Apple Final Cut Pro 4.0 review: Apple Final Cut Pro 4.0

MSRP: $999.00
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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Extremely broad and deep feature set; fully customizable industry-standard interface; strong real-time capabilities; excellent value.

The Bad Tough learning curve for beginners and casual users; requires a powerful Mac system; no multicamera support; no PC version.

The Bottom Line If you're ready for advanced video editing and you have a Mac G4 or better, look no further.

8.5 Overall
  • Setup and interface 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Service and support 7.0
CNET Editors' Choice Nov '03

Review summary

Wow. Apple's Final Cut Pro (FCP) has long been a leading nonlinear video-editing and effects application, but Apple has turned it into an entire suite with version 4.0. The editor now provides radically better real-time performance, a completely customizable interface, and the ability to handle 24P footage, to name a few of the significant improvements. And the new package includes LiveType for sophisticated animated titling, Soundtrack for producing original music, Cinema Tools for generating film-negative cut lists, and Compressor for batch-compressing video for DVD and the Internet. Plus, despite all the changes, anyone familiar with earlier versions of the software will immediately be able to sit down and get to work.

If you have the right hardware, installation is a breeze. Unlike earlier versions, FCP4 requires a G4, OS X 10.2.5 with QuickTime 6.1, at least 384MB of RAM, and a DVD player. A CD drive won't cut it because the program comes on DVDs. The requirements are even more demanding to take advantage of RT Extreme and Soundtrack: 512MB of RAM and dual processors or a single processor running at a minimum of 500MHz. Those are merely the base requirements--the faster your CPU and the more memory you have, the more flexible the real-time capabilities.

If you want the full suite on your computer, have a good book handy--installing all 15GB takes the better part of an hour. The software devours drive space: 1GB for the basic program, 5GB for Soundtrack, and 9GB for LiveType. As with any editing application, we highly recommended you use a second hard drive for storing video media.

Here's a nice side note for those currently using FCP3 on OS 9: OS X can run on the same drive as OS 9.2, and FCP4 can coexist with FCP3. Although you should be able to open FCP3 projects in FCP4, we suggest you take a more conservative approach and finish them before switching to the new program.

The suite's applications have distinct but complementary and consistent interfaces, and the core program offers a quick and efficient means of performing just about every common editing task. The editor's interface is one of the most powerful and intuitive of its kind, and because so many professionals use it, help, documentation, instruction, and talent are widely available.

Version 4.0 retains FCP's familiar four windows: the browser, the viewer, the timeline, and the canvas. This modeless interface neatly integrates editing and effects tools in one seamless package. You organize video in bins in the browser and play it in the viewer. Using three-point editing, you select parts of clips and place them in a sequence that appears in the timeline, and then you view the sequence on the canvas. Longer and more-complex projects may contain multiple sequences, which can be nested. And the toolbar's powerful array of functions helps you finesse a timeline sequence. Options include ripple, roll, slide, and slip editing.

Along with several subtle enhancements, Apple made an obvious change to the interface: complete customizability. You can choose and save your preferences for the browser, the keyboard, the new onscreen buttons, and the window layouts, and you can transfer your setup effortlessly between systems. Most of the other improvements are in the timeline. For example, the Keyframe Graph Editor enables graphical editing of selected filter/motion keyframes. By manipulating the interval tick marks, you can remap time--in other words, produce ramped speed changes. The new Auto Select buttons, located to the right of the Track Lock buttons, assign editing operations to specific tracks. Dupe Detection graphically depicts footage that your project uses more than once. Tracks are individually sizable, so you can better allot your limited screen real estate.

Apple has also refined the Trim tool, adding asymmetric and dynamic JKL trimming. In the latter, your keyboard's J, K, and L keys act as playback controls. The new techniques require fewer commands, so you trim tracks more quickly.

Many of version 4.0's new capabilities are in the added applications, but Apple didn't neglect the basic editor. To start with, the new RT Extreme engine (see the Performance section) boosts real-time performance throughout the video-editing process. When the system is idle, the convenient Auto Render feature automatically initiates any necessary rendering. Apple also created new render modes, including 8-, 10-, and 32-bit High Dynamic Range (HDR). HDR imaging promises to preserve maximum image quality when you're finishing in high-end formats such as HD and film.

Speaking of higher resolutions, FCP now supports uncompressed 8- and 10-bit video in both standard and HD resolutions. Particularly intriguing is the program's ability to handle Panasonic's high-quality DVCPRO50 format over FireWire--no fancy capture board required. FCP4 also works with several variations of the much-hyped 24P frame rate. Independent filmmakers will especially like having the option to edit--without any rendering--video produced with the advanced pull-down mode of Panasonic's breakthrough AG-DVX100 camera. As a bonus, Apple throws in Cinema Tools 2.0 (formerly a $1,000 standalone application), which is for projects originating in 24P and ending on film. In essence, Cinema Tools is a database-driven app that generates a film cut list from a video edit.

Several of FCP4's features have long been enjoyed by Avid users. For instance, Modify Auxiliary Timecode lets you assign a new timecode track to a clip. This can be helpful for working with the different angles in multicamera scenes and for syncing audio to video. Also useful for joining sound and picture is the self-explanatory Merge Clips command. Finally, taking a page from Avid's book, FCP has improved its color correction with the Frame Viewer, which allows easy comparison of several different frames and provides split screens for color matching.

The onscreen multitrack mixer boosts FCP's audio capabilities by enabling real-time mixing during timeline playback. With the appropriate hardware, FCP now supports output on up to 24 channels.

The most notable of the media-management improvements involves timecode breaks. When FCP4 comes to one during capture, the program automatically advances the reel name and creates a new clip. This feature is particularly helpful for projects using free-run, time-of-day timecode. To streamline collaboration, FCP offers XML as an interchange format, which allows other applications and hardware systems to understand FCP projects. Stay tuned as third-party vendors develop products that take advantage of XML.

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