A Cut Above
A Cut Above
Apple Final Cut Studio 2 has grabbed a good deal of attention in the world of video editing - rightfully so. A lot of anticipation and energy were focused on the pre-NAB announcement. Now that the box is finally here, we're equally excited to do this Final Cut Studio 2 review. But, before we get started, it's important to note that Color, the newest addition to the Studio package, will be reviewed separately to give more attention to this new application. Now, off we go.
Time to Upgrade
Final Cut Studio 2 comes with a lot of bells and whistles, including 55GB of additional templates, content and tutorials. Mix that in with the required 4GB of hard drive space for the applications, and you might be in need of a new hard drive. Sure, you could just install the applications, but the fun stuff is in the extra content. Also, you'll need to have at least a PowerPC G4 1.25GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, which might push out a few of you with older machines. Check the full tech specs for more information.
Our Final Cut Studio 2 review has been conducted on a Mac Pro with two 3GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors, 8GB of RAM and running Mac OS X (version 10.4.9). That's well over the system requirements.
New Apple Final Cut Pro 6 Video Editing Software
One of the biggest additions to the new Final Cut Pro 6 video editing software is the ProRes 422 format. Apple has developed a new HD video format that helps reduce file sizes, while keeping a pristine quality. In other words, ProRes 422 looks uncompressed, but it is, in fact, very much compressed. This results in what Apple claims to be an "uncompressed HD quality at SD file sizes." For most enthusiast users, ProRes 422 will have little effect in your day-to-day editing. Where we see ProRes doing the most good for our readership is opening the doors to FCP editors who want to freelance for post-production houses. ProRes 422 can make it entirely possible for anyone with a relatively modern Mac computer running FCP 6 to edit ProRes 422 footage that's housed on fairly standard hard drives. That provides opportunities for new talent, assuming that professionals adopt ProRes 422. Based on what we've seen and tested, we can't help wondering: why not?
The ProRes 422 codec preserves the full width of HD video (i.e., 1920x1080 and 1280x720), meaning it doesn't re-sample the resolution. The codec also works in 4:2:2 chroma sampling and 10-bit sample depth. This means video pixels hold a good amount of color information and respond more naturally to scenes with gradients (e.g., a sunset). Lastly, ProRes 422 is an I-frame-only codec, meaning editors can edit frame accurately. All these specs suggest that you'll have a much more comfortable editing experience with ProRes 422 if you've got some processing power.
Video editing software must also be able to handle mixed formats these days. Final Cut Pro 6 is capable of just that, and it's ridiculously easy to import and position mixed formats in a sequence. Having this compatibility can be a real time saver. Better news, as of the Final Cut Studio 2.0.1 update, there is log and transfer support for AVCHD.
Final Cut Pro 6 continues to be a well-rounded video editing application. However, if we can be just a little nitpicky, we would have liked to see more user-friendly advancements in media management. We did take notice and appreciate the media management changes that were made in Motion 3, however, which adds a collect media function that moves all the content associated to a project into a folder. That should help new users, but naturally the best method is to be well organized in the first place.
Motion 3 Video Animation and Compositing Software
Compositing can help give your video project much-needed pizzazz. Apple has added 3D motion graphics to Motion and still maintains a relatively simple user interface. Yet, given all the functionality and user-defined variables, Motion 3 can still be overwhelming, especially for those with no prior animation experience. For most users, the templates are a great place to begin, especially for anyone who is new to Final Cut Studio. Venturing off into other directions will take time and practice. Apple has some short web tutorials for Motion 3 on the apple.com website, but they only scratch the surface of what can be done.
We made a few title sequences in Motion 3 by modifying existing templates. The new Advanced Keyframe Editor is more suitable for precise animation, as compared to the earlier versions of Motion. This is something we are pleased to see. It seems to us that Motion 3 equals, if not surpasses, the functionality of Adobe After Effects, at least for that second tier of graphic animation (i.e., lower thirds, title sequences, etc.). Throw in the 3D environment, and editors using Final Cut Studio 2 will have much more creative freedom with motion graphics than ever before. Just be mindful, however, of your system requirements for this application. It might be time to look for more RAM.
