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As FCPX turns 7, Apple gives us ProRes Raw, but what’s really changed?

From everything I’ve seen, ProRes Raw appears to be a worthy successor to the existing codec

Seven years ago we heralded in a new version of Apple’s venerable video editing app, FCPX. As a leader in the FCP community and an enthusiastic Final Cut Pro user, I had advocated for Final Cut as one of the founding leaders of the FCP User Group network, which was one of the 4 original communities with Michael Horton’s, LAFCPUG, Dan and Don Berube’s BosFCPUG, and SFCutters founded by Kevin Monahan and Claudia Crask.

Changing an entire generation of editors, Final Cut had already broken Avid©’s stranglehold on broadcast editing and in a few short years, pushed the likes of Edit, Edius, Media100, Pinnacle, and TruVision out of the marketplace. When Apple rolled out the ProRes codec at NAB in 2007, it was an announcement that landed on rather deaf ears of the FCP community that was in the midst of fighting amongst on the battlefield myriad of codecs and compressions schema’s being used.

In 2007, we struggled through a radically changing post production process, hampered by the myth of ”realtime” Long GOP HDV formats or forced into using the lossy, overly compressed Mpeg based formats found in editorial. This was a time when the majority of the high end content was being handled as film and transferred via HDCamSR Tape. While the transmission stream codecs were great for direct to broadcast, for the advancing state of post production, something more was needed to maintain the quality being captured by Sony F900’s, Thompson’s Viper, and Arri’s D20.

I say needed, because Quicktime was lagging in the market and still fighting a cross platform gamma issue as the video marketplace bursted at the seams. Apple introduced multiple flavors of ProRes, a mezzanine codec to be used as a replacement for the Apple Intermediate codec, a low performing, lower quality option Apple used trying to bypass some of the limits and issues for HDV playback on the Mac platform.

ProRes was not initially embraced as widely as expected, as transcoding between formats took precious time and even more valuable disk space. It was happening just as FireWire editing had reached its limit and the first generation of Thunderbolt devices were still years away. Yet ProRes was just getting started, as a variable bit rate, DCT compressed format, whose most complex high bit depth variant was easy to decode, saving the CPU’s of the time when GPU processing was just starting. That saved users from handling the computational complex decode LGOP based codecs and playback requirements.

Everything Changes

FCPX Keywords

Then in 2010, Arri’s Alexa camera launched as the first camera to implement ProRes as it’s main internal recording format. Arri’s support for ProRes blasted the codec to the forefront of the industry, pretty much forcing the remaining NLE manufacturers, including Avid, into supporting the codec. By 2011, Apple had added a 4444 version to ProRes, a 12bit visually lossless variant with added alpha channel support to allow projects to be handed off properly for composting.

However, the launch of FCPX was something else, radically departing from anything resembling any existing non-linear editors. Initially, it was received in a somewhat less positive way than what Apple had expected. In fact, most of the reviews, including my own for Macworld magazine and another online review for Creative Cow published on launch day, laid bare many of the missteps.

With the new UI design and a “magnetic timeline”, users were either elated or horrified, with very few reactions in-between. I was not very popular in Cupertino for my vocal stance that FCPX “was not made for professionals” and I took serious issues with the lack of support for nearly everything used in and for professional level post production or broadcast. FCPX had arrived lacking the most basic functionality, without any way to generate bars and tone for calibration. It also had an inability to use any external hardware to monitor the image or to exchange data with other applications. On top of all that, it functionally lacked the ability to import or export an XML, EDL or other industry interchange formats, leaving users alone, forced to enjoy Apple’s editing folly.

The backlash was deafening. Adobe dusted Premiere off and pushed it back out, even bringing it back to the Mac platform. Three short years later it had taken the NLE lead back from Apple, all while many FCP7 users just kept chugging away with legacy software on their aging systems because they could. Many users embraced a Wintel / PC lifestyle and found that it wasn’t all that bad.

Jump to 2018, and things have changed in a big way. Apple’s iOS dominates in the mobile space, Adobe’s Premiere is still chugging away even though it barely leads the marketplace (it still runs better on Windows IMHO), while Avid still dominates in the markets doing script based episodic television and features. In the midst of all that, Youtube, Netflix and Amazon are re-defining production requirements and post deliverables

ProRes Raw

Scott Simmons asked me to go back and take an honest look ProRes Raw, and in doing so realized that I would need to discuss FCPX’s changes since ProRes Raw is currently only available in that application.

