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Is Final Cut Pro X ready for broadcast?

15 August 2012
Is Final Cut Pro X ready for broadcast?

When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X last year, it wasn’t so much an update to FCP 7 as a completely new nonlinear video editing programme. It was a radical re-think of how we do editing — but because it was essentially a version 1.0 release, it became more talked about for what it didn’t do than its new features.

Among broadcast editors, especially, the initial reaction was one of dismay. Many aspects of the traditional broadcast workflow weren’t supported. Indeed, so great was the backlash that Apple soon put the discontinued FCP 7 and the Final Cut Studio package back on its shelves, so that facilities and production companies that relied on the earlier version didn’t need to upgrade to X if they wanted to add further edit seats.

Since then, Apple has certainly lost mindshare in broadcast, where some editors faced with having to learn a new way to edit have decided to look at discounted crossgrade offers from Avid and Adobe — while many others have simply remained on FCP 7 and waited to see what Apple would do next.

“I think the main issue was that FCP X wasn’t what people were expecting. It was a whole new application that shared little with its predecessor other than its name and it edits video. It also challenges the way we think about editing with its storyline approach to editing rather than tracks,” says Chris Roberts, video editor, Apple Certified Trainer and Adobe Certified Instructor.

“It also lacked some of the key features we had come to expect with FCP: the ability to update older projects; the familiar roundtripping workflow with Motion, Soundtrack Pro and Color; exporting and importing ‘industry-friendly’ files such as EDLs and XMLs; working from shared media assets; audio mixing; broadcast video monitoring; and, of course, multi camera editing. All this, coupled with an unfamiliar interface, alienated existing users who unfairly likened it to iMovie [Apple’s consumer editing package].”

However, FCP X does have some excellent and innovative features, such as the Magnetic Timeline, Inline Precision Editor, skimmer (now also seen on Adobe Premiere), Auditions, Keyword collections, and Smart Collections. Apple has also been diligent in pushing out updates, and is seemingly listening to complaints, although there are still more than 80 requested features on the To Do list at the Final Cut user site fcpx.tv.

“The updates have helped address some of the major concerns (XML import/export; exporting Media Stems; multicamera editing) and the software we have now is quite different from the software initially released,” says Roberts.

“In many circumstances third parties have started filling the gaps … but not always and sometimes the updates from Apple break what already works,” he adds, citing problems with Automatic Duck’s Pro Export FCP, Genarts’s Sapphire Edge plugins and Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks. Although fixes became available, some users had to wait months.

Among the large number of third-party applications that solve some of the problems of X, one of the most useful is Intelligent Assistance’s 7toX. It only costs $10 and makes it relatively easy to migrate FCP 7 projects or sequences into X, and handles the vast majority of standard effects and transitions. Some things (such as text effects) might not translate exactly, but it will make it a great deal simpler for anyone upgrading from 7 to X.

Intelligent Assistance also has an Xto7 application ($50) that converts FCP X Project XML to Sequence XML for import into FCP 7 or other applications, such as Premiere Pro. It also has a nifty $5 app, Event Manager X, which makes it very easy to keep track of Events and Projects, whether they are mounted or not, particularly if you want to avoid a project being seen by an unauthorised client.

There are also a huge number of plug-in filters and effects packages available for X, from the likes of: CoreMelt; Digital Heaven; GenArts; Noise Industries; and Red Giant.

The large number of third-party applications and plug-ins is a good sign that FCP is still the most widely supported of editing systems. Like the programme itself, they tend to be good value – there is even a lot of freeware available, such as from the editor Alex Gollner, whose site (http://alex4d.wordpress.com/) has lots of useful effects, fixes and transitions.

Multicam Editing

One of the major complaints when FCP X launched was that it couldn’t do multicam editing – although you actually could using a fairly easy workaround. However, Apple has since added a multicam editor that is better than FCP 7. It offers 64 camera angles, using mixed video formats and frame rates, and a selection of synchronisation methods.
Besides timecode and markers, it will also sync automatically by matching audio waveforms. Then, to cut between the cameras, there is an Angle Viewer, with a bank of up to 16 angles (you can switch between banks for more cameras), and you cut using a number key.

Broadcast monitoring has also been added back into X, so long as you use third party PCIe cards or Thunderbolt devices from the likes of AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox (although this can mean it isn’t as well integrated as it was previously).

Roberts is happy that “Apple seems to be keeping to its promise of regular updates….” He is doing less FCP 7 training now, quite a lot of FCP X and taking enquiries all the time. “For my editing I’m still largely on FCP 7 because my clients haven’t moved yet, but we’re now looking at how FCP X can be used for their workflows.
“I’ve done a few little corporate projects in FCP X now and I have to say I’m really impressed with how quickly I can put an edit together and, more to the point, how quickly I can make changes.”

By David Fox

www.apple.com/finalcutpro
www.chrisroberts.info
www.digital-heaven.co.uk
www.genarts.com
www.intelligentassistance.com
www.noiseindustries.com
www.redgiantsoftware.com

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