Final Cut Pro X: Awesome and Sucky at the same time / by Victor Currie

I learned to edit on 1" and 3/4" machines, though I didn't consider myself an editor until the mid-90s. I've always been something of a non-conformist when it comes to video editing systems, and that includes typically being an early adopter of new technology.  I have a few major criteria that outweighs most others when it comes to system choices: It must have minimal rendering time and must be fairly easy and intuitive to cut.

In 1994, when most people were still on tape, a partner and I evaluated the up-and-coming non-linear editors of the period, narrowing at the end to Avid Media Composer, Media 100, and the iMMix TurboCube.  We ended up going with the iMMix because its interface made complete sense to me, and it did almost everything in real-time.  We built a facility around that and upgraded it to several seats of its successor system, the Scitex StrataSphere.  These were fast (and expensive) machines that used proprietary hardware to do the vast majority of editing in real time.  That's why I didn't go with Avid. I hate rendering with a passion, and back in those days Avids were clunky, slow, and a pain to work with (though their vastly superior data management which survives to this day made them a better choice for people doing long-form film and television).

The decision to go with the more faster, more stylish and cool interface made some sense at the time, since 90 percent of the work work that went through our post department was creating regional commercials, corporate and investor relations video, and editorial projects for others (infomercials, etc.).  In the long run, it wasn't a good business decision, since we were an LA-based company and lost out on a lot of editorial work we could have taken in the down times had we gone with Avid.  When you're investing in expensive systems, you need to keep them working to pay for them.

What does all this have to do with the new Final Cut Pro X?  Perspective.

Just as Scitex told all of us TurboCube users that their new system was going to blow us away with it's new bells and whistles (and 50-layer compositing with four-layer real-time previews!), Apple has released a version that isn't ready for prime time, and suffering big-time backlash for it.

Fortunately for Apple, it has virtually unlimited deep pockets and can ride out the storm as long as it gets the more pro-oriented features turned on quickly (which I have little doubt they will).  Scitex, which in my opinion had what is still the best non-linear editing interface ever released with the StrataSphere, couldn't weather the storm as their initial release wasn't stable enough (and in fact drove us out of the post business because we couldn't reliably guarantee outside clients that the system wouldn't freeze up), and they dumped their video division off to Accom, who didn't seem to have a clue how to sell to end users instead of their core clientele of video engineers, and finally killed the product line and its successors altogether.

The new FCPX is scary fast.  For someone like me, who likes to make editorial decisions quickly and move on, that's great.  It even blows away the speed of Premier Pro 5 on my system (which has a beefy nVidia 4800 card to get a lot of real-time performance from Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine).  I've been doing a lot of spot work lately shooting on Canon 5D Mark IIs and 7Ds, and Premier's 64-bit architecture allowed editorial to move so much faster that I dragged myself kicking-and-screaming in the past few months in that direction (despite my dislike for the way Premier make effects handling kind of a clunky After Effects-lite) because FCP7's older 32-bit system and transcoding requirements were driving me crazy.  FCP7 felt as slow as editing on an Avid in the mid-90s.

If--and I qualify this is a major IF--your primary business is video-for-the-web, and you do not need to interface with the larger professional broadcast/film post-editorial world, FCPX is pretty darn impressive for a 1.0 release (and we do need to keep it in perspective that this truly is a 1.0).  For fast-turnaround corporate work and regional commercials, I think it's going to be awesome within a few months of updates.  I'm going to use it over the next few weeks for several projects that I know can stay within the program, and from my initial tests think it will be great to work with, because as I mentioned before, when it comes to editing, I'm a speed freak and it's really fast (especially if the color correction clip matching lives up to the hype).

On the other hand, having interfaced a lot over the years with studio, network, and ad industry technical requirements for video (on both sides of the fence as an editor, a post supervisor, and a producer), I wouldn't think of using this initial release for anything that's going out-of-house.  The limitations to interfacing with other programs and being able to work within a shared network infrastructure smoothly are deal breakers at that level.

But we have to remember that 98 percent of the people doing video today are not working in the studio system.  They are content creators working as small companies and one-person-bands, and for them the barrier to entry to create good looking content just got lowered even more.  Living outside LA now, that's probably 90 percent of my video work as well these days too.

The question will be whether the next few rounds of updates will iron out the issues for the professional post community, or whether Apple has decided that the general content-creation business in the new-media world is where Final Cut's future lies.  If it's the latter, I don't doubt Apple's stock price will continue to increase because the web is screaming for more and better quality video content right now, and that demand isn't going away any time soon. 

So for now, it's sucky for professional post, but pretty awesome for the rest of the business.  I can see myself using it a lot once I get the new interface down.  For creating news segments, it's a high quality reporter-friendly interface that has to be looked at seriously as a cost-conscious solution for field editorial.

But I live in both worlds, so for the first time since 1994 I'm seriously evaluating Avid Media Composer again.