Final Cut Pro 5
3.8Overall Score
Price (RRP): $1,499

 

Final Cut Pro 5 is the real deal when it comes to ?Pro? applications finds Stephen Withers.

Software companies like the ?Pro? tag, but it usually just means ?the version with the extra frills?. QuickTime is a case in point: QuickTime Pro might be better labelled QuickTime Plus, as the additional features aren?t really directed at professional users. Final Cut Pro is a completely different league, being a truly professional application used in the production of broadcast and other video content.

The Final Cut Pro 5 package comprises Final Cut Pro itself, LiveType (titling), Compressor (high-quality batch encoding) and Cinema Tools 3 (links film and the corresponding digitised video), but we?ll concentrate on the core program.

Content

Final Cut Pro now provides native support for HDV (1080i and 720p), so no conversion need occur between the original footage and final output. 1080i/50 has been added to the DVCPRO HD support, while IMX content can be edited, though not captured or exported without additional hardware and software.

There are four main windows in the Final Cut Pro user interface. From left to right and top to bottom they are the Browser (which represents the resources used in the project), the Viewer (used to preview individual clips and their associated filters and motion effects), the Canvas (the playback window), and the Timeline (representing the assembled project).

Final Cut Pro?s browser uses ?bins? to collect related materials. They can be nested, so a bin representing one part of a project could contain other bins holding video clips, music tracks and even completed sequences. The latter simplifies the organisation of the project, and makes it easy to compare alternative versions.

Assembling clips into sequences is basically straightforward. Each sequence can contain up to 99 video tracks and 99 audio tracks. Double-clicking a clip in the Browser opens it in the Viewer, where in and out points can be set. Then drag the clip into the timeline, and repeat as needed. Dragging a clip from the Browser or the Viewer provides more control as it gives several choices.

For example, Insert adds the new clip at the playhead, moving everything that?s not in locked tracks along to make room, while Overwrite replaces as much content in the destination tracks as necessary to accommodate the new material. Both Insert and Overwrite provide the option of applying a transition at the beginning of the clip being inserted.

Final Cut Pro 5 introduces multiclips. These are primarily intended for scenes shot with multiple cameras with the intention of cutting from one angle to another. The individual clips are synchronised either by time code (if professional equipment was used) or by in or out points (normally set to an event such as a clapperboard). Once created, a multiclip can be treated like any other, except that the editor can switch from one camera angle to another with the press of a key or a click of a button. The individual clips are shown together in the Viewer window (up to 16 at a time), while the active clip plays in the Canvas. Video and audio can be switched together or separately.

The big advantages of multiclips are that the individual clips all remain in sync, and you can change your mind about which angle to use.

Another feature emphasised by Apple is dynamic realtime processing (RT Extreme). The idea is that video quality is adjusted automatically to allow sequences to be played without previously being rendered. Although the 17in PowerBook G4 we used for testing was considerably faster than the recommended minimum (1.67GHz vs 550MHz, 512M RAM), even a simple effect could stall during playback. This problem persisted even when we manually set the lowest video quality and frame rate.

A 1.9GHz iMac G5 with 1G of RAM fared better in that it could play the sequence at the lowest quality, but not when dynamic was selected. Rendering the affected portions took approximately 150 percent of real time. If your system contains a graphics card that can apply realtime effects for particular codecs, Final Cut Pro can use that instead of RT Extreme.

Audio features include support for external control surfaces via MIDI and the Mackie and Logic Control protocols. Within Final Cut Pro, setting keyframes in the Timeline makes it easy to adjust levels and panning for particular parts of a sequence, and tools are provided to simplify the addition of voiceovers.

A variety of filters let you clean up and hopefully improve the audio tracks in your production. The mechanics of adjusting the filters is simple, the difficult part is knowing what to adjust and when.

Documentation

Final Cut Pro is one of the few remaining packages that include what we consider to be proper documentation. Given its complexity, we wouldn?t have it any other way. Here?s what you get: a 16-page leaflet covering installation, a ?Getting Started? guide that runs to more than 210 pages, a user manual in four volumes totalling nearly 1900 pages, and a fold-out quick reference to the keyboard commands. There is an extensive index, but it is only included in volume four. Since it runs to over 70 pages, it might have been usefully bound separately.

We like the way that more general issues are introduced, such as the need for careful lighting of scenes that will be used for keying. The material is well organised and presented, with plenty of screen images to clarify the explanations. That said, the images are best used to guide your attention to the right part of the screen, as the details are often illegible due to the small size and the lack of contrast caused in part by greyscale reproduction. A PDF of the complete user manual is provided in lieu of help, but at least it includes colour images.

Integration

Final Cut Pro integrates with Motion, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro and Shake. For example, a Motion document can be opened in Final Cut Pro, and its motion paths and other attributes survive Final Cut Pro editing.

The program can also be set to open clips in other applications, such as Photoshop for still images.

Export

Apart from sending the finished project back to tape, Final Cut Pro can output a QuickTime movie or use the installed QuickTime codecs to produce movies in other formats (eg, DivX). It can also produce edit decision lists (EDLs). The Batch Export feature is very convenient if you need to export a project in multiple formats (eg, DV PAL and DV NTSC), or if there are multiple sequences to export. One minor problem we encountered with the batch exporter was that selecting an exported item and clicking the View Exported button always displayed an error (?Nothing to view.?) instead of displaying the item in the Viewer.

The Batch Export feature is very convenient if you need to export a project in multiple formats

Verdict

Many video amateurs would rather spend $1499 on a new camera than on software, but that?s why Apple offers Final Cut Express. Final Cut Pro is a serious program with a serious price tag. It?s designed to get the job done, and repays the time needed to master it, but given its complexity we would recommend self-paced or classroom training to help a newcomer become productive as quickly as possible.

When Final Cut Pro is combined with the rest of Final Cut Studio, about the only thing stopping you from matching any editing and titling techniques you see on TV is your own ability.

Final Cut Pro 5
Price (RRP): $1,499
Remarkably capable and comprehensive editing package.
So much power and flexibility requires serious study - context-sensitive help would be a boon.
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
3.8Overall Score
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