SoundTrack Pro 2 Audio Editing Application and More
When it comes to creating a stunning video, audio is something that should not be neglected. SoundTrack Pro 2 is just the tool to get the job done. It's equipped with a great range of music tracks and sound effects to start you off. The audio editing features are great. These include common filter effects which will surely come in handy and are incredibly easy to fine-tune, using the advanced settings window. Another especially useful feature is the Spectrum view in the audio editing window. Making changes in this view was extremely easy and, of course, the results are displayed in a way that makes sense visually. Along those lines, SoundTrack Pro 2 has an easy-to-use multitrack interface. Editors familiar with working in video timelines will feel right at home. The timecode HUD (heads-up display) is a nice touch here, allowing editors to keep precise track of the runtime. The real kicker in SoundTrack Pro 2, however, is that each track has a surround sound panner. We haven't seen an audio editing and mixing interface that packs in this much flexibility and still remains un-intimidating for most users. SoundTrack Pro 2 is a great experience and a load of fun.
Updated Compressor 3 Video Encoding Software
The last version of Compressor was too utilitarian. Naturally, it got the job done. Final Cut Studio 2 has updated Compressor 3 with new features and it has received a new interface that both beginners and pros can appreciate. With this latest update, you can drag and drop files in the queue for encoding and multiple encoding presets upon the clips. It's a more user-friendly way of doing things, and thus, we think it's a good thing.
Compressor 3 also added a much-needed timecode burn-in feature for dailies and that sort of thing. We also like the ability to add text overlays and animated watermarks, using video with alpha channels. This feature will also take bugs you create in Motion 3. This will undoubtedly increase render times, but, for many professionals, it's critical that the recipients of your video stay informed, no matter what the purpose. Compressor 3 seems to have come a long way, when in fact a few interface improvements have given it new life. We think that's worth a "Hallelujah!"
DVD Studio Pro 2 DVD Authoring Software
Burning a DVD adds to the many hats a user of Final Cut Studio 2 will be required to wear. DVD Studio Pro 4 has received some notable improvements that help DVD authors create complicated discs much more easily. Evidence of such improvements is the Track View, which adds a timeline-style window that shows you exactly where your assets lie. If you're creating multiple-track audio or video (e.g., multiple language audio tracks, or multiple-camera angles), this is an accurate way to view your work. Also, we really enjoyed the Connection View that allows users to connect assets more precisely for navigational purposes. Even relatively simple disc authoring can require a great deal of viewer navigation. The Connection View will give DVD Studio Pro 2 users much more confidence in their work. Perhaps it's time to start thinking about creating the special edition disc set from your last production. With new menu templates, such a task would be reasonable for beginners. Furthermore, DVD Studio Pro 2 can burn HD DVD discs, assuming you have an HD DVD burning drive. Overall, DVD Studio Pro 2 is a great DVD authoring application for today's more common uses and has the flexibility to create more complex, dynamic discs.
Roll the Credits
In this brief look of Final Cut Studio 2, we have covered highlights that make this video editing software suite one of the best. Final Cut Studio 2 has a lot to offer any editor or producer looking to engage in all aspects of video post production. Keep in mind that we have yet to review Color, which we'll provide shortly. The Final Cut Studio 2.0.1 release has also improved some early stability issues and added AVCHD support. In the end, the value of Final Cut Studio 2 is amazing, just so long as your computer can meet the recommended system requirements to run these applications.
Processor G4 1.25GHz or faster (excluding Apple Color) Note: For Motion, Color and the ProRes 422 video format, additional highly-recommended requirements exist to make the applications run. Check http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/specs.html for full details.
OS: OS X v10.4.9 or later
RAM: 1GB, 2GB recommended for compressed HD, 4GB for uncompressed HD
Video Display: 1024x768 resolution or higher
Graphics Card: AGP or PCI Express Quartz Extreme
Free Hard Drive Space: 4GB for applications, 55GB for optional content
Other: QuickTime 7.16 or later, DVD drive for installation
- Snazzy templates
- Multi-format support in FCP 6
- 3D workspace in Motion 3
Final Cut Studio 2 is a video post-production beast that is capable of doing some heavy lifting, just so long as your hardware is up to the task as well.
Mark Montgomery is Videomaker's Technical Editor.
Apple Computer, Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
$1,299; $499 upgrade from Final Cut Studio