Apple's 'jaw-dropping' Final Cut Pro X hurts Adobe

June 21, 2011 10:17 AM EDT

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] video expert, Randy Ubillos has struck again, with the introduction of true 64-bit pro-video editing superhero, Final Cut Pro X, introducing important changes in the way the software handles, ingests, encodes and manages video production workflow. And in a sign of the times the self-declared 'jaw-dropping' release is available only via the Mac App Store.

NOTE: Some readers may also want to read this report detailing Apple's responses to the outcry over missing features within FInal Cut X.

Final Cut Pro X changes the game

Final Cut Pro X delivers a huge range of changes, not least the introduction of a new interface. Apple engineers reportedly felt that the software code needed to be completely revised in order to lay foundations for the next 10 years of the app.

Because there's so many deep changes, one key feature is that it will be possible to keep a working copy of Final Cut 7 on a system equipped with the new code: work in X when that makes sense, or in 7 when that is appropriate.

That's because it isn't possible to open version 7 projects within the new version. Many editors are also annoyed that all existing Final Cut Pro plug-ins and filters will need to be rewritten for the new version. According to a 2007 SCRI study, Final Cut made up 49% of the US professional editing market.

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Support for two different working versions of the software on one Mac hasn't been possible before. If nothing else, this should underline the depth of difference within this new release.

As the Conan O'Brien skit above shows, Final Cut's changes have imposed new ways of working many users aren't at all happy about. However, solutions from third-party firms seem to be appearing: Automatic Duck today introduced Pro Export FCP 5.0 for Final Cut Pro X which allows you to send audio from FCPX to Pro Tools. Clearly there's dissent.

[ABOVE: Older video featuring FCP expert, Larry Jordan]

Industry reacts

Video industry expert, Larry Jordan, was initially reticent on Final Cut X, but after a meeting with Apple came away enthusiastic at the capabilities of the software.

"The first time I saw Final Cut Pro X, back in February, this quote from the title of Stephen Ambrose's book on the transcontinental railroad flashed into my head," he said, writing on his blog. "Just as the transcontinental railroad permanently changed 19th century America -- in a wide variety of ways -- Final Cut Pro X has the same capability."

"This new version flies. Whenever Final Cut needs to think, it does so seamlessly, in the background, with a little indicator that tells you how its doing and a complete dashboard for the curious who want to monitor their system."

Adobe [ADBE] is bound to take notice at Apple's new pro video workhorse, equipped as it is with an all-new workflow model, Magnetic Timeline. Adobe will be under particular pressure to respond on price -- Final Cut now costs $299.99, while Adobe Premier Pro costs a rather greedy-seeming $799.

So, what's inside?

Confirming some of the improvements I predicted in April, Final Cut Pro X is a 64-bit app with multi-threaded processing support and the ability to push your graphics processing unit into fast rendering and playback.

Magnetic Timeline lets creatives edit on a flexible, trackless canvas. You can add and arrange clips wherever you want on the timeline, and other clips immediately slide out of the way -- you'll have seen similar behavior within iMovie.

The array of improvements also includes Clip Connections which link clips to other elements like titles and sound effects -- this should really help editors.

A big -- powerful -- change too in the way Final Cut ingests content. Apple has introduced Content Auto-Analysis. This categorizes your content upon import by shot type, media and people, and gathers these into searchable Smart Collections. Along with support for background rendering, this should really help boost productivity when dealing with assets from multiple cameras and sources, as it should be possible to easily find clips containing the same faces, for example.

'Jaw-dropping' -- Apple

Apple's talking the talk. "Final Cut Pro X is the biggest advance in Pro video editing since the original Final Cut Pro," said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. "We have shown it to many of the world's best Pro editors, and their jaws have dropped," he added in Apple's release statement.

Apple demonstrated its new solution at NAB in April this year. Attendees came away truly excited at the powerful new video handling tools Apple showed them at this event.

At the price Apple is offering the software for it is a fait accompli that many will be investing in the new version.

Output, input

When they do they will benefit from the software's provision of a range of video output presets for Apple's iOS devices, and built-in export options to pump new creations out to Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, and CNN iReport. There's also built-in support for HTTP live streaming DVD and Blu-ray disk authoring.

Additional key features include the ability to combine related story elements into a Compound Clip which can be edited as a single clip. Auditions lets you flip through clip collections to compare takes.

Some Apple-watchers had voiced concern for the tools customarily provided with the software -- but the situation for existing Final Cut plug-ins remains unclear at this time.

Final Cut Pro X includes tools for audio editing and color correction (including ColorSync support). Motion 5 for professional motion graphics and Compressor 4 for advanced media encoding are also available from the Mac App Store at $49 each. A little more detail on the companion apps is here.

[ABOVE: Randy Ubillos demonstrates iMovie 11 at the Back to the Mac event last year.]

The Adobe connection

There's an Adobe connection to Apple and Final Cut. Steve Jobs, approached Adobe senior management way back in 1998. He was asking Adobe to develop a Mac version of its video-editing software. Adobe said "No".

"We were shocked, because they had been a big supporter in the early days of the Mac," Jobs told Fortune. "But we said, 'Okay, if nobody wants to help us, we're just going to have to do this ourselves." The company then acquired software called KeyGrip from Macromedia, and bought in the services of the man who developed Adobe Premiere, Randy Ubillos.

The march to bring Final Cut Pro X to market has not been an easy one. Developer resources have reportedly been reassigned to OS X and iOS across the last two years. A French report pretty claimed Ubillos had been driven to get mad in an attempt to secure the development resources he required.

Speculation concerning the future of the app reached such a point that Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised, "A great release of Final Cut Pro is coming early next year," in an email sent last year.

More than just movies

Video is highly important to Apple.

Not only does the company continue to attempt to push adoption of HTML 5, but video is important across its hardware products, not least through its strategic importance within the iTunes ecosystem.

Adobe meanwhile continues to attempt to develop a version of Flash suitable for use on mobile devices, a challenge it hasn't yet met.

The new Final Cut is a fully 64-bit app built entirely using Cocao. Adobe only moved to adopt Cocoa last year, prompting Jobs to slam the company for failing to fully support OS X.

"Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple's platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X," he wrote.

There's much deeper information about what's new within Final Cut X on Apple's website, including more recent demo videos which will enable you to get  feel for the app.

What are your thoughts? Has Apple thrown a slam dunk to dominate the video production industry, or is this a fail? Many commenters (and it has been a hostile comment thread so far) are angry at things like lack of tape support, plug-in support and more. Give me specifics. What's missing, what needs fixing. I promise to look into it and find out more for a later post. Comment in comments if you wish. Otherwise, please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.