ben treston

FCPX Report Card - 10.1


edge

After having used Final Cut Pro X in a professional collaborative environment for nearly six months now, I can safely give FCPX 10.1 a full round up via Report Card -

INGEST - C+

Although FCPX is a lot friendlier in being able to import more formats out of the box, the Import dialog is one step forward, two steps back. Although it would be nice to be able to set batch file naming on Ingest, I can understand the use of metadata as you can still access the original file names, and rename after ingest. There have been a few cases of files coming in off CF cards where it takes two attempts to ingest, it fails and then you have no option but to delete the referenced media and start again. Although you can “Hide Imported Clips” I wish it were clearer than a very thin grey line to see which clips have been ingested or not. Some cards also don’t ever eject in FCPX, only in Finder - this could be a Mavericks issue. Overall C+ - a bit too simple for Pros, would like things to be more obvious and have some extra control of file naming in the process if needed.

ORGANISATION - A

Apart from the magnetic timeline, this is the one area where there is initial friction when coming from FCP7. Most editors want “Bins” of media, but once you have got used to keywording and setting this up and using Smart Collections, this becomes a much superior alternative. My personal favourite is having a preset “Interview Selects” smart collections, so every time I favourite a portion of an interview, I have a dynamic collection of clips than shrinks and grows depending on what has been favourited. Although none of this is new to 10.1 - it is still worth noting how well that has all been though out from the very outset.

TOOLS & TRIMMING - B+

Once you learn about the Position Tool (P), the magnetic timeline is not as terrifying. The one trap a lot of colleagues have got into is actually using only the position tool and then losing all of the functions and use of the Magnetic timeline. When you can use Arrow and Position in tandem this becomes very powerful. The trim tool is also very powerful, although muscle memory means I keep jumping to the ’S’ key when wanting to do a Slip edit. Unfortunately I don’t often use the precision edit function. although I really should more often, especially for transitions.

TIMELINE - B

The concept of primary and secondary storylines is very useful, although there are a number of issues that someone may struggle to comprehend. You can end up with a gap clip in a secondary storyline which seems redundant even existing, but there might be cases where you would need this. If my skimmer is parked in a secondary storyline, the ‘Q’ shortcut should insert than into the secondary, rather than connect above. It feels like there is at times forcing and squeezing things into place with the mouse. Knowing that the skimmer always has priority means this becomes a lot more logical, although that is not always clear when starting out. It is very hard to live without the skimmer when ploughing through lots of rushes.

COLOUR CORRECTION - B+

The colour board is a controversial change, however once you get used to it, it is not as tricky as first expected. I do wish it could be made larger for easier movement of the pucks, and perhaps to have all three tabs (Colour, Exposure, Saturation) visible at once instead of tricky shortcuts to get between them. The new architecture for plugins and the way looks are previewed is excellent and much to look forward to.

KEYFRAMING & RE-TIMING - B

Two steps forward and one back here. It is great to have the video animation editor available on the timeline, but easily trying to set a keyframe on frame 1 of a clip is near impossible without careful clicking and possible use of the inspector to do this. The Ken Burns effect is excellent, but is hardly useable until you can choose to disable the Ease-In and Ease-Out that comes as default. A clunky workaround is to expand the clip so you hide the start and end, not ideal. Re-timing is a thousand times better and I wish I had more use of speed ramping so I could continue to use this, especially the Blade retime tool.

AUDIO - A-

It is a much nicer place having sample accurate audio trimming and much better live waveforms. Skimming audio means hearing effects is very useful and much more accurate. This would be an A+ if there was a keyboard shortcut to allow you to dip the audio handles on the edges of a given clip with one keystroke. FCP7 had this (for audio transitions), so I wish this was the case. A lot of camera clips come in as panned Stereo and need to be dual mono, so this becomes constant changing of clips to correct this. FCP7 didn’t treat ingested clips like this.

EXPORT & SHARING - A

A big improvement here. Being able to output multiple targets using Bundles is awesome. Having Compressor 4.1 is also a big plus. The only down side is not being able to export selections of a project - a few times there have been stray gap clips which have been included in the end of project, or some off cuts at the end of the project.

The largest small company in the world

Apple's Growing Pains

I have been an Apple tech evangelist in media for the last ten years and originally I had intended to write this post to get very annoyed at a bug in 10.8 Mountain Lion affecting a few users that use network bonding - i.e. Mac Pro users that want to use 10.8 with network link aggregation.

This is a small subset of overall Mac users but the fact the bug was not fixed until 10.8.4 had me riled that this could even be let through QA in one update, let alone three point releases. However in the end, it was patched.

This whole issue made me realize that although Apple is now a tech behemoth - it is still the biggest small company in the world. Although the product lines may have grown and the software releases continue to increment, from sources familiar with internal Apple, the teams remain very small and there is a good reason for this. Brooks Law says that adding more manpower to software does not actually ship or release it any faster - and adding more engineers does not mean a better release either.

