FCPX – Armchair observations

OK, so I’m not in Las Vegas, not at NAB, but thanks to the Interwebs, I’m able to stay tuned in to what’s going on out there pretty much as much as I want. Tonight was the big ‘ole Supermeet. If you’ve been off-planet or under a rock you may have missed the PR event that Apple pulled off by commandeering most all of the stage time to unveil an early version of Final Cut Pro X, the upcoming, overdue update to  it’s professional editing software.

Below are some of my observations (from back east) of the announcement and what it may mean for the future NLE market and markets that support FCP. Move along if you aren’t interested in the opinions of some editing dude…

What’d they announce?

In a nutshell, they’re updating the FCP product to modern computing standards and bringing in all the components that have overtaken the editing world in the last 5 years: 64-bit app, rebuilt from ground up, resolution independence, and all the new codec geegaws you’ve been begging for. Here’s a nice little overview from our friends at Engadget:

“rebuilt from ground up” video editing — which now shares a similar look and feel with iMovie — will be shipped with 64-bit support to finally make use of more than 4GB of RAM, as well as handling 4K clips on 8-core editing rigs (by way of the Grand Central Dispatch feature on OS X Snow Leopard). Most notably, though, is that this new FCP will always be rendering instantly in the background, meaning you can edit on the fly much like you do on iMovie! There’s also a whole stash of other new features: editing before media ingest, magnetic timeline, people detection, instant color matching between clips, smart collection of media based on custom keywords and people, auto image stabilization on import, and many more. Itching to get your hands dirty with Cupertino’s new video tool? You’ll be able to download it from the Mac App Store in June for just $299.

And here’s the complete rundown of updates from FCP.CO.


Well, there was a bunch of speculation that the next update of FCP would look a lot more like iMovie than the current FCP. At first I was in the anti-iMovie camp. When I heard Randy Ubillios was now in charge of Video Products at Apple, I was of two minds: 1) the guy has been around. Part of or leader of teams that created the first 3 versions of Adobe Premiere, Keygrip (later to become FCP) and he’s been part of the team at Apple since 1999. AND 2) He led development of iMovie. I think snobby-professional-editor-dude in me looks down upon that as somehow debasing his talent and lowering standards. iMovie is not a professional editing application. It has been used for some professional work and is a formidable editor in it’s own right. The they’re-all-just-tools-in-your-kit-guy, looks at iMovie as I would with any other application. Can it help with any part of the workflow? If so, then where and how & we go from there. iMovie can’t really contribute to anything I’d need out of a workflow because I can’t easily extract the timeline from iMovie and bring it in to a professional NLE. However, have you ever played with or done a project on iMovie? There is some real beauty to the application. It takes an enormously complex task and distills it down the essence of what it needs to be. Most versions of iMovie have been intuitive and work very well at the task to which they are designed: allowing one to compile raw footage into a finished product. iMovie is a great tool if you need to create something fairly simple and do it quickly. If you don’t need to pass that project along to another, higher level NLE then you are good. iMovie isn’t all bad. It has merit on it’s own.

All that being said, the new interface looks very iMovie-like. This could be good or it could be bad.


Picture "borrowed" from Photographybay.com - click to view their coverage of the Supermeet

From the shots I’ve seen of it, the new interface looks very much like a combination of iMovie, Smoke, and Soundtrack Pro. I will say, it looks darn sexy. A lot of the design elements are carried over and refined in this new iteration. There’s a bunch of power in this. From an application design perspective it’s going to be a big help to be able to gleen more info from the UI elements. If they’ve refined that way, then we’ll be able to do more because we can get more info out of less interface. From an editor’s perspective, it’s going to mean that I can get more done because I have more at my fingertips and eyeballs to gather in a short time.

The bad parts are things we don’t have answers to yet. Is it really a single monitor interface all the time? I can think of several instances where this would slow me down because I use the two monitors to match frame clips that don’t have a relationship or to match action between two camera angles. Now, if you take into consideration that Quicklook-type previews are thoroughly integrated into the UI, then it’s a game changer. I really like Quicklook for scanning through a large volume of footage quickly. If I can mark (persistent) in and out points, if I can preview alternate takes, & if I can open multiple clips in this mode at one time then I can envision a world where a single large viewer and an infinite, on-demand set of other viewers would be a very pleasing way to work. Also the bits about being able to link disparate clips together in a persistent manner means syncing camera angles may get a lot simpler.

