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Scott Saunders test drives Final Cut Pro 2.0

Matrox RTMAC plug-in board.

The introduction of Final Cut Pro was a landmark in the otherwise rocky development of low-cost desktop video editing products. Final Cut Pro was, in my experience, the first system for DV editing that really worked as advertised. Even in its first incarnation it was a robust, full-featured application, and it became something of a postproduction standard for DV filmmakers working with limited budgets. (And what DV filmmakers, other than the Danes, aren’t working with limited budgets?)

Final Cut Pro 2.0 (FCP 2) ($999, $249 upgrade) is the latest release of Apple’s superb video editing software, and this new version offers several excellent improvements and additions to an already extensive feature set. To start with, FCP 2 is significantly faster; independent tests show that it is anywhere from 20 percent to 70 percent faster than FCP 1, depending upon the function you’re performing. One of FCP 1’s biggest strengths was that you could edit DV projects without the need for additional computer hardware. This was also a problem, many people argued, because without hardware acceleration, FCP could never really be considered a professional editing system. That’s all changing with the expanding development of new hardware designed specifically for FCP, including its first real-time plug-in card for DV projects: the Matrox RTMac. More about the RTMac below.

FCP is a kind of jack-of-all-trades editing application, so I won’t even try to discuss every feature it offers. For that you can consult FCP 2’s comprehensive 1,435-page manual, or Lisa Brenneis’s excellent Final Cut Pro 2 for Macintosh (Peachpit Press, $24.99). I’ll focus instead on several new additions to the program that will be of particular interest to filmmakers working in DV.

Media management is greatly improved in FCP 2, and this is good news for filmmakers, especially those working on features or long-form documentaries. The media manager can now delete all portions of a source-clip file except the sections you need for your edited project. For example, you’ve digitized a 20-minute DV clip, but you’re only using five seconds of that clip in your movie. This means you’ve got a lot of wasted hard-drive space. FCP 2 can replace the very large original file with a new file encompassing only the five seconds you need. In this example, FCP 2 would be saving you about four gigs of precious hard-drive space. FCP 2 is also smart enough to automatically search for your media files if they’re not where FCP expects to find them. This is a great function if you’re working on a project with multiple editors, or if you regularly work with external hard drives. Another useful media-management tool is DV Start/Stop Detection, which can analyze a DV-originated clip and automatically delineate shots.

Designers of the new FCP have paid special attention to audio, and of particular interest to filmmakers is the OMF export function, which allows you to export media and timeline data to a digital audio workstation, such as Protools, for audio post work. All of your audio edits, including fades, appear on the ProTools timeline exactly as they do in the FCP timeline. At present, Avid is the only other system offering this capability. FCP also sports a new stereo audio meter, as well as improved controls which make it simple to change clip and track audio levels and panning.

FCP 2 also comes with three useful thirdparty tools: Peak DV, an audio editing and processing application, Media Cleaner EZ, for converting finished FCP projects into various file formats, and Boris Script LT, a plug-in title tool which is a stripped-down but still very functional version of Boris Script.

 

MATROX RTMAC — Real Time editing for Final Cut Pro 2.0

One of the most promising new developments for DV filmmakers is the introduction of postproduction devices with so-called real time editing capabilities. These allow editors to create and view a variety of video effects without first having to suffer through the highly time-consuming process of effects rendering. This capability has been something of a Holy Grail for developers of computer-based editing systems because too much rendering can bring the editing process to a standstill.

The Matrox RTMac ($999) is the first DV-specific plug-in board that allows real-time previews of transitions (dissolves, wipes, irises and slides), keyed alpha-channel titles and graphics, and motion effects (opacity, cropping and scale changes, but not speed changes). Having these effects available can be a real time-saver, but I’d also like to see real-time color correction and video speed changes added to the board’s capabilities. (There are hints that real-time color correction, at least, might be forthcoming.) The RTMac won’t entirely eliminate the need to render effects, but it’s a step in that direction.

In my tests I was able to create, for example, a sequence with a 10-second dissolve, over which I faded into and out of a 10-second superimposed title, all in real time. Since, I didn’t have to wait for the effects to be rendered, I was able to play the entire effect immediately. Without the RTMac, I would have had to wait about 40 seconds to see my work. If that doesn’t seem like too long to wait, consider how much time it would take if I had to tweak this particular edit three or four times to get it just right, rendering each subtle modification so I could see the change. This should give you an idea of the time you can save if you use a real-time board and regularly create projects with these kinds of video effects.

The RTMac supports 16 x 9-inch "wide screen" editing, as well as the NTSC and PAL television standards – features which are minimum requirements for a DV filmmaker’s editing system. The RTMac provides a connection for a second computer monitor, eliminating the need for a second, dedicated video card for dual-monitor editing. The RTMac is also shipped with a breakout box, with RCA and S-Video inputs and outputs for analog capture and export. This means you can capture clips from sources other than DV – from Beta or VHS tapes, for example – and intercut them with your DV-originated media. You can also monitor your work on an NTSC or PAL monitor without keeping a DV-camcorder permanently tethered via FireWire to your computer.

FCP now faces stiff competition from increasingly mature products, such as Adobe Premiere 6.0 and Avid Xpress DV 2.0, but its stability, extensive feature set, and its compatibility with a growing list of innovative hardware such as the RTMac card make it an excellent choice for independent filmmakers looking for a fast, versatile and extremely reliable desktop editing system.

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