Final Cut Studio 3 Predictions

There has been a lot of discussion on the Internet the last few months in regards to what Apple is going to do with the seemingly out-dated Final Cut Studio package. Lots of people have written blog articles about what features they would like to see in the new versions of Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Color, etc. The general consensus from the Internet community seems to be that Final Cut Studio is due for a very major update, or even a complete overhaul. Conversations about this are appearing wide-spread on podcasts, twitter, forums and through all the major social networks.

Some people are predicating the death of DVD Studio Pro, others are predicting that Blu-ray burning will finally become available. With Apple filing for new patents, some are predicting that Final Cut Studio will introduce some cool new storyboarding features.

People are hoping for better round-tripping support, better media management, unified solid state camera support, major bug-fixes in Color, 10-bit and 4K support, GPU Acceleration, true 3D in Motion, features from Adobe Premiere (such as searchable text), features from Avid (such as script sync), features from iMovie (such as an updated trim editor), background rendering, Spotlight support inside Final Cut… the list goes on, and on!

Regardless of what new and amazing features end up in Final Cut Studio 3, everyone wants to get their hands on it quick smart! Most people seem to think that Apple will showcase their new product somewhere between now and NAB (even though Apple have dropped out of NAB for the foreseeable future).

So, given all this, what are our predictions?

Well, we think sometime this year Apple will release Final Cut Extreme – a complete overhaul of the Final Cut Studio package.

The name Final Cut Extreme has been around since the lead-up to NAB 2006, after ThinkSecret, writing for PCMagazine, claimed to have additional details about Final Cut Pro 6, Final Cut Extreme, and long-rumoured display upgrades. Final Cut Extreme was said to enable the most demanding users to edit uncompressed 4K and 2540p video. Compatibility was said to include Red Digital Cinema’s Red, Panavision Genesis, Dalsa Origin, Thompson Viper, Sony Cinealta, Phantom HD, and Arri D20 cameras. After this article was released, the online film community went crazy, with heaps of blog posts being written adding to the hype. Unfortunately, the rumours were false, an no Final Cut Extreme was released at NAB 2006. However, in the lead-up to NAB 2007, everything started again. There was the occasional sensible article being written, but most of it was just hype and strong wishing.

However, we don’t think Final Cut Extreme will be designed for the extreme high-end market – we just think that they’ll rename the existing Final Cut Studio package to Final Cut Extreme and keep a similar pricing. It will still be marketed towards their current broad audience – but we also predict, that with a massive new collection of features and simplified workflows, that a lot of the high-end boys and girls will jump on board.

So what will make this new FCX so different? Well, it’s our prediction that most of the Final Cut Studio (i.e. Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Color, LiveType, etc.) will be merged into the one application. We predict a MASSIVE interface and workflow overhaul. No longer will you need to Send to Soundtrack Pro, or use XML workarounds to get your timeline into Color. Everything will be in the one “box”. In typical Apple style – we predict they’ll make things better, by making them substantially simpler.

So how the hell will this actually work? We believe the key is a new Universal Timeline and a set of different Rooms.

The Project Room will be the “hub” of your project. Taking media management to a new extreme, this will be were you can manage different versions of your project, keep track of scripts, storyboards, and other pre-production information. Taking on board features find in other packages such as Celtx, we predict that FCX will have a big focus on ALL stages of the film-making process, including Pre-Production.

User Management will be dramatically improved in FCX. Much like in Avid, you will be able to easily create and switch between user profiles when the application first loads, and also any time whilst you have the application running. You can easily customise the FCX interface to suit your own needs. Currently, managing user customisations in Final Cut Pro is a joke. Multiple users working on the same project will also be supported. Changes will be tracked and logged.

We predict that as an extension to their current MobileMe platform, they will release MobileMe Pro, which will easily allow you to share pre-production documents such as scripts and call sheets, as well as offer everything that Final Cut Server currently has to offer. You’ll be able to easily export rough cuts out of FCX, that will automatically be uploaded to the MobileMe platform, and then producers can access these videos on their iPhone.

The whole selling point of FCX will be making life quicker and easier. In typical Apple style – they’ll take features only found on extremely expensive and high-end products, and make them cool and pretty for trendy Apple users. The integration between FCX, the Internet, AppleTV and iPhones will be extremely important to the success of the product.

Project Files will also be quite different to the way they are currently handled in Final Cut. They will be an archive file, which when opened will contain a logical folder structure containing any pre-production information, scripts, etc. Each bin in the Edit Room will be an individual file (much the same as Avid), allowing you to easily copy and paste individual bins if need be.

