I was on a small vacation last week with limited Internet access but the occasional check of the Twitters surprised me with this tweet about what may/may not be the next version of Final Cut Pro: that long rumored Super-duper Final Cut Pro Extreme Master Suite, remade from a blank slate, taking advantage of all Snow Leopard has to offer, changing the interface and raising the price–one app to rule them all. A website called Hardmac created the stir with two posts about this new version.

We’ve talked about Final Cut Pro rumors before … Apple selling the pro apps, Apple at NAB, New FCP at NAB … of course none of those things turned out to be true so it’s probably time to stop commenting on the rumors at all.

But the Hardmac speculation is too good to pass up. Of course we all know that Apple has to be working on a new version of Final Cut Pro (and pretty much all of the pro apps) that updates the applications for the modern technologies introduced with their new operating system Snow Leopard. More importantly they need all three elements of what they have to offer working smoothly as one: the operation system, the hardware and the software. The OS and the hardware are there so now they have to get the software up to speed. We currently sit with separate applications (FCP > Motion > Color) for different parts of the post process with tacked on features to address user needs: FCP’s Share menu, Color’s RED settings. Enter the idea of the all-in-one Super App. From the Hardmac website:

the suite is being entirely re-written and its interface will be deeply modified. First, all applications forming the suite will not be independent as currently, be integrated inside a single super-application. The main interface will be using the concept of rooms, where each room represents a step in the post-production workflow associated to each application – similar to the Logic Interface.

If this proves to be true it would be a huge change in the whole paradigm of how Final Cut Studio works within itself. Not that that’s a bad thing because as apps have been added into the Final Cut Studio suite they have had round-tripping “Send To” commands tacked on to accommodate. Many hate the idea of round-tripping, not just because it takes time and drive space to move back and forth between apps but that movement can be problematic. This doesn’t even account for changes that may be made after the round trip which can cause its own set of problems.

The idea of a single all-encompassing application for post production isn’t new. The Avid DS takes a similar approach with several different “rooms” for thing like titling, compositing and painting. Talk to a good DS editor and they will sing the praises of the machine and fight to near-death to defend its honor. Talk to others and they might tell the tale of a clunky, bloated behemoth that does many things adequately but nothing amazingly well. My DS experience is several versions ago and I tend to agree with the latter. As a finishing machine it stands tall but as a creative editor it was a real hindrance.

There lies the potential problem of an all in one application that Apple may (or may not) be working on. Currently in the Final Cut Studio we have 4 different core applications that cover the basis of post: FCP for edit and finish, Motion for graphics and effects; Soundtrack Pro for audio mixing and sound design and Color for grading. They are all very different interface wise (some more than others **cough**Color) and have their own quirks and personalities. And they are all developed and upgraded with their own strengths in mind. I’m not saying the same thing couldn’t happen with an all-in-one app but I see a danger in that things could get watered down and the app could become a “jack of all trades, master of none.” I would worry about core stability as well since there would have to be a massive bit of computer code lying under the hood to make all of this work. Would that make the app less stable? Maybe. Often I feel myself wishing that FCP had a cuts/dissolves only mode during the early storytelling part of an edit. Such a mode would let me move faster and block out any of the external noise and temptations of effects and motion graphics until at least the barker was completed. But maybe an all-in-one app might help with this since the edit room would probably be a very bare bones place to form a cut. On the other hand I suspect the ease of moving into other “rooms” might prove tempting and I would move on to other things too early. I guess that’s where the editor’s discipline comes in handy.

I guess what I’m discovering as I write this is that I don’t really know how I feel about this idea of an all-in-one application for post production. It certainly flies in the face of the type of facility where I currently work as we have dedicated artists for different phases of the post process, often with very expensive equipment. But as a DV Rebel at heart there’s part of me that loves the idea of being able to easily address all aspects of post with a dedicated and well designed application. That’s what I have often felt the Avid DS wasn’t – well designed. And when they tacked Media Composer-like buttons on top, that didn’t help either. In the lower budget, digital still cameras that shoot HD video world that currently exists this all-in-one app might slot in nicely until you see the claimed Hardmac price: “around 2,000 USD.” A lot of what has let Final Cut Studio be the game changer that is has become is good power at a great price. Prepare for a lot of screaming from users if the price doubles. There’s always the possibility that Apple would keep the regular Final Cut Studio at its current price point as well as this extreme all-in-one version. But let’s be honest, Apple seems to have trouble with regular updates to one Final Cut Pro, much less two.

I’ll end with this challenge to Apple: If you are creating an all encompassing post-production software suite encased within one single application, it must be fast and it must be stable (and can I beta test it?). 7 versions into Final Cut Pro we don’t want to start over with something seemingly cool that’s buggy, even if it has promise. We want it to work but we also want it to be something we need. Maybe that’s the key right there: we don’t really need something brand new at this point in time at all. We need what we have right now just updated for speed and stability with modern technologies; with a well designed (and somewhat common) interface amongst the apps in the suite; and the ability to move seamlessly between those apps. Come to think of it that’s what Adobe is trying to do with the Creative Suite. The ball is now in Apple’s court.