So although Apple has a lot on it’s plate, I am not sure they will be recruiting a whole lot more engineers anytime soon - however some more QA might be nice.

What ever happened to the user experience?

steve_jobs_book_cover

Now finally getting a chance to read “Steve Jobs”, the biography of the late Apple co-founder it has made me very curious, not necessarily about Apple - rather it’s competitors and their way of working.

Not all companies can have a CEO and visionary as passionate, innovative and stubborn as Steve, however I actually wish more companies did.

It becomes more and more apparent throughout the book, that time and time again, Apple’s fastidious focus on user experience completely catches a lot of competitors “flat-footed”. Why did it take Apple to show them what they were doing wrong? Surely, making hardware or software means that the user should be your number one priority - they are your customer, your word of mouth and more importantly, if treated right, your customer again the next time.

Rumours abound that Apple may release their own television - and it has been said that TV makers are panicking. Why is that? Are they afraid this new rumoured product might make other TVs suddenly look obsolete? Well… precisely.

Dealing with complex on screen menus, incompatible remotes, multiple confusing inputs - I can see why Steve and Apple felt like they might be able to do something there. When reading the chapter on the iPhone, the motivation to create such a device came about due to the bad user experiences already on the market in mobile phones. The television may be the next innovation from Cupertino.

As televisions are getting more complicated with network ports and connections straight to media servers and YouTube - the problem seems to get worse and worse. Having tried to set up an internet connected Sony TV at the office for viewing edits for clients wirelessly became an exercise in sheer frustration. The on screen menus were slow, laggy, confusing and impossible to understand.
If I could not figure this out easily - what chance does Ma and Pa at home have at getting this to work as it should? (hint - smooth and seamlessly) It is going to take some new innovation here in the TV space to show how it should be done, and I’m afraid it is going to be the big A to drag them kicking and screaming into the future… again.


Final Cut Pro X Furore

Final-Cut-Pro-X-Furore

Now that the dust has settled a little on the launch of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X - it’s time to take stock of the situation with a clear head.

Why the outrage?

When Apple first debuted the preview of FCPX at NAB this year, editors went wild for the speed and features demonstrated - now there is a significant amount of pro users who are saying they will jump ship and move to Avid or even Premiere.

The cause of this anger appears to be focused on a few key facts -
  • You cannot open projects from Final Cut Pro 7 (or earlier) in FCP X
  • You cannot export OMF/EDL/XML from FCP X
  • Multicam-editing support is not present

I believe a lot of the frustration here would have been avoided if Apple simply came out and said this when previewed. Of course people would have been upset, but at least they would not find this out at launch and then witness the rather surprising backlash that occurred.

Final Cut Pro X is a fundamental re-write and re-think of media management, non-linear editing and full use of all the core technologies in OS X - I am not surprised that there were going to be a few bumps on the way, perhaps the surprise is how loud and public they have been.

No professional editor would ever adopt a brand new piece of software mid project, so at the moment the prudent idea would be to assess the software and see if it is worth getting on board in future. No one is being forced to upgrade on day one. As much as people might disagree, Apple does listen to user feedback - so until some feedback has been gathered, the direction of FCP X is not known yet.

The biggest showstopper in our current workflow is the lack of support for working from AFP shared storage - which is how we share a RAID array. Not sure if this is going to be addressed, however this may require a re-think of our media managment in future for this to work.

So now, the waiting and wondering for the first software update begins - let’s hope sooner rather than later.

Final Cut Pro X - A leap into the unknown

Final Cut Pro X Screenshot

So Apple officially unveiled Final Cut Pro X at the NAB show this year. With the amount of pre-event leaks and whispers in the post production business it would have been a huge disappointment if they had not shown anything, but they took the wraps off the new baby with a room full of overly excited editors to witness it.

The biggest comment afterward had to be “this is just iMovie”. Sure, the basic window layout and some of the buttons and controls borrow from it’s consumer sibling, however rather than iMovie feeding Final Cut Pro, I think it was the early builds of Final Cut Pro X that internally at Apple fed iMovie, and now we have the results of their labour to view. So how is it?

Randy Ubillos - the father of Final Cut Pro took it for an on-stage test drive, and the initial fears that this new package was not fit for purpose were put to bed after watching the (non-official) video of this. The biggest requests I have been wanting (Cocoa, 64-bit, background rendering) were all shown off in full glory, and better yet there was mentions of Open CL and Grand Central, so finally now Apple is now laying the pro-app groundwork for the future, and laying it down properly.

There looks like a learning curve for sure - I don’t use clip linking and unlinking a lot, however in FCP X this now looks like a really easy way of sub-sequencing and seems very intuitive, being able to nest sets of clips deeper and deeper so you have a very compact looking timeline. The audio controls look very slick and finally appear to have some excellent transitions for finer detail, along with the waveforms that you can now see when peaking, even before playing any audio.