Is Studio Dead?

So right now, Final Cut Studio 3 comes with a whole suite of apps: FCP, Motion, Color, DVDStudioPro, SoundtrackPro. Today’s preview was for Final Cut Pro X only. With an announced price of $299, I can’t imagine it is still going to be bundled as a suite of apps any more. I think there are two telling signs that the FCStudio apps are going to be split into a buy-what-you-need set of applications. 1) looking at the elements on the UI and some of the points mentioned, they’ve integrated a bunch of the functionality into the FCPX app already. Look at those audio waveforms (good image here). That looks like SoundtrackPro. Keyframing audio does as well. There’s a Plural Eyes-type function built in now. And there was mention of sample-level editing in the FCP timeline. If that functionality is all in FCPX now, why do I need to go out to a separate program? 2) Colorista Free, Davinci Free & Scratch for FCP. All signs point to a market where these programs’s developers feel they have as good of a chance at being purchased as Apple Color. That only happens in a market where Apple Color isn’t bundled in with FCP. If they feel that they can now vie for your attention and your dollars, then they must be privy to a piece of information we don’t have yet: Apple Color will be sold as a stand-alone product. And in that now more competitive marketplace, they need to do something to get their feet in the door. Nothing generates buzz in this industry more than giving away a quality product for free or nearly free. I think we are heading into a stand-alone world again (remember, that’s where we started with FCP & DVDStudioPro).

Time Will Tell

Today was just a preview. I got the sense from the live Tweets (@adamtheeditor @fcpsupermeet @robimbs @comebackshane@walterbiscardi @izzyvideo @Zacatac@patInhofer) that it had a not-out-of-beta feel to it. Even though it ships in June, I think we’ll see more tweaks and more polish put on the application itself. More importantly I hope we see more polish put on the PR from Apple. Commerce is a conversation. What happened today was more of a here’s-what-we’re-doing-and-no-we-aren’t-taking-questions kind of vibe. Apple is going to have to answer a lot of questions before they lock in guaranteed sales in June. Editors are such a black & white bunch – so many Tweets saying “Well, that’s it. I’m done with FCP!” or “$299! Avid is over!”. It’s a preview everybody! We don’t know enough to make a decision today that we are dropping one platform for another. We need answers to some of these questions: Can all the automation bits be disabled? Is the interface customizable? How does it handle tape-based ingest? What’s happening with other products in the suite? It’s going to be an exciting next few months. With this announcement, I can now get FCPX with a decent color correction package for $299, AND I can get Avid MC 5.5 via crossgrade for $995 AND I can lease any Adobe CS5.5 product for only the months I need them. The price of entry for a very capable and broad system is now about 30% cheaper than what it cost last week. That’s good, right?

Ask questions. Seek answers. Remember, they are just tools in your kit. It’s what you do with them that counts.

UPDATE: You can follow other FCPX posts at Art of the Guillotine.

3 Replies to “FCPX – Armchair observations”

  1. Hey, Ben.

    Thanks for the kickstart to the morning. I’ve heard about the upgrade and was sweating bullets about it. This puts my mind at a bit of an ease about it, although it does look like there will be a learning curve.

    I do find it interesting that the “Suite” approach, as you speculate, could come to an end. If you’re right about that, I think that will only benefit Apple. People love what they see when I’m editing, but when I tell them the price tag, they do a double-take. I think a $299 FCPX will appeal to a wider market, and make FCPX a nice step-up for people who have maxed out on iMovie.

    So long as I can still get Motion. I’ve been getting more and more out of that product in the past two years, and I think (emphasis on “think”) I’m finally getting what everyone’s been raving about.

    Thanks again, Ben, for this write-up. It will be interesting (and exciting) to see what happens next.

  2. Yes, it’s going to be interesting to see how it develops. It’s either going to change things dramatically or it is going to be shunned by the top level pros. One zinger I heard pointed at it: “It’s going to be fine for you ‘middle Americas” editor types, but the real pros will move on.”

    There has been no word on Motion or any of the other suite members. Time will tell.

  3. Hey Ben,

    Your blog is very helpful thank you for taking this kind of time to compile all this information into digestible bits.

    I was (and may still be) on the fence about the FCPX but I have to admit that the 64 bit integration is well overdue. I just hope we see stability in play and not just a fresh new UI.

    If they give me a Motion X – my head might explode.

Leave a Reply