FCPX upgraded to 10.1

Logo-FCPXOkay, I admit it. On the stroke of midnight, I was pressing the refresh button in the App Store. New FCPX! New Toys!

So – FCPX 10.1 is out. Do I need to upgrade? Yes – there’s enough changes in the system that address current issues. But it requires a major jump in operating system – when your computer is your major money-earning tool and it’s stable and reliable, you don’t touch it unless you have to. I have to switch from Lion 10.7.5 to Mavericks 10.9, and that’s a big leap.

TLDR?

  • Build a new bootable drive with FCPX 10.1 to experiment on – you may not want to update yet
  • Clone your drive to a bootable image (to return to in weeks and months to come) with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner and make a fresh Time Machine backup – make sure they all work before you proceed!
  • Copy older projects to work with, don’t use originals - Philip Hodgetts has made EventManager X free! Use it to manage your project updates.
  • Prepare for some ‘spilled milk’ with Mavericks (for me, Exchange email is broken)

At first, I thought it odd that Apple released FCPX 10.1 so close to a major worldwide holiday, but on reflection – it’s perfect. Rule 1 of upgrades: never upgrade during a job. Things can go wrong, things like backups and archives invariably take more time than you thought, and what if it’s all horrible and you need to back track? Smaller jumps, a minor ‘point-oh-one’ upgrades can be welcome relief, but this is a ‘point-one’ and it needs an OS upgrade to boot (pun not intended).

The safest option for me is (having backed up your main machine of course) to unwrap a brand new hard drive, format it and install the latest OS on it, then boot from THAT. Install the new software on the fresh OS, and play with COPIES of older projects that you copied across. New versions of software often change the file format and rarely is it back-compatible. You want to play in a protected ‘sand-box’ (I preferred ‘sandpit’ but hey…) so you don’t accidentally convert your current projects to the new system and find yourself committed to the switch.

Really, that is the safest way – but its frustrating as the performance of a system booted on an external drive isn’t quite what you’re used to, and it’s a bit clunky. Plus, it will take time to do the official switch – you’ll have to rebuild your apps, delete old versions that don’t work, sort out new workflows, new versions, reinstall, find license agreements, it all takes time (and it’s not billable for freelancers). But until you’re sure that the new OS won’t kill your current must-use apps, you can simply shut down, unplug, and return to your current safe system.

Then of course there’s the impatient teenager in all of us who, after backing up, installs the new OS on top of the old OS, downloads the new app, finds what’s broken in the rest of the system and fixes it, finds out that a few tools don’t work, plug-ins need shuffling, projects don’t render as they used to, fonts have gone missing… All this takes longer, funnily enough. And then there’s the creeping rot of a brand new operating system ‘installed in place’ over the old one. I did this ages ago, and the problems didn’t show until 12 months on and we’d gone through some minor version changes and bug fixes. Serious, serious problems that impacted work (and backups, and archives). If you’re jumping from 10.X to 10.Y (especially to 10.Z) it’s worth the time it takes to do a proper clean install.

And of course once it’s done, you still may need to be able to go back to the ‘old’ system – so you’ll need to clone – not back up or archive but CLONE – your old system before you start, if only for the comfort factor of running back to it when the new system refuses to do something.

So, I’m spending the first day having to NOT download the update, but format drives, archive disks, install software whilst reading and watching the sudden deluge of 10.1 info. (Note to self – Matt: don’t touch that button! Don’t do it!)

Alex4D has a bunch of links to get you started, training from Ripple and Larry Jordan (hopefully IzzyVideo will have some new stuff soon too), FCP.co discussion forums already alight with debate… and a week or two of holiday season to enjoy it all in.

(And Apple’s official take)

A Case of Upgrader’s Remorse

FCS3Final Cut Studio ‘new’ is out. It’s been two years since the last major update, and we’ve been waiting for some pretty spectacular new features. Personally, I’ve been waiting for some pretty spectacular fixes, but that’s a different story.

Cut to the chase: should a Final Cut Pro user upgrade? Is it worth £250?

Short answer: sort of.

The speed tools (ramping from slomo to fastmo) are welcomed. The markers that move when the edits under them move are welcomed but frankly should have been there from the get-go. The new codecs are great if you know how to use them (and I reckon 70% won’t touch them), and there were little irritations – inconsistencies and pseudo-bugs – that have disappeared.

Motion’s got better, though still no preset for anamorphic PAL. Color is almost usable by mortals. Hopefully, SoundTrack Pro is stable enough to be relied upon to get something useful done by the deadline. LiveType’s gone.

But in its stead is a nasty ‘auto’ fashion, the auto-everything – auto export, auto burn, auto voice levels, that’s not necessarily what a pro app wants or needs. And then there’s simple stuff. The FCP text tools are STILL broken, so certain fonts aren’t selectable. The FCP lower third can’t do multi-line text – not because it can’t, but because FCP developers have chosen not to. No, the answer isn’t ‘do it in Motion’. The 16:9 action and title safe are not industry standard, just a 10% 20% rule of thumb. Thank goodness for developers like Martin at Digital Heaven and Alex at Alex4d, who leverage the latent power of FCP and get the little things right.