ProRes Raw is an effort between Apple and Atomos that allows the Atomos Sumo, Shogun and Inferno recorders to ingest a camera manufacturers raw data stream. It then imparts the specific properties of that camera centric data into a newly created version of the ProRes container. This leverages the ease of playback while maintaining the bit depth, colorspace, LUT parameters and capabilities of the camera’s native codec within an HDR compliant, 12bit linearly encoded asset that gives you a file size at or less than the camera original.

This happens by passing the CMOS sensor data directly to the recorder, rather than the current process, where the camera is internally debayering / demosaicing the file and then recording the image. The unique part is now the Atomos ProRes Raw workflow offloads that processor numbing debayer process to a later stage in production, where additional CPU’s and more powerful GPU processing is readily available. Delaying the actual image processing until it reaches a computer system means dramatically reduced power consumption and correspondingly increased performance in the camera and recorder combination, further enhanced by the overall lower bandwidth and storage requirements of the ProRes Raw container. The plain version of the Raw codec requires about the same overhead and playback needs as ProRes 422HQ encoded file at the same frame rate and raster size, while the higher quality Raw HQ version is not any more difficult to handle than a ProRes 4444 version. C

Because that captured data is commonly found in some version of a log encoded file, FCPX has the ability to apply a log conversion on those linearly acquired files during import, allowing your PrR files to be handled in an identical manner to the camera originals, even though FCPX decodes ProRes Raw into linear HDR values.

At this point in time, ProRes Raw files can only be created via a direct connection between the Atomos recorder and cameras that allow external access to their Raw data stream. Currently the list includes Canon’s C300MkII & C500I, the Sony FS5/FS5 II, FS7/FS7 II, & FS700, while inclusion of the 2 Panasonic cameras, the VariCamLT and the just released EVA1 indicate to me a commitment from Panasonic to embrace a ProRes Raw and it’s Mac centric workflow.
FCPX Interface

Final Cut Pro X        

8 areas for background tasks in FCPX

Since it’s rocky release, FCPX has been updated over 30 times. It has gone from an obstinate child into an application that has continually expanded in use and functionality. While I still have minor issue with how the magnetic timeline and some of the organizational items work, I have gotten used to working in it, especially since many of my original negative issues were updated early on.

No NLE has been able to avoid the constant processor limiting tweaks taking place behind the interface. Whether it’s processing proxies or optimizing media, or just confirming you are on the Internet, these background task loads will drag your computer back to the stone age. Thankfully, Final Cut Pro X lists these eight background tasks for you so that you have an idea of what is happening when you can’t seem get your computer to respond.

Color Wheels

Overall FCPX has evolved nicely, albeit around a ProRes workflow. Many of the current cameras on the market are not native to Apple’s NLE. While RED’s R3D format is handled efficiently, Sony’s XOCN codec has number of issues, with the 6K versions from the newly released Venice camera completely incompatible. The same goes for the native files from the latest Vision Research Phantom cameras and ARRIRAW outputs from the Alexa LF and Alexa 65. Granted, not a lot of FCPX users are on those cameras, but it highlights that Apple’s promise to maintain an open application supporting camera native codecs has changed somewhat.

Two things to note in the latest release of FCPX are changes that reflect the evolution of the post process. We now have an enhanced Color Board, with options to see Color Wheels, Color Curves and now even Hue vs Sat vs Luma adjustments. You can open even wider with the inclusion of Wide Gamut Color and the output of HDR compatible metadata in the I/O. While not everyone understands closed vs open captioning, everyone can appreciate the commitment Apple is showing with the ability to open, save and even edit Closed Captioning content. Using the Roles functionality, users have the power to link CC content to individual clips in the timeline, allowing for a re-ordering of media while maintaining the relative captioning content in place with the clip, much like we currently handle dual system sound.

What’s Next?

Apple’s ProRes codec helped change a generation of production and post users. From its addition to FCP in 2007, the ProRes codec has taken the complexity out of production and post, making it easier for pros and beginners alike to achieve the highest quality deliverables while maintaining a greater level control of the process and the image. With ProRes Raw, you can see the push to bring ProRes back into the picture for an entirely new generation of filmmakers, in a way they are far more accustomed to. By limiting the ProRes Raw workflow within FCPX, Apple can work out issues with this new workflow in a closed ecosystem, while also limiting when other manufacturers may get to try out ProRes Raw.

