Avid kicks Final Cut when it’s down. [Update: FCP still kicked and down.]

So this week at NAB Avid released details about their upgrade to the Media Composer editing system.  Talk about gamechanger.  Avid now allows for dragging and dropping in the timeline, native Quicktime AND RED support (and I’m not talking about Quicktime Proxies here), solo and mute buttons in the timeline, a much stronger user interface, I could go on…  Hey Apple and the uninspired team at Final Cut Pro: now that Avid has co-opted all your awesome features, what about you maybe making some of your own innovations?

It’s been a long time coming for Avid.  Granted, none of these improvements would have ever come had Apple not entered the market.  The Cupertino computer giant does deserve that credit.  But when it comes to making decisions about what software I’d use on my next job, any argument against Avid has officially been nullified for me.  I used to have an expression: Final Cut Pro is a great editor on top of a crappy media manager, and Avid is a so-so editor on top of an awesome media manager.  Today I officially put that to rest because Avid has proven that they are willing to change.

As for Final Cut Pro, I can’t say the same.  It’s been months since I purchased my upgrade to Final Cut Pro 7, and I have to say, I’m not about to open the box and install that POS on my computer.  Sure, there are quality cosmetic changes to the editing system, like the introduction of ProRes Proxy and 4444 and the colored locators that trim with your edits, but that masks the fact that Final Cut Studio 3 actually runs SLOWER than Final Cut Studio 2 [link 1] [link 2].  And Avid already has the best project-sharing functionality, so tell me what I should choose Apple next time around?

Apple entered the market strongly and has done great things to bring professional editing to the people.  But the truth is Avid has responded by doing laps around Apple while Apple is distracted by their innovations at the consumer level.  It’s high time that Apple either sh*t or get off the pot when it comes to Final Cut Studio.  Sell it or fix it.  I’m tired of dealing with this.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive.  No sooner than I write this post do I see and article from MacSoda that quotes the almighty himself Steve Jobs as saying “The next release will be awesome.”  Scanning through the comments, there’s a mixture of excitment and true disbelief as to whether that is indeed true or simply spin.  Color me undecided, but at the moment, I’m still waiting for something more than Steve’s curt emails.

If you disagree with me, please comment.  Check out the first comment left already by Zach Fine, who presents an excellent rebuttal about the FCS3 upgrade and makes some great points about workflows and benefits.  I still disagree about the state of Final Cut Pro, but hey, he’s a smart guy and he makes some great points.

  1. I understand complaints that FCS3 has dissapointed people in terms of bringing new features to the table, but for me the upgrade was worthwhile for the following reasons:

    1. Massively, massively better roundtrip to/from Color. I’ve edited and colored shorts and spec commercials with the new studio, and the conform experience is way more pleasant than in FCS2.

    2. I’ve used the new Prores codecs, including LT and 4444, on several projects now; I’d say they’re more essential than “cosmetic”. I know of one sub-$5 million film that’s using Prores 4444 for VFX and for the film’s final master. I’d be surprised if there aren’t more doing the same. If you end up needing these codecs, they turn into a major feature.

    3. Blu-ray (and DVD) burning or disc image creation from within Compressor. The Blu-ray outputs I’ve done looked ridiculously nice. This feature is going to seem essential to freelance editors over the next year as the price of Blu-ray drives has finally dropped to within the realm of reason and Producers will begin to expect to be able to screen from Blu-ray.

    4. Much improved speed keyframing tools, and optical flow retiming now only processes the visible portion of the clip. If you need to do speed ramps, these improvements make it easier and make renders go much more quickly (still takes forever, but it’s a faster forever :).

    5. 3D in Motion, with DOF, reflections, shadows. Can be used for some nice quick titling effects.

    6. I’ve actually found the colored markers and colored sequence tabs to be very useful when assisting an editor, but that’s a pretty minor feature.

    That’s unfortunate if FCS3 really does render and export slower than FCS2. In my experience it doesn’t run noticeably more slowly in any other way, certainly the UI is nice and quick. I wonder if the reason those tests came up with slower exports is due to the fact that FCS3 supports exporting through Compressor in the background? I’m also curious about their sequence settings. I haven’t noticed FCS3 feeling slower to render, but I also haven’t run any speed tests.

    Exports and renders are generally not the limiting factor in the speed of my editing process. But when I do really need an export to happen quickly, I don’t send the export straight from FCP to Compressor. Instead I export a quicktime reference movie (not self-contained) from FCP, I then quit FCP, drag the movie into Compressor, and submit the batch to run not on “this computer” but on a multi-processor cluster I’ve created on the computer. Compressor then splits the movie into pieces that are simultaneously compressed on different CPUs and then stuck back together at the end of the process. I’ve compressed H264 or Mpeg-2 files much faster via this method than sending from FCP to “This Computer”, if I recall correctly I frequently saw a 2X-6X reduction in the time taken for the compression. Your results may vary based on the number of cores on your machine and your particular compressor preset.

