Macworld reviews Premiere Pro CC

Alan Stafford gives it a favorable review:

It’s not a ground-up overhaul, and it doesn’t incorporate hot new technologies. But these tweaks indicate that Premiere Pro has taken on some of the characteristics of a cloud application, adding features as they are developed, rather than making customers wait for monolithic annual releases.

I’ll be curious to see how this idea of “cloud applications” shakes out in terms of steady updates.  Premiere (and the rest of the Creative Cloud suite) is not really in the cloud, but rather a standard download and install that logs into Adobe’s servers to make sure your subscription is paid up.  Customers will no longer decide when is the right time to purchase a major upgrade; they’re purchasing it all the time.  Hopefully Adobe will make good on their end of the deal.

Apple’s definition of “Pro”

post by Ken Segall has made the rounds this week, where he describes a moment behind closed doors where Steve Jobs considered abandoning the pro market.

I hope you’re sitting down for this, but Steve Jobs did in fact once consider that very option.

This was back in the days when iMac had established itself as a global bestseller. During one of the agency’s regular meetings with Steve, he shared that he was considering killing the pro products.

His rationale was as you might expect: consumer products have an unlimited upside, while pro products are aimed at a niche market that eats up major resources.

This obviously never came to pass, but some would argue that Apple has strayed too far from what the industry considers “pro” with Final Cut Pro X and the new cylindrical Mac Pro.

Some won’t like it, but basically it’s the difference between Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X.

In FCP7, the controls are rich and deep. As a consequence, getting proficient with the app is a serious undertaking.

FCPX is very powerful, but less daunting and more seductive — streamlining and automating some of its advanced capabilities.

There seems to be a correlation for many where “pro” must equate to “impenetrably difficult for the non-pro.”  Yes, Apple has made the basics of Final Cut Pro approachable for someone new to editing, but that doesn’t automate the process of ideas and creativity.

The real question is whether or not Apple has chosen the right path for the future of its professional products.  They could have moved the feature set of FCP 7 to a modern 64 bit architecture, darkened the color scheme a bit, and called it a day. Pros would have been happy to not re-learn what they already knew, and there would be a bump in performance and better codec support.  This is similar to the course taken with Premiere Pro- evolutionary but not revolutionary.

Instead, Final Cut Pro X is more than a re-write.  It’s an entirely new set of concepts with a lower barrier of entry for the new or intermediate editor.  This is not to say that the “pro” isn’t in Final Cut Pro anymore.  It’s there, just beneath the surface, perhaps most importantly in the new attention to database driven organization.  Anyone working in X who has sifted through footage marking favorites or tagging keywords will attest to the power and flexibility of the software.  The timeline has an index that allows the editor to quickly find or isolate clips based on a host of criteria.  Roles are an easy way to organize files for export to post audio.  The list goes on.

Apple’s definition of “pro” has evolved to allow non-professionals easier access to the basics, while also giving seasoned veterans the speed and tools they need to create great work.  This gives Apple two areas of growth instead of one, and it’s hard to see a downside for anyone in this equation.

FCP X: the turning point

Two years ago I wrote a piece called FCP X: the missed opportunity.  At the time I wasn’t bashing the program, but rather Apple’s seemingly clumsy approach to the transition, and today I can still smell the lingering smoke from those burned bridges.  Reading it today, I stand most of my original assertions: FCP X 10.0 was essentially beta software, but not bad software.  Apple dropped the ball by not providing a clearer roadmap for deeply invested customers who had used previous versions for over a decade, an error they eventually tried to reverse by being very un-Apple like and pre-announcing features the pros were looking for.  Adobe and Avid smelled blood in the water, and fought hard to pick up those dismayed FCP 7 expatriates.

By the fall of 2011 I had downloaded first the trial and then the full version of Final Cut Pro, but didn’t spend much time with it.  I felt like it was too limiting and that it was trying to somehow save me from myself.  After all, I had spent almost 20 years meticulously building timelines without clips “magnetically” sticking together.  Nonlinear editing systems from their inception in the 80s built their workflows and terminology upon concepts established a century earlier with cutting film.  “Clips” represented snippets of film hanging in “bins” that allowed editors to quickly organize and “splice” them together.  Final Cut Pro X was scrubbed almost entirely of this language, and it felt somewhat arbitrary.

In 2012 I started to spend more time with FCP X and tried to really understand it.  Dismissing it before ever really using it just didn’t feel right.  I eventually chose the “trial by fire” approach: I had a willing client with some patience to spare, and we jumped in.  The first day was frustrating for me, but the second was much better, and by day three I was fairly confident that I knew what I was doing.  Since then I’ve only edited projects in FCP X unless I had to go another way (the lack of tape support still sends me to FCP 7 to master to HDCAM).  I truly enjoy the non-destructive nature of the timeline, and the database driven organizational tools are amazingly flexible.  The software (usually) feels fast and responsive, and the modern architecture with AV Foundation allows me to mix and match formats and framerates quite fluidly.

In the months and years since its launch, Final Cut Pro X has evolved into a different animal than it was on release day.  Apple’s steady drumbeat of software updates (9 by the most recent count) introduced new features and stability.  Sales of FCP X have already exceeded those of the previous version.  The third party plugin market is flourishing.

