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Final Cut Pro 6

Packing in new features, plus the usual assortment you know and love, FCP 6 is the most powerful version yet! By Heath McKnight

At the 2007 NAB show in Las Vegas, Apple introduced several new pro video products, including Final Cut Server and Final Cut Studio 2, with new versions of Final Cut Pro, Motion, Soundtrack Pro, LiveType, Compressor, Cinema Tools and a new product called Color, which is a high end color grading and finishing application (DVD Studio Pro wasnít updated, however).

Final Cut Pro 6 (FCP 6) is the newest version of the popular non-linear editor (NLE), and things have gotten very interesting.  Packing in new features, plus the usual assortment you know and love, FCP 6 is the most powerful version yet! We take a look at some of the new features in this review.

New Features
The most popular new features include an Open Format timeline, which means you can share a timeline with different types of video (frame rates, sizes, types, etc.), such as DV at 23.98 fps, 720p30 HD and so on.
Another is the ProRes 422 codec, which can take a large, uncompressed HD file and bring the size down to that of an SD clip, but maintaining the HD resolution.  Also, itís very clean and doesnít have any sort of artifacts.  Itís a little similar to using Appleís Photo Ė Jpeg at 75% quality (pjp 75; 4:2:2 YCbCr), which Iíve been using for a couple of years now, following Graeme Nattressí suggestion.  This is a great new codec from Apple that should work well with AJAís ioHD box,  which captures and converts HD to ProRes 422.

ProRes 422, according to representatives at both Apple and RED Digital Cinema, is perfect for editing the 4k resolution clips that the RED ONE produces.  It will definitely save on file sizes, considering itís around 2-4 times the quality of HD.
I did an unofficial test comparing a 15 second, 7 frame animated graphic (1920x1080i50), by rendering and creating five different QuickTime (QT) codecs, as listed below, along with the file size.  I did notice that photo Ė jpeg 75 slightly darkens the video (very slightly). Below are stills taken from the video.

Still from HDV-48.2MB. QuickTime video file size.

Still from 8-bit uncompressed 4:2:2 - 1.48GB. QuickTime video file size.

Photo - Jpeg 75- 7.7MB. QuickTime video file size.

ProRes 422- 31.5MB. QuickTime video file size.

ProRes 422 (HQ) - 36.2MB. QuickTime video file size.

Another new important feature is SmoothCam; Apple says it will take shaky footage and smooth it out.  What better way to see if that holds water than to do it.  I dropped it on a clip thatís 1 minute, 3 seconds (1:03), and it began analyzing the clip.  (Note: the original source material was HDV 1080i50 with CineFrame 25; however, the clip I dropped it onto is 1080p24ó23.08 fpsórendered in pjp 75.)  It took around 13 hours and 20 minutes (13:20:00) to analyze the clip, and less than 4 minutes to render on a 3GHz Mac Pro Quad with 8GB of RAM.

The first clip is without SmoothCam, the second (below) is with the plug-in.© MPS Digital Studios

When it was all done, I did a comparison and was stunned. The SmoothCam feature literally smoothed out a scene that was shot while the DP was walking backwards, holding the Sony HVR-Z1u. Though it was pretty steady, this makes it look more like we shot the scene on a Steadicam or Glidecam. Iím very impressed! I also converted my film ď9:04 AMĒ to Pro Res 422 (the QuickTime movie of the 86:45 film was around 30MB in pjp 75, about 60GB in ProRes 422) and re-did the Smoothcam. It took nearly 24 hours to complete the analysis, and about 4 minutes to render! This is on a 3GHz Mac Pro Quad with 8GB of RAM.

Other new features include better integration with Motion; new features in Cinema Tools and Compressor; more real time FX and filter plug-ins, more audio options; integration with the new Color grading and finishing application, and more.

Ease of Use
FCP 6 is very much the same in design as FCP 4 and 5; I wonder if there will be a change in the look with version 7, which may come out in 2009, following the path set up by Apple over the last few years. FCP 1-3 were very similar, with some changes in appearance, but version 4 began a newer, more streamlined, but still similar look. I only mention this, because Iíve seen some apps happily change the graphical user interface (GUI) for the better, such as DVD Studio Pro 2-4 vs. 1 and 1.5, or for the worse. Itís nice to know the look has stayed the same.

Anyway, if you are familiar with older versions of FCP, other NLEs or even iMovie (to a certain degree), there is no problem with moving into Final Cut Pro 6, which can keep you moving and not trying to figure out where everything is.  If youíre new to FCP or non-linear editing, there are plenty of websites, including this one that can offer instruction, books, DVDs and more. Just do a search and youíll find some great things. However, as usual, Apple provides tutorials and media to get started on learning and cutting.

The new version of Final Cut Pro is an excellent application and a big welcome to this non-linear editorís tools.  Both seasoned and new FCP editors will find powerful new plug-ins and compatibility, along with tried-and-true ones. Get out and grab a copy of Final Cut Studio 2! It is priced at $1299, with an upgrade price of $499 for Final Cut Studio users, and $699 for Final Cut Pro or Production Suite users. For more information, visit

Special thanks to Christine Wilhelmy and her team at Apple for the gracious loan of equipment and software for this review.    

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Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and author who has produced and directed several independent feature and short films, including Hellevator, 9:04 AM and December. He is currently web content manager for doddleNEWS. Heath was also a contributor to VASST's best-selling book, "The FullHD," and has written for TopTenREVIEWS and Videomaker.

Related Keywords:NLE, final cut pro 6, video editors, videography, independent filmmaking, video editing


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