    Some info can be found on setting up such a cluster and using it for Compressor here:

    I’d also recommend making single-pass CBR H.264 presets. For review purposes CBR one-pass is fine, and it compresses much much faster than multi-pass VBR. All of the compression tips apply to both FCS2 and FCS3.

    I haven’t regretted upgrading, though if I’d been as concerned as you about the new version I’d have either installed it to a separate partition or renamed all the FCS2 applications before installing FCS3 so that I’d have both versions of the studio to play with (apparently that can be done). More info on keeping both versions of FCS on a system at the end of this discussion thread: http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/8/1059344 .

    Regardless how disappointed you are that FCS3 doesn’t feel like a major upgrade, it is stable (as of the latest point release), works well, adds some features I think are useful, contains untouted but interesting fixes (supports displays connected to more than one graphics card, etc), and I’d recommend trying it out if you’ve already purchased it. It doesn’t feel like a POS in use.

    The announced Avid features do sound sweet. The new timeline UI features all sound a bit like playing catch-up to FCP 1.25, but it’s nice to see they’re coming along. AMA looks great, I’m curious about performance, but if it allows native editing of DSLR and Red footage, that’d be very useful.

    • Hey Zach. Thanks for the comment. Okay, you got me, I may have engaged in a little hyperbole when I called the FCS3 upgrade “cosmetic”, but as someone who is basically 50/50 when it comes to my FCP/Avid use, I still see the upgrades as not holding a candle to the upgrades Avid is making. I’ve used AMA on several occasions, and it works seamlessly. I know, it’s weird, I can’t explain it, it seems magical. And this is nothing like the “re-wrapping” that’s necessary with FCP. Just point it to the folder, edit the media. We’ll see how well the new upgrades work, but based on how well MC4 worked, I’d have to say that Final Cut Pro is going to have to make serious strides here. They’ve got a lot to live up to.

    • Richard Starkey said:

      Hi Zach,

      Well put but I do have ONE very important beef with regards to speed of the system:
      The more markers you have in a timeline the slower the system gets. This can get to the point where it becomes unworkable- I have had to copy all the clips to a new timeline and forget about all the marks I have already made.
      Ridiculously slow- I have had to change my labeling and marking system as a result.


  2. I am an Avid editor and I for one hope that Apple hits back hard with something incredible. I hope no one ever wins this battle of the “A” editors. It was Avid editors jumping ship that got Avid serious again. Right now Avid has the advantage. I was at NAB and the new update is killer. However Avid historically does not do well with the advantage. They stop innovating letting products stall and let prices inflate. I hope this battle rages on and we all reap the benefits. So every Avid fan, for the sake of your editor cheer on the competition. Come on Steve give us something without an “i” in front of it to be excited about.

  3. Scott Simmons said:

    No matter what you thought on the Final cut Studio 3 update the Final Cut Pro 7 update paled in comparison to Avid Media Composer 5.0 and Premiere Pro CS5. Apple has another chance to catch up with whatever’s in the future. But it isn’t here and the others (almost) are.

    • thanks for your reply, scott. I’m a bigtime fan of editblog and I appreciate the input.

  4. What FCS needs (IMHO):

    1. A single unified GUI for Compressor.

    2. A faster (hardware based) rendering engine for Compressor.

    3. A more efficient and user friendly GUI for Color.

    4. Blu-Ray authoring in DVD Studio Pro.

    5. A major overhaul of Motion to put in on par with AE with the addition of working with true 3D objects in 3D space. The true Shake alternative we were promised when Shake was dissolved, not the Motion 4 disappointment. Motion could be so awesome if Apple would just put a little more effort into it.

    5.5 Realistic lighting and textures in Motion.

    6. An Apple created 3D authoring tool (with a simplified GUI that is easy to use for Motion Graphics artists) to create 3D objects and text.

    7. Include Aperture 4 with some Adobe PS style paint brushes and image manipulation tools eliminating the need for Photoshop altogether.

    8. To make the entire suite 64bit Native.

    9. Me! Because I would passionately and painstakenly scrutinize every single aspect of the suite until it was absolutely perfect.

  5. The Roe said:

    This makes me really excited to work with Avid again!

  6. keith said:

    I have never seen this great avid media management in action, I for one have lost a few projects dealing with moving the footage from small space to a larger space and there was no way to re-link unconnected media, and I mean no way. It would scan and find nothing, always and forever, I could not choose another drive to search, if I move media that’s it, it’s gone, never to be seen again. Even my instructor could not get the files back to the project and I had to start all over multiple times. I am mobile and change machines so I needed to be able to move the project from machine to machine on an external, no such luck. Maybe in a nice suite costing 50 grand or more, or where nothing ever moves it works, but I can’t stand not being able to re-link ever. Final cut has them beat hands-down for roving projects and people. Unless avid has changed this, make mine final cut.

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