Cut Lines: What's New in Final Cut Pro 6?
Posted Jul 30, 2007

Hello again, and welcome back. Cut Lines has been offline for a short while, waiting for the dust to settle on the Final Cut Studio 2 release (and for me to get some time with the new suite), but we’re back. n this month's Cut Lines we’ll take a look around the new Final Cut Pro 6, released in Final Cut Studio 2. FCS 2 has some really great improvements and enhancements to all of its applications, with DVD Studio Pro being the only application with no significant upgrades. Due to space limitations, I’ll cover only FCP 6 in this installment. We’ll look at new features of the other applications in future editions.

To begin with, I have to say that this is the most solid and stable major upgrade for an application I’ve ever seen. Coming from a retired IT engineer, that statement covers a lot of ground over a lot of years. I upgraded from Final Cut Studio 1 on a Quad Core G5 and a 17" Powerbook. Both took close to the same amount of time to run the upgrade, at about an hour. I only had to enter the new license code once, and the upgrade was off and running with no glitches. I did a full, default upgrade without customizing anything. I’ve done all my Final Cut upgrades this way since I began with FCP 1, and have found it to be the safest way to run a major upgrade. FCS 2 is no exception.

I ran my tests on a G4 Powerbook and a G5 Quad Core to push FCP 6 to its limits with hardware. I’ve worked with it on an Intel, and can assure you that Intel Macs will perform quite a bit better than what I got on these older CPUs. Still, performance on the older systems was very impressive. If you have an older Mac, and are worried about upgrading to FCP 6, don’t—do the upgrade; you won’t regret it.

figure 1Playing Favorites
If you’re like me and have a ton of Favorites you’ve built up over time, when you do the upgrade it will initially look as if they’ve been lost. Not so! FCP 6 uses a filename of "Final Cut Pro 6.0 Prefs." With FCP 5, the same file was named "Final Cut Pro 5.0 Prefs," even in version 5.1 (Figure 1, left).

After you complete your upgrade, simply put the version 6.0 Prefs in the trash, and rename the version 5.0 Prefs as 6.0 Prefs, and all your favorites will be back! You’ll also need to update the freeware application "FCP Rescue 5" to "FCP Rescue 6," and you’ll be ready to proceed with your full safety net in place.

figure 1New Gamma and Color Features
So, what’s new? A lot! To begin with, one really nice update is how FCP now gives you choices about the way it handles the Gamma value of imported media. In the user preferences you can set the default gamma value of imported media. You can now choose from Source, 1.80, 2.20, 2.22, or Custom. The Custom setting allows you to manually type in your own default Gamma value for imported clips and stills. This should allow higher-end professionals some leeway in their workflows.

The video scopes seem responsive, and you can control their brightness and color. Right-click on any scope window and you get a drop-down menu with three choices: Show the scopes in green, show the RGB in full color, or show all scopes in black and white.

The really cool thing is that in the Tool Bench window that shows the scopes, there are now two icons to click on. One lets you control the opacity of the overlay grid lines in the scopes. The other lets you control the opacity of the data-value graphics in the scopes. Having just worked on a job that was outdoors, I found that it can really be handy to adjust both independently to give you the quickest, easiest visual feedback of your image data—not to mention the numerous other options right-clicking on the scopes individually brings up, of course (Figure 2, left).

figure 1P2 Import
Since I use P2 tapeless acquisition technology in my professional productions, I have to cover what used to be called the P2 Import Window. This is now listed in the File menu under the name Log and Transfer (Cmd+Shift+8), just below the old familiar Log and Capture. So far I’ve found it very stable; all the bugs of the old P2 Import Window seem to have been worked out, and it now supports Sony’s Video Disk Unit (VDU) import as well. Sony XDCAM users will also appreciate the newly added "Sony XDCAM HD Easy Setup."

Another new feature to this window is the Archive function. While I have FCP importing my P2 footage from my FS-100 or P2 cards, at the same time, I can also do an "Archive to Folder," or "Archive to Disk Image." While both of these are running, I can also go back to my main windows and continue editing. In my tests on an actual production job that I’m doing as I write this article, I find running both functions at once has no ill effect on import time on my G4 Powerbook (Figure 3,left).

Although I can continue to edit as my P2 footage imports, I can’t do anything else while the Archive function is running. Fortunately, the Archive function runs pretty fast. I also found importing to be a bit faster than in 5.1.4. I also noticed that the FS-100, when used in P2 or P2 Native modes, shows up just the same as a P2 card. In 5.1.4 you had to manually direct FCP to the FS-100 volume. Needless to say, I am very impressed with this improvement.

figure 1Open-Format Timeline
One of the biggest thrills in Final Cut Pro 6 is the open-format timeline. This is the new trend in NLEs, allowing you to place footage in different formats and frame rates in the same sequence without rendering (Figure 4,left). Note that the key phrase here is "without rendering." You could always do this, but sometimes clips have to be rendered, depending on your hardware setup.

