The Mac Pro and the 10.1 update to Final Cut Pro X are now over a year old. So using the same jobs as benchmarks, how far have we come with the combination?
I was very lucky here at FCP.co to be one of the first to be lent a new Mac Pro back in December 2013. This coincided with the 10.1 release of Final Cut Pro X with its major updates including the new libraries and multicam, retiming & GUI enhancements.
I discovered that on the new Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro X 10.1 screamed as you might recall from this article posted back in January. Plus this funny but mind expanding series of tests where myself and Alex Gollner stretched the combo to the limit. Also there was a big sum up with a long term test right here. All worth a read.
A year on and the same paid broadcast jobs returned, so I thought this was an ideal time to test out the duo again and see what has changed.
That now familiar black tube came out of it’s case on a rainy New Year’s day to be plumbed into an existing edit network in an outside broadcast van.
The shock of the new had slightly worn off, people no longer came into the truck just to take a look at the new machine. Funny how new technology gets so quickly accepted. It took its place up on a shelf out of the way with a few Thunderbolt connected GRAIDs for local storage and there it stayed for over a week. The main storage was via an ethernet connected NAS.
I mentioned to the senior AP (assistant producer) that I had been really impressed with FCPX’s automatic syncing and editing with multicam and that putting an extra camera in interviews wouldn’t slow down the edit process. It would allow more edit flexibility (cutting out material by cutting to the other angle) and look a lot sexier onscreen.
The crew of excellent APs and the excellent cameramen took it other step further by setting up the usual main camera (This time a Canon C300) with two canon 5Ds. Thus nearly every interview over the week was a 3 camera multicam edit. (More on multicam editing to come in a later article.)
The team actually ended up having seven cameras on the job. Two Sony PMWF800’s, A Sony NEX-FS700 A Canon C300 and three 5Ds in various states of wear and tear.
Not a problem for FCPX, although we did end up converting the majority of footage to ProRes for other uses as well.
We again cut with files streamed from a EVS. Unfortunately Multicam 12 wasn't installed on the OB’s machines, which meant that the long files still didn’t have timecode.
I've heard from a reliable source that when using Multicam 12, the ProRes files that the EVS produces are proper Apple specification, not the reverse-engineered FFmpeg flavour that can cause problems. Looking at the document, EVS are on the approved list of Apple's authorised products which is good. Not everybody is. Watch this space for more information on EVS & FCPX.
I thought that Apple had tinkered with FCPX and Yosemite as I had noticed much improved waveform analysis and drawing with EVS files via an ISIS client. I'd timed it at 10 seconds per hour of 8 track audio EVS streams.
Unfortunately using a Synology file server reset us back to where we were this time last year with regular quitting of FCPX when waveform creation bogged the Mac down.
I had the joy of returning to FCP7 the next week and after spending 30 seconds trying to find where the overwrite button was, it struck me that FCP 'classic' also has a problem with drawing waveforms. It too is slow but as it really is a background task, you experience little slowdown. Sometimes they don’t even fully draw no matter how long you leave the machine sitting there!
I heard from a colleague that edits similar footage on Adobe Premiere, that he has to turn off the waveforms completely to edit. So it seems like a pretty universal problem. I really hope that Apple fix this issue soon as it’s a real pain when using long files on certain storage - that includes XSAN unfortunately.
The year has however allowed third party manufacturers to issue new drivers and optimise their software and hardware for the Mac Pro and Thunderbolt 2. Everything was very stable and frame accurate.
So how did it all work? Fast. As you would expect.
Last year the MacPro was being used for the odd edit that needed heavy effects or templates. This year it did the majority of heavy lifting in my suite apart from edits that referenced a lot of material that was logged with timecode. FCP7 was waiting in the wings for that.
The difference was I had complete confidence in the machine & FCPX and thus we worked it very, very hard for long hours right up to transmission deadlines. Just take a look at some of the multicam interviews we got through.
A new level of production speed seems to have been created. The traditional areas where other NLEs would bog down in have been removed. Rendering isn’t an issue. You tend to finesse an edit more, more attention to colour correction, stabilisation of shots, fine tweaks that make a visible difference. And all with the confidence of being able to go into a complex edit and change anything without worrying about what happens to the rest of the timeline. Once mastered, the magnetic timeline is an amazing feature.
All a bit groundhog day? Yes you've heard it all before from me. I've probably even used the same phrases out of my limited editing vocabulary. But this time it's the norm rather than the exception.
Import, edit, export, rinse & repeat. Quickly.
Take a look at this opener, some of the shots are running at large positive and negative percentages. There’s multiple overlays, repositioning of images, colour correction and a widescreen matte. All done from scratch in about an hour and a half and that includes finding all the shots (some from the EVS!) and the very short render. (Probably under 30 seconds.)
So what didn’t work?
Sorry to be boring, but just the same things we mentioned a year back. Minor gripes or bugs like grades not sticking and extra frames being introduced on export have all been fixed.
The audio in FCPX however still needs some love. I quite like adjusting the levels of music to voice using a range, but it is still not as quick or accurate as manually riding a fader in real time. I’ve gone off the idea of audio only crossfades as I can see them not really working in some cases. What we need is one click audio fades applied to each audio component under the video transition.
Most TV in the UK is interlaced, so one way or another you will end up editing with an interlaced timeline, even if it is just to add interlaced graphics. It does cause a problem with matching cameras and live footage without a way on the timeline to deinterlace.
A deinterlace filter would solve that. Please.
Probably the biggest stumbling block with FCPX being accepted in the broadcast sports market is media managing. Trimming off unused parts of long clips is essential to avoid the mass duplication of footage on drives. We are getting close with Clip & Primaries Exporter.
My final 'it would be nice' thought is Motion. Not only would a ‘send to Motion’ command in FCPX be a superb present for its upcoming 11th birthday, (I was there at the birth!) a few new features would be a welcome addition too.
So to go back to the original question set in the title of the article, what has changed the most?
It might have got more fun and more creative over the year, but in a broadcast environment it's also got a lot harder and much faster.
Peter Wiggins is a broadcast freelance editor based in the UK although his work takes him around the world. An early adopter of FCP setting up pioneering broadcasts workflows, his weapon of choice is now Final Cut Pro X. You can find him on Twitter as @peterwiggins or as he runs the majority of this site, you can contact him here.