The automatic colour correction was very impressive and when mixing formats between DSLR and other cameras, might make this an amazingly easy matching experience. Also mentioned was the ability to drop in the native media from DSLRs without having to transcode - an amazing timesaver for me.

I suppose the most exciting thing was the actual content they were using for the demo, a nicely shot piece for the Audi R8. This mixed DSLR, tapeless and minicam (GoPro) formats on the same timeline, which is something I do nearly daily now, and also the timeline looks very familiar as well - actually doing this demo was like it was made for me.

There are still a few questions, regarding plugin and filter compatibility, XML export, project exchange etc - however I for one cannot wait to get my hands on this and really get under the skin of the new system. It’s a really new way of working so I imagine those resistant to change may be scared off or angry that it’s now how it was - but that is the price of progress and this feels like a massive change in the right direction for Final Cut Pro. Bring on June - and stay tuned for a full hands-on here.

DVD = Development Very Difficult...

DVD - Development Very Difficult

It has been a little while since I have had to get involved with DVD authoring directly at work, and to be honest I am truly surprised that it is still the same frustrating, infuriating process it was before.
The two suspects I am referring to are Adobe Encore and Apple’s DVD Studio Pro.

Encore (now at CS5) has not changed a single element (to my eye) since CS3, and DVD Studio Pro still feels strangely detached from the rest of the Final Cut Studio suite.

I am always keen on trying to keep the workflows as simple as possible (aren’t we all?) so ideally would come out of Final Cut Pro and straight into the authoring program with minimum of fuss (and transcoding time). When dealing with a recent DVD for a client, DVD Studio Pro did not properly recognise a menu asset imported, which stopped us in our tracks, so it meant over to Encore, which had no problem with the same asset.

With more clients requesting Blu Ray discs, Encore seems like the natural solution, as you can set every new project as a Blu Ray project and then target either a DVD or Blu Ray disc in the Build stage - this also means you can import H.264 high quality files in, and let Encore handle the transcoding to MPEG2 for the DVD version.
However this elegant solution crashes and burns when you try to burn the DVD version, as for some unknown reason, the pixel aspect ratio is not right (the video shows black lines on each side of the video). It seems it is to do with new pixel aspect ratios introduced in CS4. Works fine for Blu Ray but all comes apart for a DVD burn. It’s only a few pixels at either side, and most flat screen TV’s won’t even show them, but it just does not look right.

Creating buttons and overlays in both DVD Studio Pro and Encore is a exercise in sheer frustration as well - I actually have to take about six steps per button in Encore to get the overlay to highlight a layer, as well as having the text of the button included.

Perhaps it is user error, and I should be reading up on better and easier ways to do all this - but why should it be that way? Encore is a mess of panels and hidden tabs when working, DVD Studio is better but still no clear way of doing simple navigational tasks, and has plenty of hidden tabs and settings on its own.

Some will say that DVDs are becoming extinct and everything will be streamed online - but clients still want DVDs and in some cases Blu Ray discs, so this is going to continue to be a daily frustration.

The ironic thing is that the easiest package to use and works exactly as it should is iDVD which has not been updated properly in quite a while. Go figure...

iTunes and Safari - An integration too far?

The latest rumour bubbling under the current iPad 2 rumours is that there is a plan for Apple to merge Safari and iTunes.

itunes-and-safari

Smart move or a step too far?

We won’t know until Apple does it, and if they do it would have to be done in a way that is beneficial for both apps and I can’t see that from here. Safari is my favourite browser — especially now with extensions, and although I think iTunes is “fine”. It has slowly become a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ situation where more and more features are being added (I’m looking at you, Ping) without adding real value to the app or experience.

I think iTunes — and Im not alone here - needs to be rewritten from the ground up in Cocoa. Not so much 64-bit out of the starting blocks but as people’s iTunes libraries are growing larger and larger this may end up being one of the largest folders on someone’s Mac or PC, so therefore a 64-bit rewrite is not out of the question. There can be a lot of file activity when someone is syncing an iPhone or iPad for the first time. By the time a rewrite happens it may be time for 64-bit anyway.

Safari I like because it is lightweight and puts the content front and centre, and the UI gets right out of the way. And generally performs very well - although the odd memory leak will need to be looked at in future. Of course both iTunes and Safari use the underlying WebKit rendering engine (and share this with other apps as well) which actually means Apple already has millions of WebKit browsers already installed on PC’s as iTunes - but are people going to want to browse the web though it as well? I find it odd that while on the iTunes store or App Store links are not parsed as clickable URLs (no doubt a security measure for them) but is that a sign that this is looming?

There is just too many questions here - will all Safari extensions stop working if this goes ahead? What will happen to plugins such as Flash / Java etc?

Some even argue that iTunes should be split up, so the stores are separate apps (al la Mac App Store) and perhaps even syncing is done though iSync (an idea which I like) as combining all functions is becoming a little cumbersome and creating a monster of an app with a UI and performance limitations.

I personally think adding a browser to this, is certainly a step too far.