Combined Apple/Intel technologies to streamline video editing

Apple has unveiled a new 64-bit upgrade to its Final Cut Pro editing system — the final step in a sequence of events that’s set to revolutionize professional video editing from ease and speed of workflow to remarkable cost reductions. In line with the full-on emergence of IT technology convergence within the professional video production space, users now have “workstation class” performance on their laptop computers.

Version X of Final Cut Pro will be available in June for a price $299, putting it in the cost range of consumer applications and extending the application to a far wider range of video editors. Apple previewed the new software during the FCP User Group SuperMeet at NAB.

Combined with Intel’s Thunderbolt, a new high-speed interface technology now included on all of Apple’s Macbook Pro laptops, the new Final Cut Pro application will be dramatically faster than previous mobile editing technology.

And the professional industry is ready to embrace it and the faster file transfers made possible by the Thunderbolt technology. At the NAB convention in Vegas, companies that support video editing, such as AJA Video, Blackmagic, Matrox, Sonnet, G-Tech, Promise Technologies and La Cie all unveiled new products that will work with it. Executives at these companies said they think it will improve sales of their respective products as well.

“We’re always willing to add improvements when they make sense and for our customers, and having Thunderbolt support on our new products clearly helps get signals in and out of the box faster,” said AJA president Nick Rashby. At NAB the company showed a prototype I/O product code named “Phaser.” It supports HDMI input and output, 10-bit hardware-based up/down/cross-conversions, RS422 deck control, and linear time code support.

Blackmagic showed its support on a video capture and playback breakout box called UltraStudio, which features the ability to accommodate 3-D, SD, HD or 2K signals. Leveraging Thunderbolt technology, UltraStudio 3D provides fast 10Gb/s connections that’s can be used to transfer files up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. Thunderbolt also brings low latency and highly accurate time synchronization, so UltraStudio 3D is suitable for stereoscopic 3-D workflows.

The inclusion of Thunderbolt ports on Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup solves a significant problem for broadcasters, as well as all mobile video editors — lack of connectivity speed. Both eSATA for fast disk access as well as a connection that can support high performance video input/output were previously limited to large professional desktop computers. In addition to its laptops, Apple is expected to add Thunderbolt connectivity to its lower cost line of iMac desktop computers in the coming weeks.

Thunderbolt allows the chaining together of both high performance RAID disk storage devices as well as offering general purpose, high-bandwidth data for video input/output breakout boxes. Most of the new Thunderbolt gear announced at NAB will be available this summer, in time for the new Final Cut Pro X.

Apple promised that the new version of Final Cut Pro will be “as revolutionary as the first version of FCP” and said it has been rebuilt to support for all processor cores through Grand Central Dispatch, a new multicore optimization process that rids the application of rendering progress bars and frame-size limitations.

With the new version, rendering is now done almost completely in the background, and the timeline supports resolution-independent footage up to 4K in size. Users will additionally get access to the OS-level ColorSync for color management — which is supposed to squash the QuickTime gamma issues that have plagued the Final Cut software for years. Color correction and filtering is nondestructive.

Final Cut Pro X allows editing before full import and image stabilization and shot detection during import. It can also detect different people as the video is imported and group them together, as well as detect audio problems such as hum and rumble and eliminate them during import.

It has range-based keywords, and smart collections — a method for categorizing media by type, number of people in the shot and framing. “Magnetic Tracks” keeps primary audio and video locked together with no way of accidentally knocking them out of sync.

Multiple clips can be combined into a single clip to make a sequence easier to understand. Everything that is associated with compound clips is still accessible, but moves together with later edits. A feature called “Auditioning” is a nondestructive way to compare edits and effects, allowing users to throw effects or B-roll into a timeline during the organization process.

In some ways, the new Final Cut Pro resembles the consumer edit application, iMovie. It offers a filmstrip view for content. Users can highlight sections of content in the filmstrip view to add keywords. All functions can be driven from the keyboard.

In other news, Intel said at NAB it will make developer kits for the Thunderbolt high-speed connector available later this quarter, opening the field to other device makers outside Intel’s partners. The company said the kits will reduce the time needed by device makers to bring Thunderbolt-compatible versions of their products to market.

Video accessory makers have been quick to embrace the new standard, since it represents a more than 100 percent increase in speed over the previous contender, USB 3, which is only slowly rolling out in consumer circles. Thunderbolt holds not only a speed advantage over other connectors but is also designed specifically for the demands of high-definition video. Yet, the connector is exceptionally small — an essential element today for complex electronics.