The Final Cut Tipping Point

Ten years ago there were few options for professional non-linear editing. Avid had the lion’s share with their Media Composer and Film Composer products, and for the slightly lower budget there was Avid MCXpress (distinct from Xpress DV), then the rest of the market was split across products from Media 100, Sony and a few others. All were expensive, complicated and difficult to get.

Then Apple’s Final Cut Pro started to make a big impact – at first it was a DV-only system (capitalising on Apple’s new widespread use of Firewire on their computers) but with third party hardware it was soon quickly extended to support more I/O options and a greater number of formats. FCP’s low cost, high flexibility and agile adoption of new formats won it a lot of fans and it quickly surpassed other systems to make a big dent on Avid’s pro market. But has it done enough lately?

It’s impossible to deny that FCP is a solid product and has made massive leaps and bounds since it first entered the market – but is it keeping up? While FCP once had great support for file-based media (compared to clunky imports with Avid’s products) it is now nowhere near as versatile with the new file formats, requiring either long ‘Log and Transfer’ imports at the start, or forcing users to sit though heavy renders to play the timeline.

The most recent version of FCP added very little in the way of features or improvements, and with no sign of a new version on the horizon many FCP users are starting to look at other systems. Avid’s new version Media Composer offers a lot of features designed to appeal to Final Cut users but there’s another, possibly stronger, competitor too…

Adobe Premiere has been around for ages, it was the first computer-based editing software in the mid 90′s, but it’s never really been accepted for professional broadcast use, and wasn’t initially designed for that purpose. But a lot has changed – in 2003 the entire application was rewritten and rebranded as Premiere Pro. The new version was designed to be a more direct competitor for FCP and deal with some of the professional demands that it had previously lacked.

Even with a new name and improved functionality it hasn’t really gotten a foothold in the professional and broadcast market that Apple and Avid have been battling over – until now perhaps? For a long time Premiere has been sitting in the corner of the world’s edit suites, untested and uninstalled – as part of the Creative Suite package it comes along with Adobe’s industry-standard After Effects.

The release of Creative Suite 5 earlier this year marked a turning point for Premiere Pro. The new Mercury Engine, harnessing the power of the GPU, has delivered amazing playback performance for difficult video formats. It is very possible that Premiere Pro has the best performance and workflow when it comes to working with popular file-based formats like H.264 (from DSLRs) and RED’s R3D raw format. Now editors who’d previously left the Premiere discs in the box are starting to take a second look.

Could this be the beginning of another shift in professional post production? Avid lost much of it’s market to Apple over the last decade, but the momentum seems to be stalling, Avid is winning people back but it seems that Adobe might be most likely to be the big winner out of Apple’s slowdown.

The BBC is perhaps leading the charge, committing to 2,000 seats of Premiere Pro for the next generation of it’s “Creative Desktop” programme. And Adobe is starting to put the pressure on by directly targeting the professional market for Premiere Pro, trying to woo users from FCP and Avid.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to evaluate Premiere Pro for the type of work we do, but I know that plenty of people are giving it serious thought and that already some are making the switch outright.

I’d love to hear from those that have really given Premiere Pro a good look – is it ready for professional work? Where are the weaknesses? How does it compare?

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