Analysis: Final Cut update strong despite lack of Blu-ray support

You don’t have to spend a lot of time in Hollywood to find instances where Apple’s Final Cut Studio is being put to use in film- and TV-production. And, given the latest changes to the updated editing suite announced earlier this week, analysts aren’t expecting Final Cut’s popularity to fade any time soon.

Unveiled last Sunday by Apple at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas, Final Cut Studio 2 introduces a number of changes to the applications that make up the video-production suite. And even though the update lacks an overhaul to the included DVD-authoring tool—including the inability to burn Blu-ray disks—analysts say Apple has a likely hit on its hands, thanks to the addition of features and capabilities that will let editors manage their projects from start to finish in Final Cut.

“A lot of Apple’s success is identifying workflow issues and designing features to solve those problems,” said Chris Swenson, director for software industry analysis at the NPD Group. “That’s part of the reason they are so successful—it’s not just cost, it’s high-quality features that will make its customers more productive as an editor.”

Final Cut Studio 2 features updated versions of the Final Cut Pro editing application as well as the Motion motion-graphics application, the Soundtrack pro audio-editing tool, and the video-compression app Compressor. The $1,299 suite also introduces a new color-grading and -correction program called Color.

No Blu-ray support

Remaining unchanged from the last version of the suite is DVD Studio Pro, which remains at Version 4. Apple says it decided to focus on enhancing other applications in the suite over the DVD-authoring software.

“DVD Studio Pro is already an incredible product, and our customers told us they were more worried about distribution, so we completely overhauled Compressor,&38221; said Rob Schoeben, Apple’s vice president of applications marketing.

However, the lack of support for burning Blu-ray disks -- one of the two competing formats to replace DVDs -- in its pro application suite stands out considering QuickTime is at the heart of the Blu-ray format. Apple is also a member of the Blu-ray Disk Association, which makes the company’s lack of support for the format even more puzzling to observers. And that lack of Blu-ray support could hurt Apple in the short-term, analysts say.

“I can imagine for their main clientele of movie studios, it would be important for them to be able to make Blu-ray disks,” said NPD’s Swenson. “It’s important to have Blu-ray—if not the studios will use someone else’s product. It would be a real deal breaker if they didn’t have any HD support.”

“It’s a hole,” agreed Roger Kay, president of the market-research firm Endpoint Technologies. “Some buyers might wait or use something else in the meantime.”

DVD Studio Pro is not completely without HD burning support—the application supports the competing HD DVD format, which is also based on the QuickTime format.

New apps for pros

But the way analysts see it, the Blu-ray omission is far outweighed by the things that were added to Final Cut Studio. Take the addition of Color, which Apple touts as putting a logical task-based color grading and finishing workflow in the hands of every Final Cut Pro editor.

The primary color correction in Color includes advanced color correction tools such as gamma, lift and gain adjustments, as well as custom R, G, B and luma curves, and the secondary color correction provides the ability to isolate specific areas of an image with soft-edged mattes and custom-shaped vignettes.

“Editors expect their workflow to be affordable, accessible and powerful,” Schoeben said. “It’s not acceptable that they have to pass off their work at the end of the editing process for color grading. Color is a natural extension to the Final Cut Pro workflow.”

According to Swenson, the addition of applications like Color will draw even more creative pros to the platform. “Having more pro-level apps will attract new customers and keep more creative pros on the platform,” he said.

Another new Apple offering unveiled at NAB is Final Cut Server, a new product aimed at creative professionals that need to deal with massive amounts of digital content and shrinking production schedules.

Final Cut Server is a scalable server application that supports workgroups of any size, according to Apple. The server includes a cross-platform client that enables content browsing, review and approval from within a studio or over the Internet.

Final Cut Server will cost $999 for 10 concurrent users or $1,999 for unlimited users.

“Final Cut Server is the really interesting story,” Swenson said. “For other competitive products you would have to pay $20,000 to $30,000 for a few users. Apple is really trying to change the economics of post production.”

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