Bells and whistles? None of my clients, nor my colleagues’ clients have or want iChat – we use Skype’s screen share instead. Not everyone has a use for AVCIntra. The BluRay discs that Compressor burns are only ‘screeners’ – nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly ‘authoring’.

And you really know when Apple’s casting around when features such as ‘tick marks’ for SD get big billing in the features, when 4:3 crop marks would be more useful but aren’t supported.

The community is pretty unanimous in declaring themselves Underwhelmed. Good word. Sums it up. As much as I love Apple products, it’s as if the company has done the bare minimum – the absolute minimum – to get us to shell out for an upgrade. The FCS3 upgrade feels like the recent MacBook Pro upgrade where we got a nice machine, nice screen, but lost the PCIe slot in favour of an SDHC slot.

There’s repairs to the facia – thanks for that. But many users are thinking ‘how is this going to change my work? What will my clients notice after I’ve upgraded?’ and the answer is ‘nowt’. Which is a pity, because there’s lots of little things that are a great step forward for the platform. Which is why this should have been FCS 2.5 and FCP 6.5, not a full revision. After all, Compressor’s just got a .5, and DVD Studio Pro hasn’t been upped at all.

It’s a classic case of Buyer’s Remorse, that awful trough of disillusionment we often go through having just purchased something but can’t quite get immediate gratification.

Give it a couple of months, and there will be no way I could work with FCS2. Just in time for the Snow Leopard upgrade and we’ll do it all over again.

Bridge to Engine Room: We need more power!

Having switched from DV (and DV derived from HDV) to the EX1′s 720p, the quality is wonderful, but suddenly there’s lots to re-learn. Okay, so we’ve got 720p25 to progressive PAL worked out. That’s all fine and dandy. Good quality, easy peasy, quick and efficient. Move along, nothing to see… (it’s all about ensuring FCP does not try to do anything interlacy with your 720p footage – see Rick’s article on Ken Stone’s site).

But today I’m asked for some rushes from my 720p25 shoot as an NTSC DVD. Hey, no problem, just run it through DVFilm Atlantis (or  alternatives such as Graeme Nattress’s Standards Conversion plug-ins) and… Oh.

Glaringly obvious point, but of course most of these processes assume interlaced video on both sides of the conversion, taking their motion queues from the extra time info that’s not present in 720p25. The results limp along with blocky scaling and a definite cadence to dropped frames.

So this morning I’m rolling up my sleeves in the Compressor Kitchen, armed with knowledge from Ripple Training’s ‘Compressor’ course and a newfound confidence in switching on Frame Controls.

If you’ve not played with Compressor before, you’ll need to understand that experimenting with controls is very counter-intuitive, and until you learn (thank you Ripple) how to choose snippets of a given movie to play with, rather than using the whole chunk, any little twiddle can easily put hours on an encode time. So you don’t play. It seems that the merest click on something takes you from a bit of a longish wait to taking the rest of the day off. Or the weekend. And the end result (should you let it run its course) often isn’t visibly different.

Which is why I’m writing blog entries with my MacBook Pro raising a sweat on an encode from 720p25 to NTSC ProRez, thinking about buying an OctoCore or at least another rendering Mac. For those with long memories, when Sorenson Pro came out (how many years ago? Ouch), there was a similar period of much sighing of users and sweating of Macs as it was good but incredibly slow to compress. Now much is the same for H.264 and downconverting HD.

But 8 cores doth not make 8x speed. Making virtual clusters may reduce a 30 minute render to 20 minutes, but it’s not the step change I experienced when I switched from G4 PowerBook to Intel and render times reduced to a fraction. What I want is something in the corner that just does FTP uploads, WMV conversions, Downrez, and I want it to work overnight. I’ve attempted to steal my wife’s MacBook, but this hasn’t worked out. An OctoCore Mac Pro would be lovely, but expensive – I’d need a screen, and with all that power knocking around, it would be a sin not to use it for Motion, so that’s another seat of FCP… A Mac Mini would be charming, but maybe a tad underpowered? Could I control it through my MacBook Pro screen via WiFi? I’m sure it can handle FTP, and perhaps if I switched Episode to it, that would work out too. Or Flix Pro instead – wouldn’t want to be without Episode.

No. I think an iMac might find its way onto my desk. A fully fledged Mac that can do useful things, and if my MacBook Pro died, it would be capable enough – and at a pinch, transportable enough – to take on all work duties. How about a 1920×1200 iMac with maxed out RAM and a hairy chested graphics card? Oh dear…

Hmmm – and the recipe for Compressor? I’ll post it when I’m sure it’s efficient and repeatable. Watch this space.