Apple Final Cut Studio Bundle Editing Software Review
$1,299

Apple Computer, Inc.

1 Infinite Loop

Cupertino, CA 95014

(408) 996-1010

www.apple.com

Time to Go Pro

Just about everyone who attended this year's National Association of Broadcasters convention can attest that Apple's Final Cut Studio won the ooohs and aaahs competition. Its $1,299 price is a huge part of the reason why–it may sound like a lot of clams, but when one considers that it's just $300 over the price of Final Cut Pro 5 by itself, it may be a contender for deal of the decade.

The Studio bundle comes with the newest version of Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, DVD Studio Pro 4 and Soundtrack Pro. The bundle also comes with Compressor 2, Cinema Tools 3, Apple Qmaster 2, LiveType 2 and a staggering amount of manuals.

Thanks to serendipity of time, a few of the editors here at Videomaker participated in a "video in a weekend" competition, which gave us a perfect opportunity to test this suite. We installed Final Cut Studio on a 1.8GHz 20" iMac G5 with 512MB RAM, as well as a Dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 with 4GB RAM. Both machines handled the suite with ease, with the exception of an output problem on both machines (more later). The four applications consume 4GB of hard drive space by themselves, but if you load all the loops, templates and tutorials, you'll need an additional 41GB of free space! It took us the better part of an evening to get all this stuff into our computers.

Final Cut Pro 5

Final Cut Pro 5 comes packed with new features. If you're thinking about multicam editing, FCP 5 will handle up to 16 simultaneous HD streams. While watching all of these streams, the editor just clicks on desired camera "feed" as if it was a live event and the software compiles a finished work on the fly. Another powerful feature is RT Extreme with Dynamic RT, which lets the editor work with more realtime effects. If the system gets bogged down with multiple effects or high HD bitrates, the software automatically adjusts the frame rate and/or playback compression quality to let the editor keep working uninterrupted. Multichannel audio capture of up to 24 simultaneous channels of professional quality audio in a single pass is possible with output resolution of up to 24 bits at 96kHz (additional hardware may be needed).

And let's not forget native HDV support. Unlike most software-based HDV editing systems, the new version of FCP does not convert or transcode the digital information. FCP 5 also lets the editor cut on any HDV frame, which is normally a challenge with long-GOP MPEG-2. When you are done with your HDV edit, you can view it full screen with Digital Cinema Desktop. Each of our three editors (all with varying FCP experience) adapted to the upgrade without a problem.

Soundtrack Pro

Soundtrack Pro amazed us the most. We used it to fix problem audio, create complex soundscapes and build quick music tracks using the looping functions. The program is extremely intuitive, minimizing the usual learning curve with a new application. Sending audio from FCP to Soundtrack Pro was accomplished with a simple pull-down maneuver. We could then take out pops and clicks, minimize the recorded air conditioner hum and add effects with ease. The program will even analyze your audio tracks, suggest what could be fixed and batch-correct everything with the click of a button. The software keeps an "actions list," much like Photoshop's history list. Individual actions can be muted or deleted anytime. We did all of our sound effects work using the included library of thousands of tracks. We exported our finished 6½ minute video to Soundtrack Pro and mixed our music by adding loops while watching the video in real time.

Motion 2

One of our brave editors accepted the mission of learning Motion 2 under a contest deadline. He imported a video clip, then, using his Flash experience, added and tweaked the effect and then exported the clip back to FCP with minimal frustration. Altering the behaviors of the laser beams, spaceship exhaust and other effects was not too difficult, though we had trouble with keyframing. We'll have to read some of the 999-page manual before our next production. Motion 2 is also great for titles as well. However, if you are going to get deep with Motion 2, you'll want extra RAM.

DVD Studio Pro 4

We found DVD Studio Pro 4 to be the least intuitive of these programs. We ended up submitting our project on Mini DV because we couldn't figure out the program without its manual. This upgrade allows users to burn HD DVDs, so we will revisit this program (with the manual and a how-to book in hand) the next time we get a HDV camcorder in the building. We are excited to explore DVD Studio Pro 4's deeper menu options and compression controls.

The Only Hiccup

The one hitch we had (in the eleventh hour, of course) was printing to tape. We kept getting dropped frames that would stop the process. In our troubleshooting fury, unplugging our Macs from the Internet allowed us to get our program to tape, and to run the finished piece to the post office, with literally a few minutes to spare on our deadline.

Are you Pro?

Since Final Cut Studio's release, we have heard some PC-based editors have considered switching to a Mac to use this product. The price, though not cheap, is definitely fair for the suite's quality and breadth. However, you may need to upgrade or purchase new hardware (processor and RAM, mostly) to use this software to its full potential.

We just scratched the surface of this collection's ability. Though mostly intuitive to intermediate users of other editing, animation and DVD programs, there will be a learning commitment to get deeper into this suite.

TECH SPECS

Platform: Mac

Processor: 867MHz or faster PowerPC G4 or G5 (HD features
require 1GHz; authoring HD DVDs requires a G5)

OS: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later

RAM: 512MB RAM; HD features require 1GB of RAM
or more (2 GB recommended)

Video Display: 1024 x 768 or higher resolution

Graphics Card: AGP Quartz Extreme Graphics card

Free Hard Drive Space: 4 GB to install all applications; Additional 41GB to
install all optional templates, loops, content,
and tutorials

Other: QuickTime 7 or later; DVD drive for installation;
Playback of DVD Studio Pro 4-authored HD DVDs
requires a G5 processor, Mac OS X v10.4 and Apple
DVD Player 4.6 or later; Motion requires the
standard graphics card in any Power Mac G5 or
iMac G5, a 1.25GHz or faster PowerBook G4, or a
1.25GHz or faster flat panel iMac

STRENGTHS

  • Tightly integrated applications
  • Extremely professional
  • Strong realtime HD and HDV support

    WEAKNESSES

  • Processor, hard drive, RAM intensive
  • A bit of a learning curve
  • For Mac only

    SUMMARY

    Though a bit of a financial and learning commitment, probably the best suite of applications for going pro.

    Morgan Paar is Videomaker's Technical Editor.

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