To test this feature, I created three sequences: NTSC-DV, HDV, and DVCPRO-HD. I took three clips, one of each format, and dropped all three into each of these three different sequences. On the Quad Core G5, none required rendering. On the Powerbook G4, I got orange render lines, but I still had real-time playback. As with all other NLEs, an open-format timeline’s performance will depend on your hardware.

Automatic Conforming and Scaling
Along with the open-format timeline is a new conforming function you can configure in the user preferences. When you drop the very first clip into a sequence and it doesn’t match the sequence’s settings fully, you can have FCP ask you if you want to make the sequence conform to the clip. You can also set this function to be automatic without a prompt, or simply turn it off altogether. It’s like Easy Setup on steroids!

Another related feature is automatic scaling. FCP has always automatically scaled down a clip to your sequence settings if the clip was of a larger screen size. Now you can have FCP also scale clips with smaller screen sizes up to the larger sequence settings size. Again, you can turn this on or off in the user preferences.

Smoothcam Filter
One feature I’ve been very impressed with in my tests is the SmoothCam Filter. This is a function borrowed from Shake. If you have shaky handheld footage, or if your tripod gets bumped, you can apply this filter and it will analyze your clip for motion and smooth it out.

I tested this several times, even with ocean shots that contained the erratic wave motion of the Atlantic Ocean. I purposely bumped my tripod several times while I was zoomed in on hard-breaking surf. In all my tests, I never once had to adjust the settings of the filter. The job it did by default was more than enough to sell me on the value of this new filter.

ProRes 422
As you may have already heard, the Apple ProRes 422 codec has generated huge buzz. It is a 10-bit 4:2:2 codec that maintains full image data and color space of uncompressed HD, but compressed to the size of an SD file. ProRes 422 comes in two flavors: ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ.

It’s becoming popular with HDV users over the Apple HDV Intermediate Codec as it uses smaller file sizes and the full 4:2:2 color space, and offers real-time rendering. Note that using ProRes 422 with 4:1:1 source material like DV or 4:2:0 footage like HDV will not introduce additional color information into the footage that wasn’t there originally, but it will allow you to add higher-quality graphics (like titles and lower-thirds) and animations when working in the higher-quality editing format.

Motion FXPlug Plugins
If you’re on a system with a graphics card that supports Motion, you’ll find all the FXPlug 1.1 plugins from Motion alongside your regular FCP filters. Some will look like duplicates of the FCP filters. But in testing these apparent duplicates, I found I got different effects depending on which filter (the FCP or FXPlug) I used. So having the Motion filters available adds more flexibility to your postproduction work.

You’ll also find a selection of Motion Master Templates in FCP 6. These are templates borrowed from Motion for doing high-end text and graphic work. You can customize them, save your customized versions, edit them to a degree in FCP, or edit them in more detail in Motion. You can edit the text and the grahics in the drop zones very easily and quickly inside FCP. I found these templates hungry for processor horsepower, but they were really nice to have right at my fingertips.

figure 1Surround-Sound Support and Other New Audio Features
FCP 6 now has full 5.1 audio support (Figure 5, left) and other enhanced audio output and export features—more than I can discuss in detail here. There is also enhanced Soundtrack Pro support. This enhanced STP integration means I may have to rewrite my previous tutorial on how to roundtrip a multitrack sequence to and from STP simply because Apple has made the workflow that much better.

There are also built-in audio normalization and gain controls directly inside FCP 6, which will cut down on a lot of FCP/STP roundtrip time. Not that it took all that long to achieve before, but now it’s even faster to perform these two functions in your timeline.

On Down the Lines
Due to the space constraints of this column, as I mentioned before, I can’t cover every single enhancement and additional function Apple has added to FCP 6. Most are small items in the preferences and other places that have gone unmentioned so far. I’ll leave it up to my fellow FCP 6 users to discover all of them. Some that have gotten more media attention are capturing and media-management improvements, including the ability to rename clips both in the project and in the Capture Scratch folder, the ability to maintain master clips across multiple projects, support for many more video formats, improvements to FCP’s support for video formats already included, XML Interchange enhancements, OMF audio enhancements, external monitoring enhancements, the ability to apply speed changes to fenerators, and the new IO HD breakout box. There’s just too much to cover in one article.

For that reason, we will continue to do this column on a regular basis. I hope that coming installments of Cut Lines will offer tutorials and information that will show you real-world applications of these new features, as well as the improvements and enhancements of the other applications in Final Cut Studio 2. I highly recommend this upgrade to anyone who is serious about his postproduction work, especially if you make a living at this.

This upgrade also makes this a prime opportunity to upgrade older Macs to the newer Intel machines. Go for it, upgrade, and enjoy this leading NLE (over 800,000 registered users) now that it is even more powerful and flexible than ever! In the meantime, happy editing, y’all!

Ben Balser is an Apple Certified Trainer based in New Orleans. He specializes in training and consulting, and also produces documentaries, educational material, and commercial work.