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Outfitting your Portable Final Cut Pro Workstation

You Can Edit On The Go! By Heath McKnight

Final Cut Pro editors are always looking for ways to bring the show on the road, and Apple s laptops are more powerful than ever before. These speedy machines can be used for editing video with Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express, not to mention iMovie. Even the consumer-friendly MacBook packs enough punch under the hood, with new models achieving a maximum of 4GB RAM that can be added, to cut video without a problem. Below are a couple of set-ups for a great portable Final Cut Pro (FCP) workstation.

MacBook Pro Workstation
Probably the best scenario for a portable FCP workstation, the fastest and largest of the MacBook line, can take up to 4GB RAM, has a large hard drive, a beautiful screen (both 15.4-inch and 17-inch) and a great graphics card. I recommend maxing out the RAM (it s always more affordable to go with a third party for RAM, like www.ramseeker.com), but a standard hard drive should be okay. You ll be storing video on an external drive; putting video on your start up disk (the internal drive where OS X and your apps rest) can destroy the drive pretty fast.

At press time (June 2008), the 17 inch  LED model with a 2.6Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB stock RAM, and a double layer SuperDrive DVD burner will set you back $3,149, about the same price as a Mac Pro 2.8Ghz dual-quad core (eight processors total) with a 20 inch  Apple Cinema Display. However, there are easier ways to cut even uncompressed HD footage (using Apple ProRes 422, see http://postproduction.digitalmedianet.com/articles/viewarticle.jsp?id=167666), there s almost no reason to use a Mac Pro unless you are only going to cut and deliver in uncompressed HD. Add either Final Cut Studio 2 , Color, or Final Cut Express 4, and you re on your way to a great portable editing solution.

Years ago, I actually loaded Final Cut Pro 2 on an iBook, and was able to use it to edit DV "barely. Those days are over now, since Apple s MacBook has up to a 2.4Ghz processor (as of June 2008) and can take up to 4GB RAM.

I regularly use a slightly older MacBook, from October 2007 with a 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB RAM, to cut everything from a feature film shot on the Sony PMW-EX1 to an infomercial shot on Sony s HVR-V1u and JVC s HD110. It s only a little slower, especially since a firmware update hasn t been provided to allow 4GB RAM to be put in older MacBooks, but I can still accomplish many things without a problem.

As with the MacBook Pro, I recommend maxing out RAM through a third party; I also suggest buying the midrange MacBook. The most affordable model may only cost $1,099 to start, but it only comes with a 2.1GHz processor, 1GB RAM, and a combo CD-R/RW and DVD-ROM drive, no double layer SuperDrive DVD burner. The high-end MacBook that comes in black and much larger stock hard drive (250GB vs. 160GB) is great, but has the same processor and stock RAM, plus costs $200 more.

I use Final Cut Studio 2 without a problem on my MacBook, but I know others are using Final Cut Express 4 (FCE) with much success. I noticed no speed differences between the two applications.

External FireWire Hard Drives
Now we come to a major part of your portable FCP workstation, the external drive. The MacBook Pro can support FireWire 800 and 400 (FireWire is also known as iLink or IEEE 1394), but the MacBook only supports 400, so you re limited in that regard on what drives you purchase for your setup. And forget about USB 2.0 drives; I ve had zero luck with them, since the speed varies often.

I regularly use two brands of external FireWire drives, those from G-Technology, like the G-Drives or G-RAIDs, and Fantom Drives. Combo drives, i.e., those with FireWire 400 and 800 and USB 2.0 ports, are your best bet, but make sure your other FireWire drives can plug into your main one.

I have many old FireWire 400 drives and a new 1TB unit from Fantom Drives that has two FireWire 800 ports but only one FireWire 400 port, so daisy chaining the drives together (hooking up several FireWire drives together) is impossible, since the new drive is plugged into my MacBook via the 400 port. So try to stick with combo FireWire drives.

Purchase the largest drive you can afford, and with prices very low, a 1TB Fantom Drive costs around $260 or so, and a G-Drive will set you back around $380 or so, as of June 2008. Use Apple s Disk Utility to format the drive; I ve noticed with OS X Leopard and Fantom Drives, you ll need to Partition the drive (just one, i.e., no real partition), then select Options and GUID, then erase the drive. I haven t used a new G-Technology drive yet, so I can t comment on if this needs to be done for that particular brand.

External Display
Hooking up an external display to either the MacBook or the MacBook Pro isn t a problem. They both come with adaptors that make it easy to connect to a computer display. I recommend the excellent Apple Cinema Displays  or Westinghouse Digital s computer monitors.

Matrox TripleHead2Go
The Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition, available for both Mac and Windows systems (portables and desktops), is the laptop user s best friend. Whereas you can easily hook up a single external display to your laptop, the TripleHead2Go allows THREE displays to be hooked up! Studies have shown using two or more monitors speeds up productivity, and this little device makes it easy.

Once I hooked up the TripleHead2Go to my MacBook and went through the steps, I was able to hook up a maximum of two displays (the computer acts as an additional monitor). The MacBook Pro can support up to three with the device. See a compatibility list here: http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/corpo/support/compatibility/compatibility.php.

You can also use the three monitors to create one gigantic monitor, and let me tell you, it rocks. If you re a pro video or graphics user, or you love video games, this is the solution you ve been looking for. Check out this link regarding the Matrox Monitor Bezel Management. You can pick up a Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition for only $329. Find out more at http://matrox.com/graphics/en/gxm/products/th2go/digital/home.php.

Monitoring Video
An affordable solution to monitor video to ensure colors, image, gamma, etc., are accurate, pick up Matrox s MXO device. It supports both Final Cut Pro and Color, and gives you the best monitoring and calibrating solution short of buying a very expensive monitor from JVC, Sony, Panasonic, etc. All you need is a computer display, like those recommended above.

The newest MXO 2 device has even more features, including HDMI and SDI I/O ports and Adobe CS3 Premium support, along with Final Cut Pro, Color, Motion and Soundtrack Pro support, so make sure you visit http://matrox.com/video/en/products/mxo2/. The original MXO runs $995, while the MXO 2 will be shipping summer 2008 and will cost $1,595.

Video Capture
So you need to capture video via FireWire, but the VTR device you re using doesn t have FireWire (iLink) out? Maybe it has HD SDI out, or even Component (if it s analog), and without a capture card that can be installed in a desktop like the Mac Pro, you may find yourself in trouble. 

AJA's io HD is the best solution. You can take it anywhere and use it to capture any type of video. It supports Apple s ProRes 422 codec, so you can capture uncompressed HD on the fly, and it will convert the footage in real time to ProRes 422 or the ProRes 422 HQ codec. It costs around $3,000. Another solution is the above-mentioned MXO 2, and will capture to ProRes 422 and HQ, uncompressed 10-bit, etc.

It doesn t take much to create a portable Final Cut Pro workstation that will support the majority of your editing needs. If you are cutting native uncompressed HD, I highly recommend a dual quad-core Mac Pro and a massive RAID system. For everything else, especially with the ProRes 422 codec, a portable system is a great solution.


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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:video editing, final cut pro editing, portable editing system


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