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Apple's Final Cut Pro
Desktop video
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Apple's Final Cut Pro

by David Fox (Nov 2000)

A DV-native NLE for $1299. Complete. Just plug in your DV camcorder. Apple's latest iMac DV models may be aimed at consumers and education, but for straight forward editing, the price is irresistible. Apple's interim CEO, Steve Jobs, believes desktop video "is going to be as big as desktop publishing," an area Apple already dominates. "It’s the convergence of five technologies: iMac DV, FireWire, QuickTime, the amazing iMovie software and digital camcorders. And four of these five are from Apple," he says.

Desktop Video

The iMovie video editing software is preinstalled on each machine, to make it as simple as possible for users. They then just have to plug a DV camcorder into one of the iMac DV's two FireWire ports, and begin editing.

"You can rearrange clips, you can put titles in and scrolling credits, you can put beautiful transitions and special effects, you can drop sound tracks and sound effects in, and you can make movies right on your desktop. In very high DV quality. When you’re done, you can store your movie on your local hard disk or some local removable storage, or you can send it out back through the FireWire port back to your camcorder and store it on digital video, or you can go through your camcorder into a VCR and make a VHS tape to send anybody you like, or you can compress the file and make a QuickTime movie out of it and email it to somebody or put it on your personal website. It’s unbelievable. We think this is going to be the next big thing. Desktop video," enthuses Jobs.

It should certainly increase the amount of video on the Internet - especially as 90% of existing iMac users are on the Web, the highest proportion of any computer users. Features include: drag-and-drop editing of video, audio, effects and titles; one-click recording of musical scores, voice-overs, and sound effects; automatic scene detection to create individual clips of each scene; remote VCR control; and full DV quality. The machine's performance is certainly sufficient for editing use, indeed, Jobs claims it is "the fastest consumer computer on the market," a boast backed up by Byte Integer tests which show it to be 40% faster than a 600MHz Pentium III processor. No doubt, Apple hopes the fledgling film makers it unleashes upgrade to Final Cut Pro.

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Apple Cuts A Dash Through Digital Video

Reports of Apple's impending demise were everywhere 18 months ago. Today it is among the world's most profitable computer companies. The turnaround has been complete. Indeed, in just six months this year, it totally revamped its product line. The latest of which is a version of its hugely popular iMac which includes a digital video editing system, heralding the beginning of its attempt to create and dominate a new "desktop video" market.

Its Macs have been popular in broadcast editing suites for years, with Avid, Media 100 and Accom (Scitex) using them as platforms for their nonlinear editors. More recently, Windows NT-based NLEs have been taking over, but the Mac still has a loyal following. Now that Apple has, at last, paid attention to video, can it climb Back to the top..?

Its other new editing system, Final Cut Pro, is aimed at the broadcast market. It is packed with features, looks good, costs little, and should compete head on with all the low-end NT-based packages. It has notable advantages - not having to rely on plug-in hardware being one. But could it also annoy Avid, Media 100 and Accom and turn them away from the Mac? Possibly not. The response from users was so vocal when Avid gave the wrong impression at NAB that it was abandoning the Mac, that its CEO, Bill Miller, had to write an open letter to his Macintosh customers apologising for the confusion and announce greater support for the Mac, including upgrades and price cuts. Almost as great a turn-about as at Apple itself.

Since Steve Jobs returned to reclaim Apple, it has changed completely. "We now have operating excellence. Our stock price is at an all time high, which shows people's confidence in the company. From a company which was very sick a few years ago, Apple has gone from being a turn-around story to a growth story," says Oren Ziv, Apple director for design and publishing. It has more than $3 billion in cash and boasts the best operational efficiency in the computer business (with just 15 hours between just-in-time components coming in the door and going out to customers).

However, Ziv says the success of the business operation nothing is without the products, which have been radically overhauled. The product line has been simplified and it is now focussing on becoming the industry's chief innovator once more, especially in the key markets it has targeted, of which digital media is one. This is why FireWire is now standard and the new G4 has vector processing tuned specifically for graphics applications. "We view digital media as one of our key growth areas," says Ziv.

"The speed of the G4 is not just based on the processor, but on all the busses and drivers, memory and the operating system too, which have all been made more powerful. Everything has been tuned to increase the power of authoring digital media," he says.

"The G4 is a brand new processor. It's the fastest PC available from anyone, anywhere, dramatically faster than the equivalent Intel processors [a point Intel haven't refuted], yet the price is quite aggressive," he says.

