Apple releases overhauled Final Cut Pro X

The latest version of Apple's professional video-editing software is the first ever to be released only as a download.

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Josh Lowensohn
Stephen Shankland
4 min read
Final Cut Pro X running on a MacBook Pro.
Final Cut Pro X running on a MacBook Pro. Apple

Apple today released Final Cut Pro X, the latest version of video-editing software geared for professionals from a company increasingly focused on mainstream consumers.

Final Cut Pro X is a follow-up to Final Cut Pro 7, software Apple released in 2009 as part of Final Cut Studio. The new $299.99 version is a complete 64-bit rewrite of Final Cut, absorbing abilities from several of the software programs that are included in the Studio suite.

Like Apple's upcoming release of Mac OS X Lion, Final Cut Pro X will only be available to customers through the Mac App Store, the digital storefront the company rolled out to Snow Leopard users back in January. That means any new updates get delivered through the Mac App Store app, and users can install a copy on any of their authorized computers.

A look at Final Cut Pro X (images)

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Apple said the software "completely reinvents video editing with a Magnetic Timeline that lets you edit on a flexible, trackless canvas; Content Auto-Analysis that categorizes your content upon import by shot type, media and people; and background rendering that allows you to work without interruption."

The application debuted in a demonstration at a Final Cut user group event alongside the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas in April, but Apple kept mum on further details. A report from Japanese Mac blog Macotakara last week correctly pegged the release of Final Cut Pro X as happening sometime this week.

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Among its new features is a tool that detects when are people in shots, as well as what type of shots those are--close-up, medium, or wide-angle. Apple had added both those features to the most recent version of iMovie, and they're not the only iMovie carry-over. Apple has also brought "skimming," the feature that lets people preview the content of a clip just by moving their mouse across it.

The software uses a design that can take advantage of multicore processors and increasingly powerful graphics chips as well. The software requires a Mac with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better, at least 2GB of memory, and an OpenCL-compatible graphics system with at least 256MB of video memory, and Mac OS X 10.6.7.

Final Cut Pro X makes its debut on the Mac App Store, the only way people can buy the new video editing software.
Final Cut Pro X makes its debut on the Mac App Store, the only way people can buy the new video-editing software. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Final Cut, which helped unseat Avid Technology's high-end editing system when mainstream technology grew powerful enough, is Apple's top-of-the-line video-editing product. It's joined on the consumer end by iMovie, the video-editing software that's available both on Mac OS X as part of the iLife suite and on iOS as a standalone purchase for the latest generation iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

Final Cut Pro also comes with two accessory programs, Motion 5 for professional motion graphics and Compressor 4 for media encoding. Each of those costs $49.99.

Apple has won over one prominent expert who, after an early look at Final Cut Pro X, had expressed worries about how bold a departure its new interface would be. Larry Jordan, a TV producer and digital video trainer, declared this spring that Final Cut Pro "will not be ready for professional use" upon its initial release. In a talk to the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro user group, he raised the prospect that it might merely be "iMovie on steroids." Specifically, he said:

It is a complete and total rewrite from every single level of what Final Cut has been. There is not a single line of Final Cut that is existing in the old version to the new version. Whenever you've got something that's that big a rewrite, stuff gets changed, stuff gets left out, stuff gets added later because they can't get it all rewritten. I guarantee you that on day one when the dot-zero release ships, it will not be ready for professional release. Apple has a very poor track record of perfect dot-zero releases.

But after a follow-up meeting with Apple engineers, Jordan has reconsidered.

"While I can't tell you what Apple told me until after the NDA [nondisclosure agreement] lifts with the release of the product, I can tell you that what I learned during those conversations has completely changed my opinion," Jordan wrote on his blog last week. "I no longer feel, as I once thought, that this is a step backward. Based on what I learned during my conversations with Apple, I believe this release provides us with an opportunity for a large step forward."

Final Cut Pro X has been a long time coming. There was fretting that the software suffered as Apple grew far beyond its creative professional niche with the mass-market success of the iPhone--particularly after a Final Cut Pro layoff early in 2010.

One indication of just how long in the tooth the earlier version had become: it was built using an older Mac programming foundation called Carbon. Apple announced in 2007 that Carbon programs were limited to 32-bit designs, which kept them to a maximum of 4GB of memory. For 64-bit support and its attendant memory benefits, programmers have to use an interface called Cocoa, and video editing is one of the clearest examples of software that benefits from gargantuan amounts of memory.

Adobe Systems switched debuted its first Cocoa-based Premiere Pro--the top rival to Final Cut Pro--with the CS5 version released in April 2010. Curiously, that fact apparently irked Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who--in his "thoughts on Flash" letter that emerged just days later--called it out as evidence that Apple and Adobe had grown apart.

"Although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third-party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X," Jobs said in that letter.

But now, when it comes to this programming foundation, Apple no longer trails Adobe.