Many people forget that it took years for FCP “classic” to break through.  Pros largely dismissed the first several versions.  How could a sub-$1000 application compete with systems like Avid’s Media Composer with its proprietary hardware, market dominance, and high price tag?  Some (myself included) experimented with it on personal systems and started to realize the potential.  By 2001 (two years into FCP’s life) I was using it as my main editing tool, and although it was exciting to be trying something new after 6 years of Avid, I wouldn’t wish that experience on the faint of heart.  Mac hardware and software in those days was downright anemic compared to today- we were still using Mac OS 9 and all the system crashes that came with it.  Third party support was sketchy and workarounds were plentiful.

FCP’s turning point was seen by many as what became known as its “Cold Mountain moment.”  In 2003, esteemed editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient) decided to cut his latest project with Final Cut Pro, and the professional world took notice.  The rest of the decade saw FCP eating market share away from the competitors, and eventually dominating that market by a wide margin.

The release of version 10 basically reset the clock in 2011, and pros largely dismissed the first several versions.  How could a sub-$300 application compete with Final Cut Studio and its mature suite of applications, comprehensive features, and market dominance?  As I mentioned earlier, it’s widely believed that X sales have surpassed those of FCP 7’s entire installed base, so that could be seen as a success.

But when was FCP X’s turning point?  For me, it occurred earlier this week.  After spending a few months editing in X, I had several jobs that sent me back to FCP 7 and Premiere Pro CS6.  I immediately noticed how the user experience felt like a trip into the past.  Not bad, necessarily.  Premiere Pro is a really well-built application, and I can still work tremendously fast in FCP 7 thanks to a dozen years’ worth of muscle memory, but I was feeling strangely confined by the workflow.  I missed features that I had grown accustomed to.  The legacy feel of timeline navigation in 7 and CS6 was cumbersome.

2013 isn’t like 2003.  There won’t be another Cold Mountain moment, because our tools have been democratized to the point that any pro level Mac can have FCP 7, Premiere Pro, FCP X, and Avid Media Composer installed simultaneously.  We can no longer master one editing solution and forget the rest.  Final Cut Pro X provides an extremely compelling alternative to the status quo, and many people will experience their own turning points as they discover its value.

FCP X 10.0.6 update = 3200% increase in render times

fcp.co:

You may or may not have been aware that up until 10.0.6 there were large differences between render times of effects on the timeline and the same effects on export. This was because on export, the Mac used all the resources it could to get that movie out and that included the GPU or Graphics Processing Unit. Rendering on the timeline was a different matter and that was done by the CPUs in the background. In the 10.0.6 update, the GPU is now used for rendering on the timeline which has led to a massive improvement in rendering times.

Apple is playing catchup to Adobe’s Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere Pro CS6, but it’s still a very impressive improvement.

Apple’s Mac Pro mistake

This past Monday, June 11, I was able to attend the Adobe CS6 Roadshow in Washington, DC.  I spent the day in training sessions for editors considering a move from their current editing platform to Adobe’s offerings of Premiere Pro and After Effects, along with a whole slew of Final Cut Studio-like tools that come in the package.

The event was sponsored by HP, so it was not surprising that the day had a decidedly PC slant.  There was much talk from the presenters about throughput, processing speeds, expandability, and performance.  But when the first instructor asked for a show of hands from those of us who use PCs in our workflow, less than 10% of the hands went up.

Coincidentally, June 11 was also the day of Apple’s WWDC keynote, and Tim Cook and company spent several hours talking about their wildly successful lineup of Mac and iOS devices.  The signature unveiling was the new MacBook Pro with a Retina Display, slimmer form factor, and a simplified design that removed the optical drive and many ports.  The runner ups for the spotlight were OS X Mountain Lion and iOS, both of which show off some very nice features and move closer to each other in terms of look and feel.

What was not mentioned in the keynote was any improvement to Apple’s long-languishing Mac Pro desktop, whose current model is about to hit its second birthday.  The rumor mill was fired up just prior to the event after some new model numbers for the Pro were leaked, prompting many to wrongly assume that big changes were coming.  Instead, Apple quietly bumped the specs on the two year old model with slightly faster processors and adding a server configuration in the same form factor.  The Mac Pro still stands alone as the only Mac without a Thunderbolt port.

After a day of training sessions at the Roadshow, I took a spin around the exhibitor hall to see what the vendors had to show.  Most presentations were running on PCs (don’t forget who the event’s primary sponsor was) but virtually everyone working there had an iPad or a MacBook Pro behind the table with them for their use.  That’s when it really hit me: many pros running Windows PCs do so because they have to, but use Macs because they want to.

And I would say that if you asked my fellow attendees, most would say they would want to be using a new Mac Pro to make their living.  The irony here is that the Mac software at the high end has never been stronger.  Autodesk just released the first Mac-only preview release of Smoke 2013, and both Avid and Adobe have bent over backwards to achieve feature parity for the Mac versions of Media Composer, Symphony, and Premiere Pro.