Final Cut Pro is "one of the very first applications optimised for G4 and its velocity engine, which gives incredible power for media rich applications," he claims. The velocity engine is a vector processor which is built into the CPU chip set and takes over graphics processing to speed it up significantly. "It gives dramatic productivity increases in throughput and response times," he says.

It means that Apple can now attack the high-end market with sufficient processing power at a much reduced price. "For $3,000 you can have a complete editing set up including a monitor and Final Cut Pro. Add a 3CCD DV camcorder and you have a complete nonlinear editing production system for under $5,000. For broadcasters it means a great deal. It can shift the responsibility and workflow so you'll see editing moving downstream, closer to the people actually creating the content," says Ziv.

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All Fired Up

FireWire, an Apple invention, has been adopted as a standard (IEEE 1394) which is widely used by camcorder manufacturers (Sony calls it i-Link), and is the de-facto i/o interface for all the DV formats. Using it, Final Cut Pro has complete machine control over a camcorder. "There is nothing to configure. You simply plug it in and it works. All you need is a G4 and Final Cut Pro. There has never been an easier professional solution," claims Ziv. The system can also do analogue editing, but that requires a Targa 2000 Pro card.

For field editing just plug-in a 1394 PC card into a G3 PowerBook, which also has S-video out so it can use a standard TV as a monitor. It can also use a Sony DV Walkman as a play-in deck (giving a second source), and a 24-bit digitisation audio PC card, giving the best quality audio on the move. The addition of ProTools 24 software makes it a complete audio engineering studio too.

For effects work there are several notable packages available, such as Commotion, Cinema 4D, Electric Image and After Effects. And for Internet work, there is Media Cleaner Pro which, as with much of the more interesting software, was specifically developed for the Mac but is now also available for Windows. It can output to any video streaming format. Apple also demonstrated a DVD authoring solution at IBC 99. For Web publishing, Apple launched its own QuickTime streaming server earlier this year.

Final Cut Pro was released in the US at NAB and already claims to be the best selling full-functioned video creation tool on Mac or Windows (at retail price - so not including all those bundled Premiere systems). Andrew Baum, Apple's product marketing manager for Final Cut Pro, believes Apple can realistically sell some 25,000 units worldwide, at full price, by 2001.

It includes a lot of effects and compositing, and Baum claims it competes with Avid's Media Composer in video editing terms (although it doesn't have real-time effects - these are coming soon). It will also be running uncompressed soon, probably by NAB. He claims it offers 70% of the compositing functions of After Effects (mainly the most used ones), so that users don't have to keep importing and exporting material to create effects. It also includes an FXscript language similar to Director's Lingo (Apple originally bought Final Cut from Macromedia), which allows users create any effects they want. It has complete EDL export and import, and effects, compositing and editing in one interface. It also has full DV and analogue deck control.

Final Cut Pro is "the first professional, open standards, plug & play, off-the-shelf editing system. There is no need for a video card, you can even edit on a PowerBook while walking around," he claims. As a portable application, he sees it as perfect for creating rough cuts on location, exporting it to QuickTime, and sending it across the world for approval via the Internet - although it can also do final cuts too, as its name suggests. As far as the open standards claim is concerned, QuickTime and FireWire are both Apple inventions, but are widely used on many platforms, while DV is an industry standard. It includes support for third party After Effects plug-ins and can import Photoshop files and retain full layer addressability, something he claims even Premiere can't do.

"We are hoping to do with Final Cut Pro for video what PageMaker and Quark Xpress did for desk top publishing," he says. The two were both Mac applications originally and effectively created the modern publishing industry, which the Mac still dominates. "Apple wants to be the leader in video technology; all the way from acquisition to distribution," he adds.

Apple is positioning Final Cut Pro between the Premiere level and the Media Composer/Media 100 level, aiming it at mid-range broadcast use (from where he hopes it will gather in a lot of other professional users). At the US price of $999, including Media Cleaner EZ, he claims: "The barriers to entry have just been eliminated."

It has a customisable interface, so users can configure it to how they want to work. Its media management includes a Boolean search mechanism, and users can organise content in any bins or by any feature.

It boasts 99 tracks of video and audio (although these can be nested so are in effect unlimited, as are layers - except by storage). There are 99 levels of undo. It has scrubbable audio, with one-hundreth of a frame definition, as well as simple audio effects such as chorus and reverb. It also has dual monitor support. All tool panels and menus are context sensitive, to reduce overload and make it simpler to use. "There are many different ways of doing the same thing, so that it suits the users rather than them having to learn new ways," says Baum.

NOV 2000

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David Fox