Final Cut Studio 2 review: Final Cut Studio 2


Motion offers sophisticated 3D handling and good integration with Final Cut Pro.

Motion 3
The Motion 3 animation application offers a cleaner interface and cool 3D compositing capabilities. A bunch of new behaviors allow for creative options without requiring the use of a curve editor, filling in coordinates, and using keyframes. You can view and drag around the 3D space from multiple angles, including the camera's vantage point, and then easily zoom in, set drop zones, and duplicate behaviors. SmoothCam technology let us take otherwise unusable footage shot from a helicopter and stabilize it for a result that was usable, albeit slightly blurry. We achieved this fix in a series of short steps without having to pick and lock down a stable point, and without using the separate Shake application. New vector painting tools provide brushstrokes as wacky as feather boas and birds on a wire. Tracking and match moving, optical flow retiming, and a pattern replicator are other notable options. Apple has also added 3D animated text effects and plenty of new stock design elements. And among the new cross-application integration features is the capability to edit templates from Motion 3 without leaving Final Cut Pro 6.


Soundtrack Pro offers strong support for 5.1 surround sound, and its Conform feature nicely synchronizes audio between that application and Final Cut Pro.

Soundtrack Pro 2
Also with a new look and feel, this update to Final Cut Studio's audio-editing software features support for converting stereo to 5.1 surround sound or combining the two. (Obtaining the necessary equipment for optimal listening is another matter.) An enhanced spectrum view, similar to that in Adobe Soundbooth CS3, resembles a heat map that can display pops, hisses, and telephone rings better than a waveform can, allowing for quick corrections. Visual fade selectors are set up to allow tweaking transitions quickly. And nondestructive waveform editing enables making changes without losing earlier work, should you change your mind. The new Conform tool lets you sync video and audio changes, such as when dubbing over actors' flubbed lines, made from within the various Studio programs. This worked smoothly in our tests. And a lift-and-stamp tool analyzes two audio clips and matches them without making you grapple with an equalizer. Plus, you can edit more than 1,000 new royalty-free music samples and sound effects from "ambience" to "sci-fi."

Compressor 3
Compressor 3 is set up to allow batch processing and flexible job chaining. You can apply and access dynamic filters, such as watermarks, without rendering. Apple intends for encoding to be 2.8 times faster than in Compression 2, and it supports formats such as MPEG-2 and H.264. However, preparing content for mobile devices isn't as easy as Adobe Creative Suite 3 makes it. For instance, you don't see skins to preview how your work may look on various gadgets.


Soundtrack Pro's colorful Frequency Spectrum View allows you to edit audio with precision.

Final Cut Server
Apple intends to serve professionals while also bringing lofty digital media creation tools down to earth. To that end, Final Cut Server asset management--which we did not test--could enable users to do what only a billion-dollar broadcast network could previously afford. For example, college kids with access to this $999-per-10-user technology could edit each others' video clips from dorm rooms across the world and operate, say, a 24-7, Web-based broadcast network. Access for unlimited users of Final Cut Server will cost $1,999.

Support
Unlike many applications these days that only come with PDF manuals, you can thumb through four volumes of printed manuals for Final Cut Studio 2. Free videos are also available. Professionals will likely find these a handy reference. But despite the wealth of resources, learning Final Cut from scratch could be a hair-pulling task without seeking advice from someone in the know; otherwise, something as mundane as trying to add titles to a movie could waste hours. Luckily, you'll find many passionate users online. AppleCare representatives are on hand live via telephone and e-mail 12 hours each day, once you pay a $799 fee. But at that price, we wish someone were on the line 24-7 to assist with the inevitable predawn deadline.


Unfortunately, we weren't able to export a project from Final Cut Pro 6 to a video iPod. We also ran into other inexplicable error messages that troubleshooting and user manuals failed to help.

Conclusion
Film editors who use Macs will relish the future-forward tools within Final Cut Studio 2. And as more film freelancers are called to multitask, this suite provides an all-in-one toolkit that more than pays for itself by handling color correction and other projects that might otherwise costs tens of thousands of dollars to outsource. That said, we find the features within Adobe CS3 more appealing for creative projects that need to be repurposed for large and small screens, including handheld gadgets and Web sites. It's too bad that we still encountered some crashes with Final Cut Pro, but we've grown accustomed over the years to its sensitive personality. We expect that Apple will roll out updates to address bugs as they surface. Overall, however, the many new features in this suite are speedy, impressive time savers. Other software packages may be friendlier for beginners or even seasoned amateurs, but Final Cut Studio 2 remains a solid choice for experienced film professionals.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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