Three new ProRes codecs, background rendering, one-light grading and AVC-Intra and RED support make this suite well worth the price of admission

Today, July 23, 2009, the much-anticipated “new” Final Cut Studio arrived. It includes Final Cut Pro 7, Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5, and Compressor 3.5. Apple is also releasing a new version of Final Cut Server (1.5) today, sold separately from the Studio bundle.

I was lucky to have a few days access to a demo system earlier this week, so I’m basing my review on the time I spent checking out the new features and improvements. Obviously, I haven’t had a chance to put its feet to the fire. That will take place over the next few weeks/months, as I explore how these many enhancements affect the system on projects of various length and complexity. That being said, it looks like Apple has been listening to its customers. This release directly addresses some of the workflow issues of the past, while adding robust enhancements and maintaining the terrific functionality and interface of the original app.
Final Cut Pro 7
• New ProRes Codecs
Apple has added three new versions of the Apple ProRes codec to the original two, still inside this version. I was glad to see the two new lower resolution versions for offline, ProRes 422 (Proxy) and ProRes 422 (LT), for working with reduced-file-size broadcast-quality clips for, say, news and sports. There is also a new codec for more demanding compositing and higher-end workflows, ProRes 4444 (yes, that extra 4 is part of the name).

• New Output and Compressor Options
The upgraded Compressor features will really help your workflow. You can now send a file to Compressor from a new window in FCP 7 called the “Share” window. You can export files for Apple TV, iPod, or iPhone, publish to YouTube or MobileMe, or burn a Blu-ray disc or a DVD directly from the FCP 7 interface. The rendering, compression, and publishing takes place in the background, so you can keep working in Final Cut. Nice!

• iChat Theater
More window sharing-specifically your desktop and UI views-takes place when you launch iChat. Think how much time you could save with a real-time meeting in iChat, where everyone logged in can see your edits in real time while you discuss the project. There’s a very nice large timecode overlay view that helps. It’s big enough to see from anywhere in your edit suite, even if clients are sitting across the room on a couch.

• New Speed Change Tools
FCP 7 has a much-improved variable and constant speed-change features that include presets for easing retimed clips in and out. For constant speeds, the new Speed tool adjusts the speed as you drag to shorten or extend a clip. You can control variable speeds by entering keyframes directly in the timeline.

• Native AVC-Intra /RED Support
Using the Log and Transfer window, Final Cut Pro 7 can ingest P2 AVC-Intra and REDCODE (up to 4K) files. The software converts natively ingested AVC-Intra files to ProRes 422 (HQ) for editing by dropping a clip into a new sequence and letting the sequence settings match the clip settings. The AVC-Intra codec doesn’t support encoding, however, so ProRes becomes the editing format. If you’re doing 4K work, you can edit RED files in real time in ProRes 4444 (or any ProRes codec) or as native files (a 2K sequence using native 4K files, at reduced resolution). You can then export your edited sequence to Color via an Edit Decision List (EDL), and relink it to the original archived REDCODE media using a Cinema Tools database. At that point you can do color grading in Color with access to the full REDCODE data. Take note: To get at that full REDCODE data, the limitations of Color apply. That means you can only work with one video track, there is no audio support, and cross-dissolve is the only supported transition. From there, you output to a DPX file for film output or ProRes 422 or ProRes 4444 for videotape. (The REDCODE codec does not support encoding either.)

Motion 4
Motion 4 has a number of gussied up 3D features. I particularly liked the intuitive new tools for adding 3D shadows and reflections. You’ll also find some nice drag-and-drop camera framing behaviors that will let you animate multiple cameras. Other new camera behaviors let you create depth-of-field, focus on a part of the picture, and create rack focus effects. The greatly improved text tool and a special tool for generating credit rolls are welcome necessities. There is also a new “Link Parameter” behavior that lets you make objects respond to one another.
Soundtrack Pro 3
Soundtrack Pro 3 includes several improvements that will solve a lot of routine problems. Having issues matching voice levels from different microphones on different channels? The lift-and-stamp Voice-Level Match tool analyses the vocal content of both the lifted and stamped clips and automatically adjusts the amplitude of the stamped clip to make the dialog levels match. The File Editor has more drag-and-drop functionality and a new Frequency Spectrum view. I found this new view very helpful; you can edit selected frequencies displayed by color, editing out specific frequencies without affecting the rest of the waveform.

Other new features include precise new time-stretch tools, improved multi-track editing and direct recording to the multi-track editor, noise reduction enhancements, new navigation tools, new editing capabilities, improved normalization functions, waveform-zoom in the timeline and other timeline improvements, the ability to read XML metadata, and greater support and integration with third-party control devices.

Color 1.5
Color 1.5 supports 4K resolutions from the RED One as well as from other 4K camera sources. It supports ProRes 4444 for output to high-end video formats and DPX and Cineon files for digital cinema mastering and film-outs. Color can now also import and grade DPX files.

If you are working with RED footage, you’ll be in Color a lot, and it’s nice to know that it supports round tripping with Final Cut Pro 7. That includes complex sequences with stills, speed effects and multicam clips. Color can also read Cinema Tools databases and relink to original media files if proxies have been used for editing, something you may be doing more of with those handy new offline ProRes codecs. There are a number of other minor workflow improvements inside Color that you’ll appreciate, especially the ability to do one-light grading, where you grade one clip and apply it to the entire scene. If you work with hardware control from Tangent Devices or Euphonix, the new version plugs right into those devices.

Compressor 3.5
Compressor 3.5 is one of the main stars inside the new Final Cut Studio. Think simplified and automated common tasks, and you’ll understand what I mean. The Job Action feature automates post-encoding actions. Compressor now can publish a file to an iTunes library or a Web site, burn a Blu-ray disk or DVD, or trigger Automator workflows. The new Batch Templates automates any of your encoding workflows from start to finish. Using enhanced droplets, you can also create Compressor presets and miniature Compressor applications for particularly annoying and repetitive encoding tasks. I liked that you could burn a DVD or Blu-ray disk directly from within the Compressor interface.
Final Cut Server 1.5
Some users, even those operating in small environments, will want to upgrade to Final Cut Server 1.5 as well. For those already familiar with the previous version, it gives you much greater control in managing your assets than Final Cut Studio does alone. Final Cut Server 1.5 also provides powerful version control and, as you’d expect, is a very good complement to Final Cut Studio.
A Worthwhile Upgrade
Is Final Cut Studio the most popular editing system in use today? One could certainly make the case. And with the added functionality and better integration inside this new version, the bundle will be a must-have upgrade for any serious professional. It’s a ridiculous value when you consider the sum of its parts. It will also make life easier-and more fun-for a lot of editors. Best yet, it’s ready to ship right now.

David Leathers is a writer, producer and musician in the Los Angeles area. Reach him at