Final Cut Studio 2 review: Final Cut Studio 2

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The Good Final Cut Studio 2 is a solid value; includes new Color app; new open-format timeline; SmoothCam feature; improves integration throughout the suite; includes 5.1 surround sound support; adds effects and templates.

The Bad Final Cut Studio 2 offers no support for Blu-ray and some professional cameras; lacks previews for exported content; and its complexity might cause beginners to weep.

The Bottom Line Final Cut Studio 2 is a solid value and worthy upgrade for serious film editors who work on Macs. However, hobbyists should consider simpler software.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7

Final Cut Studio 2 is a tightly integrated software package serving would-be Hitchcocks and Coppolas who edit, mix, grade, and produce video and audio. New to this bundle is Color, which brings professional color-grading tools down to the WYSIWYG consumer level. In addition, the updated Final Cut Pro 6, Motion 3 and Soundtrack 2 offer improved interfaces and a variety of fun and practical features for mixing and buffing up film and video projects. Final Cut Studio 2 costs $1,299 or $499 to upgrade; thankfully, the price has not increased, even with the addition of Color. Those with any prior version of FinalCut Pro may upgrade to the full Studio 2 for $699.

At bare minimum, Final Cut Studio 2 demands a 1.25GHz Mac computer running OS 10.4.9 with 1GB of RAM, and nearly 60GB of free hard drive space for all the programs, templates, and tutorials. You'd be wise to check Apple's fine print for more recommendations. Unfortunately, Studio 2 won't work well with integrated Intel graphics processors, and of course, Windows users are out of luck. Those without Macs who are seeking hearty video-editing software could turn instead either to the Master Collection or Production Premium versions of Adobe Creative Suite 3. Amateurs on a budget may be better off with Final Cut Express, Corel VideoStudio 11, or Apple iLife. Kick back with a strong cup of coffee when installing FinalCut Studio; this nine-disc suite took us nearly four hours to load on a MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM and a 2.3 GHz processor. Installation took just about an hour when using a dream machine Mac Pro with 4 GB of RAM and two dual-core processors.

Final Cut Pro offers a highly customizable interface with modules that you can drag and dock to your liking.

The look and feel of Final Cut Studio remains largely the same as in prior versions. For professionals and longtime users, the multipane, task-based layouts shouldn't be a problem, especially with the workspace customizations as well as resizable, drag-and-drop feature modules. And many tools are relatively intuitive, such as the scopes within Color. But we don't recommend that any newbie tackle Final Cut Studio without reading up on it first, as it's easy to make a mess out of a project by setting it up incorrectly from the get-go. You will need a spacious monitor--ideally two of them--to give your eyes a break. For example, the labels of nested folders are tiny. And as with other complex applications, learning the keyboard shortcuts will pay off in the long run.

Final Cut Pro 6
This video-editing application is at the core of Final Cut Studio 2. The interface consists of multiple panels, including a file browser, timeline, canvas displaying the timeline, clip viewer, and tool palettes. Master Templates can help you add polish quickly to a project. We were highly impressed by Final Cut's updates, such as the ease enabled by the new Open Format Timeline, which lets you drag and drop assorted layers of clips in varied formats into a project without any transcoding. PAL, NTSC and MPEG content that we popped into the timeline scaled automatically. (Just double-check the properties of the first clip you drag, as clips added subsequently will match its settings.)

The SmoothCam feature is a godsend for stabilizing rocky footage that we couldn't have otherwise used without turning to other tools.

In this era of transition, few people have DVD players and televisions that display high-definition footage in its full splendor. Editing software has only slowly caught up with the many high-definition cameras and formats. But Apple's new ProRes 422 format makes it possible to pack high-definition work into the space that a standard-definition project would normally take up. In theory, rather than needing a RAID drive to render a 13-minute video, for instance, you could get by with a 170GB drive and achieve results that look identical to the naked eye.

Final Cut Pro 6 supports industry-standard formats, including DV, HDV, XDCAM HD, and DVCPRO HD. However, there is no support for Blu-ray. AVCHD support has been added with version 2.0.1 updates, which can be found online. Of course, there's support for many next-generation cameras, but you'll have to pay for extra tools to hook up to legacy, non-Firewire cameras. And professionals won't find built-in support for the widespread Sony V1U or JVC 60fps HDV cameras. Apple is known for its elegant software and gadget designs, but we'd like Final Cut to be more intuitive both overall and in the fine details. For instance, there's no estimate of the final file size when you're exporting a project; even Sony Vegas offers that. On the deluxe Mac Pro, we waited 35 minutes for Final Cut Pro to export a half-hour wedding video to MOV format at rinky-dink, 320x240 size, only to get a colossal 5GB file in the end. And while we like what we've seen of Adobe CS3's Device Central, Apple doesn't offer comparable previews of how movies will look on handheld gadgets.

Color offers color-grading tools that you would normally have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get.

Also, unfortunately, on our MacBook Pro, we encountered glitches. For instance, Final Cut Pro 6 crashed when we tried to export a project to a video iPod. We suspected a corrupted file, but QuickTime achieved the same task without a hitch. Indeed, Apple has already released an update to Final Cut Studio; visit the company's Web site to find what's new. Nevertheless, even after we added version 2.0.1 updates, Final Cut Pro crashed multiple times with general errors and "Out of Memory" messages while performing various functions. Oddly, even taking these downsides into account, Final Cut Pro 6 is a dramatic improvement that sped up our workflow compared to using version 5. However, we advise against multitasking while running the software; dedicating your machine solely to the editing tasks would be wise.

This addition to Final Cut Studio includes a slew of ways to view and adjust color beyond grading capabilities of Final Cut Pro, including with 3D scopes and flatter-looking levers. This application doesn't resemble its brethren in the suite, but it was relatively intuitive. We were able to adjust shadows, midtones and highlights, and customize RGB and luma curves, while presets quickly achieved various mood effects. Color preserves luma values, which saves time when moving work into editing with Adobe AfterEffects. You can also make colors match from various sources or create special effects, such as tinting only a rose red in an otherwise black-and-white movie. Color will likely enable independent moviemakers and editors to achieve lovelier-looking work. However, Color is limited to 10-bit resolution support. Plus, it handles 2K RGB but not high-end 4K RGB, which Adobe Premiere Pro does handle. Another limitation is that you must break down projects sent to Color into 22-minute reels, ideally with 200 edit points or fewer. Some users have complained that the timecode in a rendered file in Color didn't match that of the original clip. However, we were unable to duplicate this problem.

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