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Non Linear Editors
Final Cut Pro highlights
FCP 3 Improvements
QuickTime and MPEG-4

Apple Places Video At Core Of Digital Hub

by David Fox

The future of computing is video and audio production, believes Apple Computer, and it wants to be at the heart of it. It already markets its Macintosh computer as "the digital hub", not just to consumers but professionals too.

Non Linear Editors

screengrab from iMovieEvery Mac comes with a very simple non linear editor (iMovie - pictured), good enough for use by broadcasters like CNN. The software is free but, for not much more (in NLE terms), Apple has a high-end NLE, Final Cut Pro, the latest version of which does real-time effects and colour correction in DV (Digital Video) with no additional hardware (every Mac includes FireWire [IEEE 1394] ports for DV i/o).

It has also recently (Spring 2002) bought high-end compositing maker, Nothing Real, whose Shake and Tremor software are as expensive as they are acclaimed. Previous Apple purchases resulted in free iDVD and low-cost DVD Studio Pro and iMovie/FCP, which means broadcasters should be able to buy rooms full of Macs running iShake or Shake Pro for the cost of one of today's Shake or Tremor workstations - unless Apple decides to incorporate them into iMovie and FCP.

MAYA LOGOApple's move to a new, much more stable and powerful Unix-based operating system, OS X, is also attracting more creative software, such as Alias|Wavefront, which now offers Maya on the Mac.

While it may lack the megahertz of the latest Pentium chips, Mac architecture is more efficient. Indeed, Apple claims its dual 1GHz PowerMac is over 300% faster at DVD encoding than a 2GHz Sony Vaio that has been optimised for DVD performance.

Apple is also targeting the broadcast market directly for the first time, through a new European strategy targeting broadcast and professional video dealers, most of whom are not existing Apple resellers, and giving them specialist backup. "Previously, customers didn't really have experts to turn to to learn about and buy Final Cut Pro and other Mac video products," says Simon Harper, digital video solutions business development manager.

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Final Cut Pro - The Edited Highlights

As its key broadcast product, FCP has developed considerably, in response to user demands, since it was launched in 1999. "As the product has evolved, we've included a lot more functionality for the broadcast environment," says Apple software product manager, Stuart Harris. Broadcast safe filters, now on version 3.0, were one of the main features broadcasters have been calling for. "We're trying to give people fewer reasons to reject Final Cut Pro for the whole workflow. People want to be able to finish a project on the same system," he says.

"Speed, style and simplicity," is Apple's corporate mantra for its iApps (iMovie, iTunes, etc.), but that extends to its professional products too, and is demonstrated in the way it has tried to make colour correction simple yet flexible. "Video editors aren't computer programmers. They want to have simple tools," he says.

Apple has tried to incorporate the sort of things users would be familiar with, whether they are new to editing or experienced NLE users, with many keyboard shortcuts familiar to Avid or Media 100 users. There are four or five ways of doing everything, "so you are not forced down a single route," says Harper.

It also supports every video standard, from DV to HD. "It doesn't restrict you in the kind of formats you can use," says Harris. Because of this he claims it has attracted a lot of independent film makers who want to do high-end work at low prices.

"There is no application that can do what Final Cut Pro can do in its price range," claims Apple's digital video specialist, Byron Wijaywardena.

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FCP - Version 3 Improvements

With FCP 3.0, users no longer have to worry about extensions conflicts or assigning memory, because OS X doesn't use extensions and has protected memory. It is also dual-processor aware, reducing render times and increasing productivity.

It has 99 levels of undo and 99 multimedia layers (anything QuickTime recognises), which could be a Photoshop document with 99 layers. FCP could then be used to animate and keyframe each layer independently, which makes it easy to create animations. It also has sub-frame audio editing, so it is very accurate, and if you inadvertently move the audio and video out of synch it displays how many frames it is out.

It includes Boris Calligraphy, a new titling tool, broadcast safety filters, voice over recording, hardware calibrated vectorscope and waveforms. It has good asset management, making it easy to sort and search, and you can scroll moving video through thumbnails.

