Final Cut Pro

The saga of Apple’s Final Cut Pro reads like that of a Hollywood epic – years in the making, an all-star cast, bounced from one studio to another, then finally released to rave reviews – more or less. Final Cut Pro 1.0 is a video-production titan that combines the video-capture and -editing features of Adobe Premiere and Digital Origin’s EditDV with many of Adobe After Effects’ animation and compositing tools, all within a beautiful, efficient interface.

But one price of Final Cut Pro’s versatility is its stiff hardware requirements. Moreover, Final Cut Pro’s new-kid-on-the-block status means that it lacks the broad hardware support the competition offers. And despite its sophistication, the program handles some tasks awkwardly.

The big picture


Apple’s hardware specs call for a 266MHz, or faster, Power Mac G3 with at least 128MB of RAM – Apple doesn’t warrant that Final CutPro will run on Macs containing G3 upgrade cards. I used a shiny new 400MHz G3 for my testing. Final Cut Pro makes a great first impression. It sports an elegant 3D look, and windows snap to each other as you move them; when you drag and resize them, Final CutPro redraws their contents on the fly. Many of Final Cut Pro’s windows will feel familiar to video veterans. A Bin window holds media that you import or capture, while aTimeline window displays the sequence of edits and transitions.

For complex productions, a Browser window helps you manage media and a Find command lets you search on numerous criteria. And a Final Cut Pro project can contain multiple timelines – something you won’t find in Premiere.Final Cut Pro’s Canvas window displays edited material and lets you set in- and out-points. It also lets you edit clips: drag a clip to the Canvas window, and Final Cut Pro superimposes a set of editing options on the window. Point to the desired option, release the mouse button, and the program makes the edit for you. This approach is slick and easy to learn.

Manipulating media

Final Cut Pro can import QuickTime movies as well as all QuickTime-supported image and audio formats. You can also import Photoshop images that retain their layers. Unlike Premiere and After Effects, however, Final Cut Pro can’t import Adobe Illustrator or EPSfiles – a potentially serious drawback if your work involves animating vector-based art.

Final Cut’s video-capture features work particularly well with FireWire-based DV devices. You can control such a device directly from Final Cut’s Log and Capture window, setting in- and out-points for various scenes and then batch-capturing the scenes. Alas, at the time of writing, Final Cut supports a relatively small number of DV camcorders and decks. As for non-DV capture hardware, Apple has currently certified only Pinnacle Systems'Targa 1000- and 2000-series cards.

Visit Final Cut Pro's Web site (http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro) to verify compatibility with your gear. Packing a full arsenal of video transitions and filters, Final Cut Pro is unique in supporting QuickTime 4’s built-in filters. Its audio filters are ideal for sweetening and equalizing soundtracks, but it doesn’t have the equivalents to Premiere 5’s reverb and multi-tap delay. Nor can Final Cut use Premiere-format audio-filter plug-ins; indeed, it can’t use any Premiere- or Photoshop-format plug-ins. And the program’s titling features are surprisingly weak, lacking a Premiere-style WYSIWYG titling window; you can’t even mix fonts and type sizes within a title or use Type 1 PostScript fonts.

Where Final Cut Pro pulls away from the pack is in compositing and motion graphics. Click on an option in Final Cut’s Canvas window, and you can animate and layer clips and still images much as in After Effects. You won’t find all of After Effects’ keyframe controls, but Final Cut Pro comes close enough for many jobs. The program also offers basic keying features. And advanced users will love FXBuilder, a built-in scripting language that lets you create custom filters. When you’re rendering effects, you can choose from a variety of resolution settings and apply motion blur for added realism. Final Cut Pro’s rendering performance seems a bit slow at times, and no third-party rendering-acceleration cards are available yet.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re already using Premiere and After Effects, there’s little reason to switch. But Final Cut’s extensive capabilities and refined interface make it a first-rate foundation for a professional video-editing system. Version 1.0 is a stunning effort, and we expect even better from the sequels.

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