Final Cut Pro X gets first big update, and a free trial

Apple is adding a handful of features to its professional video editing software, along with a way for users to try it free for a month.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
4 min read
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Apple today released its first major update to Final Cut Pro X with new features it says professional customers have been asking for, along with a new trial version users can test out for free.

Among the biggest new features added as part of a software update that went out to users this morning is support for XML. This adds the option to both import and export projects and events in the XML format, meaning users can take XML formatted projects and work on them in Final Cut Pro X.

"Now you can import and export Final Cut Pro X project and Event information via a rich XML format," Apple's Final Cut Pro X page reads. "XML interchange enables a wide range of third-party workflows, including high-end visual effects, color grading, and media asset management. Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve, Square Box System's CatDV, and many other third-party applications will offer XML-based work flows with Final Cut Pro X."

That addition addresses one of the potential sticking points for upgraders, who were left unable to open old Final Cut Pro projects in the newer version of the software. XML support brings that indirectly, as users can export Final Cut Pro 7 projects in XML, then import them into Final Cut Pro X via a third-party tool like CatDV from Square Box. Shortly after the release, Apple posted a frequently asked questions page, noting that the XML feature would be coming back alongside a handful of other additions.

Some of those other features in today's update include:

  • Support for events and projects through Xsan, the company's technology that allows multiple computers to concurrently access storage

  • Support for media stems (or audio channeling). This lets users assign a "role" to media once it's imported, so that when it's time to export things like dialogue, sound effects, and soundtracks, those exports can be done in a single pass.

  • Custom starting timecodes

  • Full-screen view toggle for Mac OS X Lion users

  • GPU-accelerated export (was previously only CPU-based)

  • New theme called "Tribute"

  • One-step transitions on connected clips

On the back end of the software, Apple's also taken a step towards making Final Cut Pro more compatible with new gear from camera manufacturers in the form of a new software development kit. The SDK lets camera makers write plug-ins for their new cameras into Final Cut Pro X, taking the onus off Apple to time major new Final Cut releases with new camera hardware.

"We realized that many professionals wanted to adopt these cameras quite quickly, so to address the needs of the professionals, we disconnected the requirements that the camera vendors had with our release cycles," said Richard Townhill, Apple's senior director of applications product marketing in a phone interview. "Now it means when a camera vendor releases a great new professional camera, they can release under their own control support for it under Final Cut Pro."

Luring upgraders

Besides the feature updates, Apple is continuing its efforts to entice potential upgrader hold-outs with a free trial of the software and a guide to ease the transitions for Final Cut Pro 7 users.

That free trial gives users a full version of the software in download form from Apple, which will work for 30 days from the time it's first launched. Apple offers a similar free trial for its Aperture photo management and editing software, which is also aimed at professionals. Townhill noted that users who upgrade to the full version will be able to pick up where they left off, with projects and events showing up automatically.

A look at Final Cut Pro X (images)

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Alongside the trial, Apple's also publishing a guide called "Final Cut Pro X for Final Cut Pro 7 Editors (PDF)," which has been designed to walk users of the older software through what's changed. That joins an updated version of the Final Cut Pro X frequently asked questions page, which went up in late June announcing future software updates that would bring additional features.

Following this update, Apple will be releasing another that brings multicam editing and support for broadcast video monitors. However, that update isn't expected until next year, Townhill said.

Apple faced a backlash following the release of Final Cut Pro X earlier this year. Many professionals found the software to be too much of a departure from the previous version, and chided the company for not bringing along key features. Apple responded by reportedly issuing refunds to unhappy buyers, as well as posting the FAQ. Competitors like Adobe and Avid responded by offering deep discounts on their software to switchers, with Adobe recently mentioning that it had seen a "large number of Apple Final Cut Pro customers switching to Adobe Premiere Pro," as a result.

"We're pretty good at this stuff actually," Townhill said of the change from Final Cut Pro to Final Cut Pro X. "We have a long history of successful transitions: OS 9 to OS X, PowerPC to Intel. We know we've done something revolutionary with Final Cut Pro, and we sincerely think that our professional customers will love it. And some of that is letting them know we will make good on the promises we made, and the (Final Cut Pro X) 10.1 update is the first public indication that we're doing that."

Updated at 8:45 a.m. PT to clarify XML project transfers.