ARRI Says Its Alexa Will be the First Camera to Support the New Codec

Some Final Cut Pro updates are bigger than others, but last week's release of version 10.1.2 included a special surprise — support for Apple ProRes 4444 XQ, a new sixth codec in the ProRes line-up.

As in ProRes 4444, which was introduced back in 2009, the extra "4" refers to the lossless, full-resolution 16-bit alpha channel. Apple said the new codec allows a dynamic range "several times greater than" Rec. 709 and should stand up to heavy image processing that stretches the shadows and highlights. While ProRes 4444 has a target data rate of 330 Mbps for 1080p 30p/60i, ProRes 4444 XQ's target data rate for the same footage is 495 Mbps. (To see target data rates across the ProRes family, download the new Apple ProRes white paper and scroll to page 21.)

As the highest-quality ProRes codec, 4444 XQ is also well-suited for recording camera original footage, and ARRI said the Alexa XT and Alexa Classic cameras with the XR module will be the first to support it. ProRes 4444 XQ encoding will be available at HD and 2K resolutions in the next firmware upgrade (or, in ARRI lingo, software update packet), which is expected to go into open beta in July in advance of a final release in August, ARRI said.

"ProRes 4444 XQ offers 12-bit RGB encoding with a low compression ratio of 1:4.5 that maintains the superior tonal range of Log C while providing the speed, ease of use, and familiarity of ProRes," said ARRI's head of digital workflow solutions, Henning Rädlein, in a prepared statement.

Source: Apple ProRes White Paper [PDF], June 2014

Apple released new benchmarks designed to underscore the usefulness of the high-quality codec by showing how well Final Cut Pro X handles them in multi-stream editing environments. Using FCPX's multicam environment, a 12-core 2.7GHz Mac Pro with AMD FirePro D700 graphics can handle up to 16 HD 24p ProRes streams simultaneously in the multicam interface, the company said — all the way up to and including 4444 XQ (without alpha data). At 4K, the numbers drop somewhat, but the Mac Pro can still handle 16 simultaneous streams of ProRes 422, 422 LT, and 422 proxy; 12 streams of 422 HQ, seven streams of ProRes 4444, and five of 4444 XQ in the multicam environment.

Source: Apple ProRes White Paper [PDF], June 2014

Even more impressive may be the power of the quad-core 2.6 GHz MacBook Pro running a retina display with Nvida GeForce GT 750M graphics. It, too, can handle up to 16 HD 24p streams of all ProRes flavors in multicam, Apple said, with 4K dragging performance down to 12 simultaneous 422 Proxy streams, seven 422 HQ streams, or just two ProRes 4444 XQ streams — still pretty impressive for a laptop taking on high-quality 4K workflows.

In addition to ProRes 4444 XQ, the latest FCP X upgrade includes a number of new features related to media/library management, the ability to apply a Rec. 709 look to HDR and wide-gamut video from ARRI, Blackmagic, Canon, and Sony cameras, support for embedded 3D LUTs from the ARRI Amira, and some improvements to audio recording. For a full list, see Apple's Final Cut Pro X: Version 10.1.2 release notes