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Avid's had it, or has it?

Apple's Final Cut Pro X, at $299, should pull the rug from under Avid's Media Composer's feet. But are they competing in the same pro market? And is FCPX any good anyway?


I've been a Final Cut Pro user for a long time now, around seven or eight years. I'm not what you would call a 'power user', I just use it to get video editing jobs done when I need to.

I was lucky enough to be able to use FCP on a shared workstation for much of this time, but in 2008 I needed to buy my own copy. Of course I considered Avid's Media Composer. But at around £1600 UK pounds against FCP's £800, the decision was virtually made for me. If I were a video editing pro, then cost wouldn't be an issue. But I'm not, and it is.

But on June 21, Apple released Final Cut Pro X for just £179 UK pounds or $299 US dollars, which is around one NINTH of the price of Media Composer. One ninth!

So clearly Apple is gunning for Avid. But will they shoot them out of the water?

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Avid's Media Composer software is, by all accounts, No. 1 in really high-end work - feature film production and top-of-the-range TV. But Final Cut Pro (in its earlier versions) has been considered fully up to the job in a high-end context, and a tough competitor.

Not so pro after all?

The new release of Final Cut Pro is however a HUGE departure from previous versions. It has, so we are told, been rebuilt from the ground up. It is VERY different to use and not at all what might have been expected.

And it isn't pro. At least that's what a lot of pros are saying right now. There are things that high-end pros need their editing software to do. Previous versions of FCP did those things, FCPX doesn't. No Multicam, no XML, no lots of things.

So there is a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth going on on the Internet. In fact some commentators have gone so far as to call it iMovie Pro, and others to wonder when 'Final Cut Pro X Pro' will come out.

No import from previous versions

While is is normal for new software versions to be able to import work saved by a previous version, FCPX can't. It can only import from iMovie. Some commentators see this as a serious problem, and it is true that versioning and revisioning are mainstays of video editing work. How can you do this if you can't import your old projects?

Doom and gloom all round then?

Er.. no. At least not from where I sit. Although I have used Final Cut Pro for a long time, I can't say that I have ever enjoyed using it. Compared to a digital audio workstation software like Pro Tools, it feels clunky and unresponsive. Technically it is brilliant and the job gets done. But it's a chore.

But Final Cut Pro X is an absolute breath of fresh air. The interface is outstandingly novel, very easy to get to grips with and very easy to use in practice. And the rendering... Where you would spend half your life waiting for stuff to render in previous versions of FCP, very much less rendering seems to be necessary, and what is necessary gets done in the background, allowing you to get on.

In short... I like it! But then I'm not a high-end video pro and I don't have high-end problems to deal with.

Regarding the lack of import, initially this did seem to be an issue because I wanted to continue work on a project in progress, but I couldn't. But really it isn't a problem. Anyone who has work stored in an earlier format can version it or revise it in FCP 7, so where's the big deal? It's a non-issue, and won't be an issue until FCP 7 won't run on some future Mac computer or OS release.

Although FCPX has missing features at the moment, I feel sure that they will be added over the course of the next few months, so I don't see that as a big deal either. High-end pros can continue to use FCP 7 in the meantime.

Change - to be feared? Or embraced?

The biggest issue about FCPX, I feel, is the scale of the change. It is enormous. As I said earlier, I have been an FCP user for a long time, but never an FCP lover. There's a difference.

But suppose my favorite DAW underwent the same treatment? I would be horrified. I enjoy working with audio in my DAW and a similar scale of change to the working environment would be very difficult to come to terms with.

This is something that perhaps Logic users should worry about. If Apple can do it to FCP, they can do it to Logic too. So if you love Logic, get prepared to be lovelorn at some point in the not-too-distant future.

In summary, since I don't depend for my living on FCP, it gives me great pleasure to embrace the changes that have happened.

But how happy is Avid right now? Who is going to pay $$$$$$$$$ for Media Composer when they can pay $ for Final Cut Pro X?

Will Avid entrench in the ultra-high-end? Will it slash its price too? Will it change Media Composer's interface in a similar way? Will it fold?

The next few months could be very interesting in the video editing world.

P.S. Some commentators have been angered that there isn't an upgrade available for FCP 7 users. Seriously? FCP X costs less than the upgrade from 6 to 7 did!

P.P.S. Wouldn't this be a great opportunity for Avid to offer Media Composer for $299 to existing users of Final Cut Pro 7?

By David Mellor Friday June 24, 2011