Apple upgrades Final Cut Pro X and gets serious about professional DCC

The Mac Pro arrives and brings a new Final Cut Pro X.

That other shoe you ordered just dropped. Apple has opened up pre-orders for the Mac Pro and the company has also announced a new update for Final Cut Pro X. Video professionals have been waiting a long time for a serious upgrade to Final Cut Pro X, and you can’t exactly say they’ve been patient. But this Christmas, the message from Apple is a love letter to professionals: come home, all is forgiven and we’ve got 4K too. The new Final Cut Pro X from Apple can handle up to 16 multiple streams of 4K at full resolution. In addition to 4K ProRes, the new Final Cut Pro supports Sony XAVC, and Redcode RAW in 4K. The new software can export in the background, and users can export directly to YouTube at 4K UHD.

Woo hoo, Apple upgrades Final Cut Pro X: 4K is the headline but there are a wealth of features for professionals in this release.
Woo hoo, Apple upgrades Final Cut Pro X: 4K is the headline but there are a wealth of features for professionals in this release. (Source: Apple)

As we’ve all been told many, many times, Apple’s software is engineered to leverage Apple’s hardware. Well, this goes double for Final Cut Pro and the new Mac Pro, which is equipped with two AMD graphics boards. The Mac Pro comes with Dual AMD FirePro graphics boards equipped with either the D300 or D500 graphics processors. AMD’s FirePro products are loaded with memory for applications such as design, video editing, special effects … all those jobs that create big files and churn lots of processors. The D300 has 2 GB of GDDR5 RAM and the D500 has 3 GB of GDDR5 RAM. More details on the Mac configuration are at the Mac Pro site.

When it comes to Final Cut Pro all this adds up to reduced rendering times, and improved performance for jobs like color grading, adding filters, effects, and retiming video. AMD has considerable multi-monitor talents in its repertoire and Final Cut Pro will exploit these features as well. Content can be displayed on multiple external monitors at resolutions up to 4K. Users can use the HDMI port on the Mac Pro and they can take advantage of Thunderbolt 2 for 10-bit video monitoring.

Hardware requirements

Of course, there will be plenty of users who are not going to spring for the Mac Pro, but they’ll be using Final Cut Pro. If so, Apple requires OS X v10.9 or later, 4GB of RAM and 8 GB for even contemplating 4K. Graphics boards supporting OpenCL are recommended with 256 graphics RAM, or 1 GB for 4K. At the minimum,  the Final Cut Pro upgrade demands Intel HD Graphics 3000 or later.  Apple provides plenty of details in the specs for Final Cut Pro X.

Apple has pretty much moved its user base to 64-bit platforms and it’s hard to imagine anyone who enjoys working with video has not made the move from 32-bit, but if there are holdouts clinging to old operating systems and machines, the Final Cut Pro upgrade should be enough to move them along up the food chain.

New Motion and Compressor

In addition to upgrading Final Cut Pro X to make it worthy of professionals and the new Mac Pro, Apple has also upgraded video add-on products, Compressor and Motion. Compressor does a lot more than compression and upscaling. In addition to resizing and retiming, it also enables conversions between standard formats. It offers a wide range of presets including iTunes, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and email, as you’d expect but also CNN iReport, Tudou, and Youku. Automated tools also include cropping and padding, reverse telecine, and deinterlacing.

Video filters available with Compression include black and white restore, brightness and contrast, tweaking for highlights, midtones, shadows, as well as sharpening, and noise removal.

Format support includes H.264 for Blu-ray discs, Apple devices, web, and mobile. Support for Red Laser burning for AVCHD disks for compatible Blu-ray players. Full QuickTime support, MPEG-2 encoding, MPEG-4 encoding, two-pass VBR for MPEG-2. In addition, Compressor provides Dolby-certified encoding for AC-3 and EC-3. We were surprised Apple didn’t include X.265 since they have all the other UHD support, so that’s an upgrade we can look forward to in the near future.

Compressor has support for distributed processes across networked computers including My Computer sharing options. Groups of shared computers can be designated for jobs and assigned on a per-batch basis for encoding. Full administrative tools are provided to control how work is distributed on single computers and across networks including email notifications and security permissions.

Motion is a an important competitive product for Apple and it too has been languishing as Apple has been rebuilding its video and imaging tools for modern platforms. Motion adds customization tools for titles, transitions, and effects and provides real-time feedback so users can see what they’re up to.

Motion and Compressor both take advantage of GPU acceleration and has support for dual GPUs for faster rendering and encoding. Each product is available for $49.95.

Even together, Compressor and Motion don’t necessarily add up to Adobe’s After Effects but with this upgrade, Apple is narrowing the gap.

This is a truly significant move for Apple because it’s going to scoop up a bunch of money it has just left lying on the table. There’s more that can be done and we’re pretty sure that Apple must be working on upgrading its once-wonderful photo processing and management tool Aperture. But, a new workstation and software worthy of it is a pretty convincing step.

What do we think?

Apple has finally gotten back in the game for professionals and we’d say the timing is pretty good. Committed Apple professionals have hung back and grimly stuck with Final Cut Pro 7 or they use Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere. Some have left the Apple fold and moved to Windows.

It’s been a long transition, longer perhaps than one would expect or video professionals would want, but Apple is now making it clear that it has not abandoned professionals users. Instead, it is rebuilding software and hardware to be competitive in content creation. Has that always been the case? We really don’t think so. Rather, we think Apple became enlightened. For too long, professionals were left empty handed, with a long wait for professional hardware and professional grade software seemed left to wither and rot, but we’re betting that all will soon be forgotten. Give people good tools and they just happily get to work.

Adobe has gained market share in the video and imaging markets and Avid has a solid core of high-end professionals, but Avid has struggled to deliver competitive upgrades, and Adobe is managing a challenging transition to subscription. And, by the way, not once has that $299.99 price tag for Final Cut Pro X been mentioned in this article. It’s an important point, professionals will spend that, even if they’re also using tools from Adobe and Avid.

UPDATE: Apple’s site has pushed back the ship date for Mac Pro until February saying that orders have outstripped early supply. This should not come as a shock. Apple is usually conservative in its pre-orders for new products. But, in conjunction to the strength we’ve seen in the workstation market (see: it’s a another good sign for the professional market.