Final Cut Pro has always been an odd kettle of fish. When designing it, Apple took the likes of Avid and Media 100 (both of whom have a longer Mac heritage than a Windows one) as its starting point and built a low-cost powerhouse that would be as happy to run as a software-only solution as it would with a hardware board in tow.
However, these two arenas never seemed to mesh in the product. Lower-end users weren’t happy that the package ran far more slowly than its competitors on cheaper machines, and its interface design really needed a dual-display set-up to work properly. High-end users were limited by the lack of support from board manufacturers, until Pinnacle released CinéWave (a Mac version of the Targa board) late last year.
Events have now caught up with Final Cut. Even the cheapest G4 now on the market can run Final Cut quite happily, a couple of 19-inch monitors costs a lot less than previously, and there’s a wide range of boards available from CinéWave to Matrox’s RTMac via boards from Digital Voodoo and ProMax. And Apple has just updated the software to version 2.0.
Apple has put a lot of effort into creating the engine to allow Final Cut to run real-time. The ability to work in real-time, without having to wait for effects to render, opens Final Cut up to a whole new audience used to this in variable quality from higher-end solutions down to Windows-based solutions such as RT2000. My only current concern is with the quality of the available Macintosh boards, which are still first generation compared to Windows solutions, but hopefully these should stop being poor cousins within a few software revisions.
The rest of the update, while definitely worthwhile, is not likely to make you whoop with excitement – but for users of version 1.25, it’s likely to reduce both your blood pressure and the number of late nights you have put in. The new features concentrate on tidying up the UI and allow you to reduce that mess of footage that’s currently clogging up your hard drive.
Putting together complex projects relies on having good asset management tools – and Final Cut was severely lacking in these until now. Now users have access to bins (on top of folders), the Media Manager for instant removal of unwanted footage, and the Render Manager for removing unnecessary render files. There’s also a Reconnect Media command to remove broken links between project and source clips – and an Analyze Movie command to retrieve just about any form of information about a piece of footage (including data rate, frame rate and video/audio codecs).
Bins allow users to colour clips to make them easier to see (though there’s still no thumbnail mode) and sort them by any category displayed. However, it’s the Media Manager that’s going to mean the most to users, especially those short on disk space. It allows you to chop out unused media, either entire clips or just the parts that aren’t used, which is ideal for when projects have been finished. You can also export projects with only the used clips intact, which is useful for teams.
The Render Manager is another great device for removing leftover render files. This is useful for getting rid of space-gobbling renders from the beginning of projects while you work on the end. However, it has no facilities to get rid of the leftover half-files that fester out-of-sight on your drive when a render crashes your machine and eat up lots of space until you manually find and delete them.
The rest of the updates are more minor but useful. For example, Final Cut adds Start/Stop Detection, which looks through tapes and automatically spots breaks to create multiple scenes for you (sound familiar? It was invented for iMovie). This doesn’t always work, but if your cameraman leaves little bits of black space between clips it’s a handy feature to have.
Other improvements include support for 24fps footage (if you work with film) and an EDL creator, which when coupled with Final Cut’s support for HDTV or film resolutions, allows a Final Cut-powered G4 to make a decent offline machine. Larger set-ups will also appreciate the much-improved capture preference dialog, allowing you to quickly change settings when capturing from a different camera.
There’s also an animated text generator, which is as good as you’d expect from a built-in CG. Better is the addition of VU meters and support for OMF format audio. BIAS’s PeakDV audio-editing tool is also included, giving Final Cut decent audio capabilities at long last.
Other bundled pieces of software include the ubiquitous Cleaner 5 EZ for compression to Web video formats, Cinema 4D Go for basic 3D modelling and animation, and Commotion DV. This is the cut down version of the respected compositing tool which gives you access to some excellent tidying-up tools.
Final Cut comes with a decent-sized manual and some tutorials (at last), and an apparent performance upgrade – including true multi-processor support.
Final Cut Pro 2 did show an obvious speed boost
but how much of this is due to refinements in the program and how much is due to the power of the G4 needed to run it is unsure. The software still takes a long time to render materials, although the end results are excellent.
Final Cut Pro 2 is a high-quality, powerful tool, but users should think twice before using it without a real-time video card.