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NAB 2007: Apple Expands Production Tools, Now Offers VC-1, Windows Media Video, and Flash Encoding

It’s easy to miss the benefits for streaming in Apple’s Sunday announcement of its newest Final Cut version. Dubbed Final Cut Studio 2, the software bundle includes major improvements for Apple’s Motion 3 product (it gained 3D space), the integration of simultaneous audio and video change management tools to the Soundtrack Pro 2 software, and the introduction of a new color-management tool dubbed Color by some (and Crayola by some pundits).

But in all these announcements, three interesting underlying feature changes stand out as having real value to streaming content creators: open format timelines, a new HD compression scheme, and the inclusion of a third-party plug-in architecture that now allows VC-1 and Flash encoding.

Open Format Timelines
The first is within the venerable Final Cut Pro product. Final Cut has lagged behind other video editing tools on the market when it came to a true open-format editing window. While other tools allowed a single timeline to edit content created in various video formats, Final Cut has previously required all content be rendered to a particular pre-chosen format. This was a legacy of the origins of Final Cut as a "modern" version of the original Adobe Premiere software.

Final Cut Pro 6 now offers the ability to edit content together on a single timeline from a variety of formats, without transcoding. An additional feature is that Final Cut automatically matches all content to the frame rate (but not the resolution) of the first clip on the timeline. The Apple announcement notes the ability to mix frame sizes, frame rates, and formats in a single timeline in real time, as well as the ability to edit at frame rates of 23.976, true 24, 25, 29.97, 30, or 60 frames per second.

Native support for timeline formats now includes DVCPro HD, HDV, SD and uncompressed HD, plus tapeless formats like Focus Enhancements’ FireStore Direct-to-Edit formats, XDCAM HD, and P2.

HD Compression Scheme
Speaking of HD, Final Cut’s second feature worth noting is the inclusion of a new post-production format dubbed ProRes 422. Apple has fielded several HD compression formats designed to aid in the movement of HD content around the post-production suite, but this is the first format that claims uncompressed HD quality at SD file sizes. The format is sure to stir interest, especially with Apple’s other NAB announcement: a "global newsroom" server software (Final Cut Server) that tracks content movement across the WAN to various workstations in the acquisition, post, and delivery supply chain. The WAN connections won’t be for the faint of heart, though, as uncompressed SD bitrates average 150Mbps.

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