I see shades of last June in the headlines this week: Apple was expected to release something new for the professional market (last year it was FCP X, this year it was the Mac Pro), the “release” raises the ire of the faithful, and Apple backpedals slightly.  This year the backpedaling comes in the form of an email from Tim Cook, who assures a customer that great things are coming for Apple desktop workstations…at the end of 2013.

Apple must truly believe that a slim portable or iMac with a Thunderbolt port really fits the need of almost everyone who uses a Mac, and they are buying themselves some time for the rest of us to realize that.  As a result, Apple will probably lose an extremely small fraction of their user base, mostly comprised of people who bought their clunky (in retrospect) gear in the 90s in the hopes that Apple would stay afloat.  At the same time their worldwide market share looks poised for more explosive growth.  It’s Apple’s world now, and the pro market just lives in it.

FCP X, one year on

As a longtime FCP editor, I’m not alone in my quest to find the replacement(s) for the end-of-life Final Cut Pro 7 that Apple sent packing last summer with the release of FCP X.  I’ve spent a decent amount of time with X, and there is plenty to like, but in its current form I can’t use it.

Despite the great strides Apple engineers have made in updating this brand new application, the way X handles multi-user environments is almost a joke.  Apple has published a whitepaper outlining “best practices,” some of which are hilariously convoluted.  Because of the database driven nature of X’s Event Library, only one editor can connect to a particular event at a time.  The workarounds include lots of duplicating and importing, resulting in redundant media and alias files on a shared volume.  One or two editors may be able to handle this house of cards (indeed, the whitepaper’s examples never exceed two edit bays) but if you introduce more people into the mix things will get confusing, and fast.

This is not a dismissal of FCP X at all.  I really like it, and I eagerly look forward to what I hope will be an elegant solution to the problem I describe.  A “Final Cut Server X” that acts as a front end for checking projects in and out and managing an ever growing Event Library would be a godsend.  On both iOS and OS X, Apple seems determined to remove the tasks of Finder level file management from the user, so it seems natural that they would extend this philosophy to their flagship editing product.  We shall see.

PREMIERE PRO

In the meantime I have been exploring Premiere Pro CS6.  In many ways it feels like a natural extension of FCP 7, and most editors used to Apple’s legacy app could open Premiere and start cutting basic projects almost immediately.  As many have pointed out, Adobe even threw the FCP 7 keyboard shortcuts in as one of the layout options to ease the transition.

One key difference in the philosophy behind Premiere is how it handles formats as you edit. In FCP 7 your sequence is basically a container in a particular format (ProRes, uncompressed, etc.), and anything you throw into that container is rendered out in that same format.  Premiere truly mixes native codecs (and framerates) in the timeline, playing them back as smoothly as possible in real time without rendering.  It’s only when you are ready to deliver that you choose what format your finished edit will be.  The upside is much less rendering and transcoding before and during the edit.  The downside is you need to build in time on the back end for potentially lengthy exports.  There’s no quick solution for delivering a project that’s a mix of DNxHD, RED, XDCAM, and ProRes when the final approval comes in and the client wants to walk with a file or master as soon as possible.

Premiere’s media management could also use some work.  It’s way too easy to break the link between a clip in a bin and the source media on the drive.  A consolidate function that transcodes your final edit into a unified format to send to a product like DaVinci Resolve would be nice, but Premiere can’t do that.  To me, this is one of the shakier parts of Premiere in its current form, and I expect Adobe will be addressing this in forthcoming updates.

SMOKE 2013

Earlier today, Autodesk released a new batch of tutorial videos showcasing Smoke 2013 for Mac, and I have to say that everything I’ve read and seen about this latest iteration has me extremely interested.  We’ve had Smoke systems at our shop for years, but I could never get past the radically different way the software required editors and artists to work.  This new release has a traditional NLE timeline workflow that is surprising in its familiarity, but with deep and comprehensive tools just beneath the surface.  Everything looks clean and thought out, and the real world needs of the editor seem to be their top priority.  The prerelease build was supposed to come out today, but has been delayed as they iron out a few bugs.  You can bet I’ll be there when it’s released.

Apple revises iBooks Author terms of use

When Apple released the iBooks Author application for the Mac platform in January, many pointed out the onerous terms in its end user license agreement (EULA) that seemed to indicate that if you used the software to create a book, Apple owned the content of your work outright.  Apple has since released an update and its only change appears to be the legalese.  Damon Poeter at PCMag summarizes:

In a nutshell, the updated EULA allows iBooks Author users to transfer whatever they create in iBooks Author to other non-.ibooks formats and distribute it however they want. That answers the question of whether Apple was really laying a claim to ownership of content produced via its software, but even the new user agreement may not entirely satisfy the critics.

It seems pretty fair on the surface to me.  Apple develops and distributes (for free) an application that allows the author to create a rich experience for the reader that includes not only the text but dynamic content that is entirely interactive.  Since nothing in life is actually free, the tradeoff is that creating an .ibook document ties you to Apple’s distribution channels and their cut of 30%.  The rub for the critics probably revolves around the fact that exporting your book in a format like PDF or ePub essentially “flattens” it and strips it of the interactive content.  Decisions, decisions…