Apple Final Cut Studio 3 review

£799
Price when reviewed

It isn’t often we review software that’s only available for the Mac, but Final Cut Studio demands that we make an exception. While most people choose their operating system first and applications second, anyone considering spending £800 on video-editing software is likely to specify their hardware to meet the needs of the software.

As with any video-editing application, Final Cut Studio requires some substantial hardware, and fortunately the Mac Pro range delivers it. Prices start at £1,899 for a 2.66GHz quad-core Xeon system, while two 2.93GHz quad-core Xeon processors, 8GB RAM and 2TB storage costs around £5,000.

Final Cut Studio comprises six applications. Final Cut Pro 7 handles non-linear editing duties, while Motion 4 is a compositing tool in the same vein as Adobe After Effects. Soundtrack Pro 3 is a multitrack audio editor that’s geared towards video production, Color 1.5 performs sophisticated colour grading, and Compressor 3.5 is a video-encoding utility.

DVD Studio Pro 4 handles DVD authoring, and remains largely unchanged since 2005. It’s hard to criticise its DVD-authoring prowess, but the lack of comprehensive Blu-ray authoring in Final Cut Studio is worrying. Apple’s reservations about Blu-ray are well documented, but it isn’t Apple’s place to snub this format on Final Cut Studio users’ behalf.

Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro’s interface has much in common with Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, and it didn’t take us long to feel at home. Its smaller buttons and text allow it to pack a lot of information onscreen, but it still manages to look elegant and friendly.

Most of the operational differences compared to Premiere Pro are subtle. There’s little to choose between their video effects libraries, but the way in which Final Cut Pro presents its effects parameters, keyframes and BŽzier curves all in the same place is tidier than Premiere Pro’s approach.

ShareThis latest version of Final Cut Pro has a significant advantage when it comes to slow- and fast-motion playback. It already had excellent curve-based tools for precise vari-speed playback, but it’s now possible to drag specific frames in a clip to a point on the timeline, whereupon the playback speed is adjusted as necessary either side of this point. This level of precision makes Premiere Pro’s speed controls seem unwieldy by comparison.

Arguably, the single most important feature in a non-linear editor is its real-time preview performance. Here, Final Cut Pro takes a decisive lead. This is largely down to Apple’s ProRes 422 codecs, which are optimised for Final Cut Pro running on multiple-core processors. Version 6 included two flavours of ProRes, running at 145Mbits/sec and 220Mbits/sec. While their quality and preview performance is excellent, they put quite a strain on the hard disk.

Version 7 introduces an extended set of ProRes codecs. 422 LT runs at 100Mbits/sec and is barely distinguishable from the 145Mbits/sec version. 422 Proxy drops the bit rate to 45Mbits/sec and, although it displays some JPEG-like artefacts, it’s a useful option. Its name is potentially misleading, though, since Final Cut Pro has no provision for proxy editing (whereby the original files are recalled for export) without the help of Final Cut Server, which costs another £799. ProRes 4444 runs at 330Mbits/sec and delivers lossless HD video with alpha channel support and no chroma subsampling. It’s ideal for exchanging complex sequences between Final Cut Pro and Motion.

Details

Software subcategory Video editing software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? no
Operating system Windows XP supported? no
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes

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