The Media Room, will be a beefed up version of a mix between the Media Manager in Final Cut, and Final Cut Server. This will be were you keep track of all your video, audio, graphics and other assets. When you create a new Project, you will be asked to select a Media Collection. This will be the equivalent of your Capture Scratch, Thumbnail Cache, etc. In this file (which will be an archive, so you can right click on it and “view archive contents) will be ALL the assets for your project, all nicely organised in a logical folder structure. Each project will have it’s own Media Collection (similar to Avid’s way to dealing with things). If you delete a file from the collection on the Finder level, these changes are automatically detected by FCX (just like in Avid). You can have multiple version of the same file (ie. you might have a couple different versions of a musical score) – and this is all handled by FCX. One of the coolest features will be a video Face Recognition function, much the same as the one found in iMovie. Video clips will also be scanned, and using a new Speech-to-Text engine automatic transcripts will be written (just like in the new version of Premiere).

Unfortunately, we still predict that FCX will be heavily based around the Quicktime Architecture, meaning that you’ll still probably have to wrap R3D files into Quicktime files. However, this process will be all done in the background. For example, if you drag a MXF file into the timeline, this file is automatically copied, logged and transcoded or wrapped to the Media Collection in the background. You can still do other things while FCX is adding new media (similar to the way Final Cut Pro handles it’s new stabilisation features).

CinemaTools will also be integrated into the Media Room – allowing you to easily go from a ProRes offline, to a 35mm release print.

The Cutting Room, will be the Final Cut Pro replacement. Although Final Cut has come a very long way since it was shown in private room demonstrations as a 0.9 alpha at the National Association of Broadcasters exposition in 1998, it’s still not as “Apple” as it could be. Apple products are known for their slick interfaces, and features that “just work” – and although Final Cut is one of the more beautiful interfaces on the market, it’s still got nothing on the really cheap and friendly little brother, iMovie. It’s our prediction that the Cutting Room will have all the fantastic features of the current Final Cut Pro, but with some very major improvements.

The biggest and most important difference will be the Universal Timeline. This timeline will be common across all rooms. It will be very similar to the current timeline, except more powerful. Just imagine if you merged the Final Cut, After Effects, Motion and Soundtrack Pro timelines together. Audio will be vastly improved on the timeline – as you’ll be allowed to perform surround panning, etc. You’ll be able to group tracks, as well as label, colour code them, and even give them a thumbnail icon.

Although the interface will look much sexier, and modern – everything will function in a similar way to the current Final Cut Pro. Basically, if you can easily find your way around the current Final Cut application – this change over will be a non-issue. The biggest changes will be an improved Trim Tool and vastly improved Effects Engine.

After you’ve cut together your masterpiece, you can then jump over to the Audio Room. After you’ve clicked the Audio Room tab, your timeline stays the same, but the workarea section of the application changes. Building upon the features of both Logic and Soundtrack Pro, this is were you do all your audio mastering. Any simple audio effects you applied in the Cutting Room automatically transfer over to the Audio Room. There is a powerful real-time audio mixer (with all the automated faders and knobs you can handle), support of virtual instruments, plus all the plug-ins you’ve come to expect from Logic and STP. Plugins that work in Logic, also work in FCX. The sound effects library will no doubt be HUGE – and easily searchable via the Media Room.

Next is the Effects Room. After Apple announced the end of Shake, everyone has been eagily waiting for Apple to release the code-named Phenomenon replacement. However, this, so far, has never come about. That said, a lot of the amazing features of Shake have been included in Final Cut, Motion and even iMovie. We believe that the Effects Room will be the Shake replacement. We think that it will utilise a mixture of using the Universal Timeline – but also nodes (like in Shake). You’ll be able to do everything you can currently do in Motion and LiveType – plus utilise all the plugins that Shake has to offer, but the feature set will also be expanded upon. True 3D will be integrated into the package. Using the Media Room, you’ll also easily be able to import effects shots from other packages such as After Effects, and Nuke. The current Final Cut Studio has been very much designed to keep everything in the one package. Getting from Final Cut to After Effects is not a trivial task. However – in FCX, we predict that this will change. Just like MacOS can easily open and manage PDFs, we predict that Apple will try and make everything easier and simplier. Advanced 2D and 3D Trackers, powerful roto tools, etc. will all be stock standard. Masks that are created in the Cutting Room (which you can do using the new and improved pen tool) are automatically available in the Effects Room. Obviously, there will be heaps of amazing templates and “one click” options – all available via the Media Room.

