The skinny on Final Cut Pro X (FAQ)

Apple this week gave users a sneak peek at Final Cut Pro X, the next version of Final Cut Pro due this June. What's new? And how does this stack up against existing versions of the software? Read CNET's FAQ to find out.

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
7 min read
Final Cut Pro logo

Apple this week unveiled the next major version of Final Cut Pro, the company's video-editing software that plays big brother to the more ubiquitous Mac pack-in iMovie.

The software, which arrives in June, comes off a two-year update hiatus and is a bold step for Apple. It does away with boxes and discs, instead being delivered as a direct download. It also comes in at $700 less than the current version, which is available as part of Apple's pro video-editing suite.

Such a cut raises some questions though, like "what's missing?" and "is this a downgrade for current Final Cut Studio users?" CNET is here to give you the answers with an FAQ.

What's new?
Final Cut Pro X has a laundry list of new features and tweaks, but the really important thing is that the application is now 64-bit, meaning it can address more RAM. The application also makes use of some of the new low-level system features in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard like Core Animation, OpenCL, and Grand Central Dispatch, which lets the software run on as many processing cores and as much of the graphical processing unit as it can get.

As a result, Apple says the software has effectively done away with rendering times, giving editors a way to view changes they've made to content instantaneously. This is managed with a new background-rendering feature that does the work behind the scenes each time a change is made.

Final Cut's interface has also been completely reworked, which Apple says puts the focus on the three areas video editors tend to need while making cuts: a preview area, a new media browser, and an editing timeline that's been given an overhaul. Two of those areas: the media library tool and the timeline are where many of the most drastic changes can be found.

The media library tool, which is where clips are organized has been redesigned to do some of the heavy lifting with footage. This is something pros have told CNET they thought could be improved from older versions of the software, and it's something Apple has addressed in Final Cut Pro X.

The new library lets editors begin edits on media that's being imported, before it's fully transferred. And as footage is being imported, it can analyze shots to help editors sort them out, including tools that can tell what type of shot it is (close, medium, wide), and if there are people in it. It can also run color management and stabilize video if it's shaky. To add to this, footage that's been imported can be organized with range-based keywording, which lets users apply tags to specific, or entire clips to search and pull out later.

On the timeline side, Apple has tweaked the connection between audio and video tracks with something it's calling "Clip Connections." This binds secondary audio tracks to the primary audio tracks that are attached to footage. This way, if it's dragged to another part of the timeline, it won't lose the secondary audio that was added after the fact. Joining that is a feature Apple calls "Magnetic Timeline" which makes sure that these connected items that are dragged around on the timeline do not collide with one another.

To make specific clusters of edits less unwieldy, Apple has added a timeline feature called "Compound Clip" that can group together audio, video, transitions, and titles into single clips. These can be treated just like a finished clip, but de-clutter the timeline. And because it's non-destructive, editors can go in and make changes to something in this cluster any time they want, then re-compound it to save space.

Other changes made to the edit side include an inline precision editor, which lets users adjust where cuts have been made on clips, right on the timeline. This has been set up so if you realize you want an extra second or two from a clip, you don't have to go back and re-find it from your library, cut out one that's slightly longer, and switch it out. You can just dip into that source clip from the timeline, extend it and be done. Another edit feature, called "Auditions" lets users do A-B testing on two variations of an edit to see what each one would look like, without having to redo the work to re-create it.

In its presentation, Apple said these were just a few of the new features that are part of the new software, with more to be unveiled closer to its release in June.

What's it look like compared with the current Final Cut Pro?
Here's Final Cut Pro 7:


And Final Cut Pro X:


OK, those are neat pictures, but this is a video application, I want to see it in action. Is there a video somewhere? There is. As spotted by MacRumors, pro film group Les Machineurs was there and filmed Apple's presentation. It's split up into two parts with a small break in between. What's missing is the initial part of the presentation where Apple spells out some of its customer satisfaction metrics and that it's got more than 2 million licensed Final Cut Pro users.

If you're looking for the hands-on demos with the software, skip to part two, which has Apple's chief architect of video applications, Randy Ubillos going over some of the new features.

Part one:

Part two:


How does this compare with Final Cut Studio?
The big difference here is that this is one application, versus Final Cut Studio's six. That suite includes Final Cut Pro along with Motion, Compressor, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro and Color.

That said, there are features you'd find in Soundtrack Pro and Color that have been built into Final Cut Pro X. But that may not be enough for pros, who were using the authoring tools in DVD Studio Pro to make salable products with their work, or movie makers using Motion to do composite work.

So does that mean those applications aren't making the jump to be a part of the Final Cut Pro X universe? Following the presentation an Apple representative told The Loop that "today was just a sneak peak of Final Cut Pro," and to "stay tuned."

How does this compare with iMovie?
Final Cut Pro X is a much more advanced piece of editing software with many more bells and whistles than iMovie. That said, several features that started out in iMovie have made their way over to Final Cut Pro X, such as skimming previews for clips, identification for types of shots and if people are in them, as well as some of the visual aesthetics.

The bottom line is that if you're an iMovie user who wants a little more, Apple is going for the same up-sell as it's had with Final Cut Express. The big difference is that this is now being positioned as its top of the line editor at about $100 premium of what Express costs.

What does this mean for Final Cut Express?
Apple has stayed mum on if Final Cut Express has been shelved. However comments made about the $199, middle-of-the-road between iMovie and Final Cut Studio at the end of Apple's presentation strongly suggest it's being replaced by the lower-priced Final Cut Pro X once the software is released. From Apple's Richard Townhill, who is the director of pro video product marketing:

"Lastly perhaps, we've had a couple of different flavors. We've had upgrade pricing, we've had Final Cut Express, we've had Final Cut Studio. So we decided we really wanted to do away with that. We wanted to greatly simplify the pricing structure and make it very easy for you if you decided that you wanted to get a copy of Final Cut Pro. So we've decided to make it available for the amazing price of $299."

With that said, Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro 6 (which pre-dated the current version of Final Cut Pro) remain two of the the last versions in the Final Cut family that can run on PowerPC hardware, providing those with older computers a way to edit using Final Cut.

I already have Final Cut Pro, do I still have to pay $299?
Yes. Unlike past versions where a new version means previous users can pay a smaller amount with an upgrade price, everyone pays $299 for Final Cut Pro X.

One thing to keep in mind is that the previous upgrade price for Final Cut Studio upgrades was also $299, so its no more than it used to be. It can be argued that users are getting less included if Apple does not ship it with a comparable feature set with what some of the other studio tools can do.

App Store logo

Can I buy this in stores?
No, Apple has only said that it's offering Final Cut Pro X as a paid download through its Mac App Store. On the plus side that means there are no more worries about punching in serial numbers or losing physical media since it can be re-downloaded.

Can my computer run this?
Apple has not released hardware requirements, but it's making use of many OS X 10.6 specific features that will require Snow Leopard, specifically Grand Central Dispatch. The current version of Final Cut Pro requires that users are running Mac OS X version 10.5.6 or later.

What's up with the name?
Similar to Mac OS X, the X is a Roman numeral, meaning it's said like "Final Cut Pro ten." But don't be confused, this isn't actually the 10th iteration of the software. The last version of the software was version 7, technically making this version 8.

Version 8 and 9 didn't disappear per se. Apple just seems to have followed a similar naming convention to what it did in making the jump from QuickTime 7 to QuickTime X in Leopard to Snow Leopard. Apple also has a history of doing this with its iLife apps, so it's odd, but not unusual.

Any other questions? Send them our way and we'll try to get them answered for you.