Final Cut Pro 2 full review

Believe it or not, Apple released more than just Mac OS X in March. Just a few days before unveiling its new operating system, Apple shipped version 2.0 of Final Cut Pro, its professional non-linear editing system that hadn’t seen an upgrade since version 1.2.5. Though OS X got more press, if you make your living cutting video or film, Final Cut Pro (FCP) 2.0 is by far the more important upgrade. Offering dozens of new features, FCP improvements include user interface adjustments, support for Matrox’s new real-time PCI cards, improved support for multi-processor CPUs, and improved media management. Priced at around £175, the upgrade is well worth the money if you regularly use FCP. Perhaps the biggest surprise in FCP 2 is that it is not OS X native. In fact, not only has the program not been updated to take advantage of OS X’s new features, it won’t even launch in the new OS. So, if you’ve already installed OS X, you’ll need to boot into 9.1 if you want to run FCP 2. You’ll also need to install QuickTime 5.0 RT – which is included on the installation CD – as FCP 2 won’t run on previous versions of QuickTime. We had no problems installing version 2 over our existing 1.2.5 installation. FCP can often be choosy about the DV codecs and extensions in your System Folder, but version 2 updated all requisite components. Version 2 also had no trouble opening our earlier project files. At first glance, there is little difference in version 2’s appearance. Its interface is largely identical to its predecessors. But, as you begin to use the program you will slowly discover dozens of refinements and tweaks. For example, the Final Cut Timeline window now includes a button for toggling the Snap feature, a new Scrubber hand for scrubbing through video, and a new Speed indicator that makes it easier to see where you have sped up or slowed down a video clip. In addition, where version 1 placed a single red bar over a clip to indicate that the clip was unrendered, version 2 now places separate coloured bars for video and audio rendering. FCP’s Preferences dialogs have also had a working over. Though this may not sound like a big deal, if you’ve ever done a lot of video capturing in FCP, you know that you often need to configure scratch disks, device-control parameters, and rendering options. The new Preferences dialogs are better-organized and offer more explanation of their options. Media management, possibly the most crucial part of any editing task, is much improved in version 2. Where version 1’s Browser window allowed you to create folders for organizing clips, version 2 goes much further. Clip titles can now have coloured labels attached to them to ease sorting and organization. In addition, many Finder-like columns have been added to the Browser window. Also, the start and end timecode is shown for each clip as well as the clip’s modification date. Clicking on any column sorts the browser window by that category. Version 1’s Media Manager and Sequence Trimmer have been replaced by a new Media Manager window, which still allows for trimming of clips as well as copying and moving clips from and to other folders and drives. New to the Media Manager is the ability to delete all or part of a clip, making it simple to recover drive space lost to over-zealous capturing. The Media Manager window even includes a facility for automatically deleting media that’s not used in your project. This feature doesn’t just remove the media from your project, it actually trims the original files on your drive. FCP 2 includes a new Relink command that can relink project contents to original media files. In general, the program provides more, and better, linking and management support. Capturing has also seen some changes, including a new protocol for naming captured media files. Where version 1 simply created a Capture Scratch folder on the target drive, version 2 now uses the project’s name when creating scratch folders. Though this can make media management a little easier, we’d prefer more thorough control – such as a user-specified capture folder. iMovie timesaver
Borrowing a page from iMovie, FCP 2 includes a new Start/Stop Detection feature that looks for breaks in a tape’s timecode and automatically assumes that these are different scenes. Though you won’t want to rely on this feature all the time, if you have intentionally shot your footage with timecode breaks, this tool can be a real timesaver. Rendering speed has always been an issue in FCP. Though the program doesn’t require rendering for cuts-only sequences, if you perform any adjustments, transitions, effects, or composites, expect to spend a lot of time watching the program’s progress bar. Performance is improved in version 2. In our tests, a fairly typical project – including a number of filters, opacity changes, transformations, rotations and dissolves – took a little over 15 minutes to render, while the same project under version 2 rendered in a little over 12 minutes. Though we were unable to test it, Apple claims that version 2 provides much-improved multiprocessor support.Though version 2 is speedier, power users will want to take advantage of the program’s support for new real-time rendering hardware. If you have a Matrox RTMac card (see Product News, page 39) installed in your machine, then many of Final Cut’s features will be accelerated to real-time. Matrox’s cards can process up to three tracks – two video and one graphics layer, or two graphics layers and one video track – in real-time. Though filters are not accelerated, compositing, scaling, motion, and opacity are. For video collage and compositing work, this is a huge plus. Other vendors, we hope, will follow suite. We’d particularly like to see ICE support for the acceleration of effects and keying. Final Cut’s list of improvements continues with new audio VU meters and support for ProTools OMF format –for exporting audio tracks to an external audio-editing package, such as the included PeakDV application. FCP 2 also includes a number of new animated text features, including crawls and rolls – effects that previously had to be created using the program’s compositing tools or EffectsBuilder facility. Finally, version 1’s skimpy 250 page manual has been completely re-written and expanded to a whopping 1,400 pages. With expansive coverage of all aspects of the program, as well as the accompanying tutorials on the CD-ROM, Final Cut’s documentation is very very impressive.
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