The Grading Room will be the place to go for your final colour correction. Much as the same as the Audio Room, any colour correction effects you apply to clips in the Cutting Room will automatically be transferred over to the Grading Room. Based on Color, but with some added functionality from the Shake feature-set, this is were you can do all your grading. Tracking Data and Masks created in the Effects Room (or even the Cutting Room) are all available in the Grading Room.

Finally, you have the Finishing Room. This is the were you can export your timeline, clips, effects shots, etc. to web, DVD, AppleTV, iPod, etc. Taking on all the functionality of DVD Studio Pro and iDVD, plus all the power of Compressor – you can export things with one click, or customise the settings to the finest degree. Unfortunately, I suspect BluRay is dead – at least from Apple’s point of view (being a “bad of hurt” and all that!). In this room you’ll also be able to export to tape via a much improved and powerful interface.

Of course, all of this is great – but we predict that the biggest changes and improvements will be behind the scenes. There will be a change over from the 32-bit Carbon backbone to the 64-bit Cocoa. Everything will be GPU Accelerated. New low bit-rate versions of ProRes will be released. Less things will need rendering (for example, no more rendering if you simply “flip” an clip), and there will be better rendering management (i.e. if you drag a clip over the top of another clip, causing it to need to render, if you drag that clip away again, the old render files will be referenced – no need to re-render). There will be full meta-data support and Spotlight integration. You will be able to have multiple instances of FCX running – as you won’t be able to load multiple projects in the same application like you currently can. Every room will support distributed/cluster rendering as well as background rendering (this includes all plugins). Up to 4:4:4 4K will be supported, plus there will be better support for proxy files. It’s our prediction that FCX will be almost written from the ground up – so the code will be a lot cleaner and more streamlined, making everything more zippy!

There will also be heaps of little extra bug fixes and improvements, such as improved speed tools in the Cutting Room, better cutting and pasting of parameters, better and more interactive bins (you’ll be able to make your clips any size, and re-arrange them any way you want). The ability to “click and drag” to enable/disable or lock/unlock tracks, or check/uncheck filters (like various Adobe applications). One of the biggest improvements will be better error explanation (i.e. instead of “General Error”, FCX will explain exactly what went wrong and suggest ways of fixing it).

Cool new features will include a full screen bin browser (much like iMovie), new Titles, Transitions and Effects, Animated Travel Maps (available in the Effects Room – taken from iMovie), Advanced Particle Effects, Snap to Beat Markers (like iMovie), Multi-Touch Support (for laptop users), etc.

Customisation will also be a key. You’ll be able to design your own tool plugins for the Universal Timeline, which can be bought and sold as an application on the iTunes stores. If you open a project that has a whole lot of plugins you don’t have, then you’ll be given an option to download any of the free ones, or purchase any that aren’t free.

It’s our belief that FCX will focus on tying the professional application in with the rest of the Apple family of products. FCX will play nicely with the Xsan, Xserve, AppleTV, iPhone and iPod. It will have great connectivity with their new online “cloud”.

Finally – we have a hunch that Apple will release several hardware addons to FCX. This will speed up renders, and transcodes dramatically. But what makes this hardware so special, is that it’s design and source-code will be released as open source allowing 3rd party developers to take on board this technology. Companies like Blackmagic Design will be able to implement this technology in their own capture cards. They will also release a FCX control surface, that allows you to easily control all the various rooms in the application.

So, when do we predict this will be released? We have a hunch that Apple will release a minor update to Final Cut Studio within the next couple of months (fixing some of the bugs and adding some new codecs), but will release FCX towards the end of this year along with a new range of MacPro towers. At first, users will be extremely annoyed with Apple for completely re-designing the Final Cut workflow – but soon enough, people will start to realise just how powerful the new application is. As a result, Avid will dramatically reduce their pricing further, and start to offer Media Composer and ProTools as a single package.

We predict that the package will be AUD$1000.00, and you will not be able to upgrade to it from Final Cut Studio 2.

Will we be right? Only time will tell! Like most people, we do honestly believe that Apple is due for a major update – especially after we’ve just started using Avid for a couple of projects, and have realised just how fantastic the backbone behind Avid is (just the way it handles user profiles and project files is great). But we have “grown up” with Final Cut (in fact, that only reason we went to Apple was due to it!), so we do really want to support it. It will certainly be interesting to see what actually happens in the next few months (especially considering the state of the world’s finances). I don’t know how many people in the world are quite ready to spend a lot of money on new software…

Feel free to send us any comments about our predictions! We’d be really interested to hear what you have to say! But keep in mind, that all of this is just a big GUESS – we don’t have any insider information, nor do we have any connection to anyone at Apple. But after having a good look at Apple’s track record, we think that this is something that has a huge amount of possibility. As we said – only time will tell…

Best Regards, Chris!