Initially seen as an excellent, if basic, editing tool that aimed to steal Adobe Premiere’s software-only user group, Final Cut Pro
has managed to win many fans higher up the digital-video market. Its double act with powerful hardware solutions such as Pinnacle’s CinéWave has seen its
use in a growing number of movie and broadcast production setups. The latest update of the non-linear editor (NLE) seems to be aimed at the software-only crowd, as most of the hype is around its ability to edit DV in real-time without hardware backup.
Real-time DV editing, the ability to add transitions and filters without having to wait for them to render, was the buzz-phrase of 2001 and is set to be just as important to users this year. While Windows users have many hardware solutions to choose from, Macintosh users have been limited to the real-time options of Matrox’s RTMac and CinéWave RT – so the addition of software-driven real-time effects should be a real bonus. Unfortunately, they often aren’t.
If you already own an RTMac or CinéWave RT, Final Cut Pro’s software-driven real-time features switch off in favour of those of the board – so you don’t gain anything. You also lose the ability to use new effects such as three-way colour correction properly, which only run in real-time in the software – although this should change once the board manufacturers update their drivers.
The level of real-time functionality in Final Cut
Pro 3 may look small when compared to that available from the likes of the RTMac, but it does extend to most day-to-day tasks. Users get two layers of video and a single layer of graphics as standard, plus a number of standard effects dependent on the power of the Mac being used. A 500MHz G4 desktop with 384MB of RAM will allow for the basic three layers, while our dual 800MHz test system allowed us five concurrent effects before asking to render. If you use more effects, you can create a RAM preview in real-time at lower resolutions or frame rates, but this requires quite a lot of RAM to work properly – something Macs aren’t noted for. The choice of effects is again limited – and
2D-only – but includes most everyday tools such as motion effects, cross-dissolves, wipes, irises and colour-correction.
Most professional users in real-time DV editing will need a board-based solution, especially as cards such as the RTMac offer other features such as analog input and output (including to a PAL monitor), 3D effects, dual-monitor output, and an extra level of video. Where the software-only approach really comes into its own is on a PowerBook, though you’ll need a top-spec 667MHz model with at least 384MB of RAM for a basic, three-layer approach – and 512MB of RAM for single effect work. This is extremely expensive, but it puts the PowerBook/FCP 3 combo in a league of its own and ahead of its main RFE competitor, Pinnacle’s Purple.field.
However, the best use of the Final Cut Pro’s internal real-time system is for higher-end work. FCP 3 has introduced a new capture format called OfflineRT. This uses QuickTime’s Photo-JPEG codec to bring in lower-resolution versions of footage to decrease the amount of space taken up on the host drive, and the pressure of working with it on the processor. The concept of offline editing is not new, but the ability to capture offline footage from DV tape is useful (especially for PowerBook users, as it drops the space taken up by a factor of five) – as is the ability to capture and work with it in real-time. Offline DV may sound like an irrelevance, but being able to work with an offline version of uncompressed SD or even HD footage in real-time is valuable assuming you have
the right capture card.
Another useful tool in version 3.0 is colour-correction. Central to this is the colour control filter with hue and balance controls, and its big brother – the three-way colour-correction filter. This offers overall control over blacks, mids and whites – plus selected colours using the limit effect. A videoscope adds a waveform monitor, vectorscope, histogram and RGB parade, which are available at all times. There’s also a very simple-to-use Broadcast Safe filter that removes bad colours, a range check for luma and chroma levels that tells you what’s over the limit – and what’s getting close – using red and green zebra patterns. Other cool compositing features include a proper chroma keyer – not just the blue/greenscreen filter – and support for Adobe After Effects plug-ins.
Final Cut Pro’s new voiceover tool, which lets you capture audio directly to the timeline, is a welcome addition. It includes both a pre-roll and finishing function that records three seconds before and two seconds after your selected time to allow for the narrator beginning too quickly or not finishing in time. The only downside is the inability of standard new Macs to record audio, so you’ll need to add a separate sound card.
Apple has also tidied up FCP’s asset-management capabilities with the new Media Manager. This lets you to easily perform admin tasks such as deleting unused media, moving entire projects, or creating versions of a sequence using a different codec – for example, for online to offline copying or vice-versa.
As well as the major additions, there’s a whole host of minor ones to back them up. Final Cut Pro’s capture capabilities now add support for 23.98fps video and up to 12 scratch disks. New editing features include an autosave vault, the ability to revert and restore projects and audio peak detection. New output features include display of estimated render time and automatic record and print-to-video. There’s also Mac OS X support, which brings little of the Aqua-fying you’d expect with the same company behind each product. This is a good thing as it shows Apple is aware that FCP users are editors first, not Macintosh users, and an Avid-esque matt grey front end is more pleasing to video editors than flashy pastels.
Chuck in a good set of bundled software: Boris Calligraphy for 2D and 3D titles in real-time (as long as there’s no animation within the title), Bias PeakDV for better audio handling and CGM FXScript DVE for non-real-time 3D effects, and Final Cut Pro is well-rounded product that may have blown all the wrong trumpets but comes up trumps none the less.