It now has an Offline RT mode, using photo JPEG compression at 320x240 pixels, which stores up to 40 minutes per GB of hard disk, making it very useful for working on the move as a lot of material can now be stored on a laptop hard disk with no need to carry extra drives.. Compression is done in real-time as material is played in.

For work which will be exported as an EDL to another system, its "Cutting Station" mode ensures it doesn't do effects which can't be done elsewhere. This also makes it simpler and faster to use for journalists or researchers. Anglia TV has been trialling it on its daytime talk show, Tricia, where it has moved from compiling its EDLs with pen and paper.

FCP is scalable from VHS to DV straight out of the box, but with the addition of PCI cards (Igniter, Digital Voodoo or CineWave), it can cope with uncompressed SD, HD and 24 frames per second. Working uncompressed would also need more storage, and probably a serial adaptor to control VCRs via an RS-232 interface.

"Lots of products can do this stuff, but not as a single package. You have to put together video cards, etc., but on the Mac is it all tightly integrated. You can take a project straight out of Final Cut Pro and encode it into MPEG-2 faster than real time for DVD and then use iDVD 2 or DVD Studio Pro to create a DVD," says Harper. "Apple is true turnkey all the way through."

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QuickTime Adds MPEG-4

The heart of Apple's multimedia effort is QuickTime, which supports more than 250 different file formats, making material easily interchangeable between applications like FCP, After Effects, Combustion, Photoshop and Premiere, allowing users to bring in QuickTime material and drop it straight on the timeline.

The format, which celebrated its tenth birthday early this year, has now reached version six. However, the release of QuickTime 6 was delayed for months, because of a dispute over MPEG-4 licensing charges. While Apple is happy to pay a licence fee for each encoder and decoder it ships (a charge limited to $1 million each) to enable QuickTime add MPEG-4 support, it doesn't want users to then have to pay a further two cents per hour for every MPEG-4 stream they transmit. This would amount to some $40,000 for each million viewers of a football match.

Apple "does not believe that MPEG-4 can be successful in the marketplace if content owners must also pay royalties in order to deliver their content using MPEG-4." It wants MPEG LA, the licensing body representing 18 patent owners, to come up with a different model or it fears MPEG-4 will fail, leaving the current situation, where content owners have to contend with multiple streaming formats, unchanged.

The licensing terms are still under review, although Apple is confident that an agreement can be reached this Summer. However, MPEG LA's vp for licensing, Larry Horn, has said that "the use royalties to be paid by service providers are tied to remuneration - if service providers or content providers are paid for offering or providing MPEG-4 video, then patent holders are paid for the use of their patents; if service providers or content providers are not paid for offering or providing MPEG-4 video, then patent owners are not paid for the use of their patents." But, Apple's decision to release QT 6 in June (albeit as a public preview version) seems to indicate that some compromise is likely.

June 2002.

© 2000 - 2013

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MORE...
  • Apple's Macintosh computers are widely used for broadcast audio, but setting it up hasn't always been simple. Now, rather than seeing audio as an add-on, Apple has integrated it into its new, more stable, Unix-based operating system, OS X.
  • If you want to edit on location, there are essentially three laptop-compatible systems to choose from: Avid's NewsCutter XP, FAST's purple.Field, and Apple's Macintosh with either its free iMovie 2 software or the much more powerful Final Cut Pro.
  • Boris RED 2.1 is a resolution-independent 3D-compositing and title effects plug-in for Macintosh and Windows NT nonlinear editors.
  • Hardware add-ons from Matrox, Pinnacle, DPS, Canopus and Digital Voodoo allow various nonlinear editors to cope with a wide range of broadcast needs, including shared media networks and even low-cost HD editing.
  • iMovie FAQ - http://www.danslagle.com/mac/imovie/iMovieFAQ.html
  • We wrote this one back in Nov 2000 - Steve Jobs, believes desktop video "is going to be as big as desktop publishing," So, we took a look at Final Cut Pro

David Fox