Final Cut Server 1.1 review

Apple’s Final Cut Server plugs a gap in the market for an asset-management solution for handling the Final Cut Pro-based video/film postproduction workflow.

As a concept it works rather like Adobe’s Version Cue, where project assets are checked in or out of a central system for editing and versions of files in various stages of completion are tracked. It also provides a backup facility for the media on your network. Not surprisingly, there is quite a bit of configuration required. In fact, it’s probably best to spend a bit of time on planning your workflow before even setting up – this is not a ‘straight out of the box’ solution.

That’s not to say Apple hasn’t included plenty of automation during the setup. Final Cut Server works on the principle of group permissions, and the installer creates an admin group by default. The application installs Final Cut Server (in the form of a multi-tabbed control panel in System Preferences), Qmaster for distributed working and Compressor to handle transcoding duties.

Like a media-cataloguing application, Final Cut Server uses watch folders on various locations on drives and computers on the group’s network. Known as Devices, three are created by default at installation time, using folders on the host machine. You can use the Device Setup Assistant to configure new locations to watch – scans of the devices can be scheduled for regular sweeps – or as storage locations for archiving your media.

Of course, you need clients to make a server application useful and these are available to any Mac or Windows computer on your network. There’s a choice between 10 clients and unlimited client versions and they’re priced accordingly. You’ll need the IP address of the host machine to download a Java applet for your browser. Clicking on this installs the client application to your desktop.

Full support

Once you’ve set up the server and any clients, it’s time to actually start working with media. Supported media types include all video supported by Final Cut and also QuickTime reference movies, Soundtrack Pro files and most other audio formats, Motion project files and DVD Studio Pro and iDVD project files. Graphics are also supported, in the form of Photoshop files and most major image formats. Interestingly Final Cut Server also handles text files, including Apple’s Keynote and Pages files, as well as .doc, .txt and PDF, so subtitles, scripts and directors notes can also be checked in to the system.

When you upload media via the client, you’re prompted to add metadata information and choose a destination for the media file and any existing productions that it might be associated with. You can also choose transcode settings, so that video and audio files can be converted to another codec during the upload process. Video codecs range from H.264 for iPhone and the web to ProRes 422 for editing to 2K for digital intermediate.

There are two strategies for uploading media – drag and drop single or multiple files to the server client interface from the desktop or use the upload function in the main window to navigate to a group of files on your system. All media to be uploaded must possess file extensions and you need to be aware that if multiple files are uploaded at the same time they will all be transcoded at the same setting.

Use your assets

Every file you upload is added to the Final Cut Server catalogue as an asset, which is then available for other users to check out and download. The scheduled Device scan functions also add assets to the catalogue. Each asset contains the original media file, known as the primary representation, as well as proxy files and thumbnails, automatically created for use within Final Cut Server. When clients check out (request) files for editing, an Apple ProRes 422 codec proxy file is served up. However, an administrator needs to turn on the Edit Proxy feature first, otherwise the original media file will be checked out.

Once checked out, the asset is locked for protection, and can’t be accessed in this state unless the original user or one with admin privileges unlocks it. The application will create and track copies (versions) of assets as users check them in after editing, but only if version control is turned on. It’s also possible to configure an edit-in-place feature which means users can drag proxy copies of assets directly out of the catalogue and into an editing application, without needing to check them out first. Although it seems complicated, in operation all this worked smoothly once we had configured the system. However using this product really is a case of ‘read the manual first’.

OUR VERDICT

Many postproduction facilities have existing bespoke systems that will provide similar functionality to Final Cut Server, but this is an affordable solution for small-to-medium-sized Mac-dominated studios, especially as it dovetails so neatly with the Final Cut Pro workflow. We recommend you buy the 10-client version and upgrade when necessary.

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