Today at NAB Apple unveiled Final Cut Studio, an upgrade to their Production Bundle that adds new features including enhanced HD support. The bundle consists of Final Cut Pro 5, Soundtrack Pro, Motion 2, and DVD Studio Pro 3. With each upgrade Apple has improved the integration of their Pro Apps making it a very attractive platform for postproduction, and this year I’m starting to see some extra sparkle.
Final Cut Pro 5 adds support for native HDV (a.k.a. long GOP MPEG-2) editing without the need to recompress. This new version also adds the much-requested feature of multi-camera editing, once again narrowing the gap between the features of Avid xPress Pro and Final Cut. A new IMX codec in Final Cut Pro 5 allows for native editing of broadcast content from Sony XDCAM media. Direct support for Panasonic P2 solid state media provides reliable and efficient (though still expensive) tapeless transfer of DVCPRO, DVCPRO50 and DVCPRO HD video. New audio capabilities include the support for 24-bit 96kHz and the use of audio control surfaces. Final Cut is really coming into into it’s own with this release.
Motion 2 adds Replicator, a new automated design tool that allows you to animate and duplicated movies or graphics along user-defined grids and patterns. Also new in Motion 2 is MIDI support that allows Motion 2 to be played like a musical instrument with animation changes triggered by a keyboard or other MIDI controllers.
DVD Studio Pro 4 adds HD DVD authoring based on the HD DVD specification. While it’s still up in the air which standard will dominate consumer players in the mean time you can play your HD DVDs on other Macs and a hopefully growing number of compatible players.
Just a couple of weeks ago I tried as an experiment using Soundtrack to mix some audio tracks for a film I’m working on, and while it was not quite there yet, the elegant interface and capabilities made it an irresistible thing to try, leaving me wishing Apple would enhance Soundtrack to provide what could be an an excellent starting point for a “sound mixing environment for the rest of us.” ProTools with it’s close ties to their own hardware and high price tag has always scared away casual users, like myself, who have to do audio work but audio is not our mainstream thing. We want simplicity and an interface that is not so different from what we’re used to using for picture editing.
Today Apple unveiled Soundtrack Pro, which may prove to be a serious contender for sound editing and sound design. Soundtrack Pro includes a waveform editor, an integrated multitrack mixer, and dozens of plug-ins for a very capable sound editing and sound mixing tool. Like it’s predecessor, Soundtrack Pro includes thousands of Apple Loops for use in building music and sound effects tracks. I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at this application on the show floor tomorrow.
DVD Studio Pro 4 adds integrated, scalable H.264 encoding in order to fit HD content on DVDs using existing drives and media. Apple also claims you can go from HDV to HD on DVD with no recompression with Final Cut Pro. Not that there are many HD capable DVD players out there, but you can share you HD DVDs with other lucky Macintosh users. Distributed encoding of assets allow you to use multiple Macs to speed the compression process, which will be a welcome feature with the increased data processing required for HD encodong.
Apple is touting their ability to play in a facilities environment with their Xsan offering making it possible to capture media once and share it among multiple workstations. Sounds like Apple plans move into Avid’s long held territory of professional postproduction facilities, now that Apple has established itself as an important player among indepedent filmmakers and low-end projects revolving around the DV format.