I could tell.
Tape Capture / Layback. Is this still supported internally to the application or has Apple taken the stand that they do not need to support a videotape workflow at all internally? Not only is tape still being shot by many production companies, there are millions of hours of videotape archive material that has to be ingested for projects, such as the feature documentaries we cut today.
In fact what about the capture cards / boxes from AJA, Blackmagic and Matrox? No mention of or appearance from them.
Filters. Do filters still work in the new FCP? As in our old filters that all of us already own and any potential new third party filters for the new FCP X? How will FCP interpolate and handle archive projects that include filters?
Titling. What does the new font tool look like? In the presentation a lower third was shown but it was never explained how it was created.
OMF / XML / EDL Export / Import. Can we still use XML to move projects to After Effects and other platforms as needed for finishing and other work? How easy is it to move the projects around?
Alpha channel / composting modes. How do these work in the new FCP? Some very nice looking effects were shown in the demo but were they created in FCP or elsewhere? Don't know.
Large project management. How will FCP hold up under a large project such as the documentaries we currently cut. My feeling is that the new FCP is well suited for shorter projects but not long form, it seems like it would simply break if you threw a feature film or documentary at it. Can't imagine scrolling through 200 hours of filmstrips to find my shots. With some of the organizational tools it might be manageable but hard to tell.
What we were presented definitely felt like a 1.0 release and Apple certainly set that bar throughout the event by comparing the launch of X to FCP 1.0. The original changed the face of NLE editing forever and they believe X will do the same thing. It certainly does with the interface and the price. Apple will absolutely build more market share for the product because at $299 every single hobbyist, school, and anyone who wants to edit video will purchase the product. That very well seems their goal with the price.
How those numbers will translate into pro editors, television series, feature films, etc remains to be seen. Would have been nice to hear from Walter Murch or the Coen Brothers last night to get their thoughts on how X will improve their workflows on feature films. The reaction among the pro editors and others I chatted with after the show was tepid at best. I think an encounter by one of the folks was somewhat telling.
Editor: Nice presentation but what about those features that weren't shown? What about capture cards, filters and how it might perform with bigger projects.
Other person: This Final Cut Pro isn't designed for you.
Maybe that's what Apple is banking on. So many new folks coming into the industry who don't know about or need capture cards. That's who the new Final Cut Pro X is designed for. Those who will never have to retrieve an archive tape, handle more than a few hours or material at a time or interface with other applications outside the Apple brand. So Apple will "win" the NLE battle simply by sheer numbers of installed users. As they pointed out in the presentation, based on installed user numbers alone, Avid and Adobe are "fighting" for second place.
It's impossible to give a true assessment of how good / bad the new FCP X really is since this is the only time any of us will see it. Unlike those "fighting for second place" Apple is not on the show floor so we cannot ask any questions or test out the interface for ourselves. Only those very few select beta testers know for sure what is and is not included in the interface.
The potential is there for the application to be a reinvention of non linear editing. But a one hour presentation left me and many other pro editors scratching our heads with many more questions than answers. Apple went for the slick, we want to know the down and dirty. At least we can go out on the show floor today and talk to those "other two companies" who are fighting for second place and actually address workflow questions.
So what's my verdict? Apple went "All In" on this one event and came out swinging with a patented, marketing presentation full of slick features. I think they hit a double. Nice hit, but not near enough power to bring it all the way home. The biggest beneficiaries of the one hour presentation will most likely turn out to be Avid and Adobe. Sure Apple will sell millions of copies of X, but those other two A's my very well come out ahead.