From everything I’ve seen, ProRes Raw appears to be a worthy successor to the existing codec. Being able to capture, control and manipulate the native aspects being output from any camera only increases a filmmakers capabilities. I expect that ProRes Raw will be the native codec for at least one camera manufacturer within a year or so, and that will hopefully open up a wider market for other companies and products.

As for Final Cut Pro X, the jury remains out. There are a large number of editors that enjoy working with FCPX and more will learn as Apple pushes back against NLEs like Adobe Premiere and BlackMagicDesign’s DaVinci Resolve. Something Avid learned the hard way is that it’s really, really hard to climb your way back up the mountain once you’ve been knocked off, no matter how powerful your toolset. FCPX left a bad taste in many editor’s mouths, so it’s going to take more than ProRes Raw to bring people back en-masse.

If only Apple’s hardware commitment to the professional market was compelling enough for people to want to switch.

 


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Gary Adcock is a technology-driven synergist in acquisition, editing and delivery of the advanced workflows required for Media and Entertainment. A Technologist in defense and manufacturing, as well as an established Executive Producer, Director and…

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Ron Sussman
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I take issue with Garys assertion that FCPX has broken Avids stronghold on Broadcast. Most of the network episodic, news and local news editors I know throughout the country with the exception of Scripps owned stations are still cutting on Avid.

garyadcock
Guest

Ron,
That is not an accurate representation of what is written.

I said at the start of the second paragraph FCP ‘had” broken Avid’s stranglehold, intentionally using “had” as in past tense and in 2007, at the time ProRes was released, that statement was true. Avid would have NEVER adopted ProRes had it not been for Arri’s Alexa, they would have lost the entire episodic market had they chose not to support ProRes.
I follow up in the last paragraph about how Avid is still the main NLE for script based episodics and feature films.

David R.
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David R.

To be fair just because the editors you personally know aren’t using it doesn’t disprove that it is being used. The final season of TNT’s Leverage was edited with FCPx way back in 2012 and the upcoming season of House of Cards (episodic tv) has been cut with FCPx. Ted Talks has been cut with FCPx since 2014 as well. American editors often ignore our European peers but FCPx has taken off in Europe. Danni Lowinski (popular german tv show), BBC news has been cut with FCPx since 2014, BBC factual is switching some of their doc editing to FCPx,… Read more »

gary adcock
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gary adcock

David, I did not discount any of those. Of course there are a large number of users. bu those seats are dwarfed in those very same companies by those held Avid and Premiere. Not to mention the leagues of editors learning on DaVinci Resolve. FCPX has improved rather nicely while I do still use it for some things FCP was dropped as my main app. I work in all of the tools, I have a paid license for every NLE, and I have been a rabid advocate for ProRes from the start. Nothing you have said changes my comments or… Read more »

Paul Hartel
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Paul Hartel

A small follow: the disenchantment many felt at the release of FCPX may have cooled somewhat over time; but Apple’s lackluster attention to its pro hardware line and exorbitant cost for those new releases (iMacPro) will surely limit future growth. Many of us have been Apple users since the first wide release of the computer in the 1990s, but not sure as many will be able to continue following their increasingly uber-expensive offerings.

Rob Scar
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Rob Scar

“… exorbitant cost for those new releases” Huh?? Wha??! Do you have ANY clue what you’re going on about?? Do you have ANY idea how an *actually EQUALLY spec’ed PC* holds up to an iMac Pro?? Clearly NO, you’re just blathering out your backend. I recommend you watch e.g. various Youtube videos that do VALID comparisons… and guess what the results are? Yeah… a PC of ACTUAL equal configuration will run you MORE and it won’t even have been BUILT yet, but is rather still just a collection of boxes on a table. So maybe do your homework FIRST before… Read more »

André
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André

Depends on the software used. With Adobe you have a huge lack of using multi-core systems e.g.

David R.
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David R.

My comment was directed towards Ron’s comment though…

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

Oh, get over yourself. Aside from him not even having said that, Avid has factually been reduced to a SUB ONE PERCENT of the global editing community isolated in one little arrogant city on the west coast and will become completely irrelevant within a few years, as soon as the old, pretentious, inflexible, tenaciously think-headed luddite guard of yesteryear have died away. If you believe anything else, you’re a delusional fanboy of the highest order. Leaving absolutely no one left interested in the technically utterly inferior thing called “Avid”. If it weren’t for their collaboration tools, they’d have died LONG… Read more »

Jamie LeJeune
Guest

The article states: “The backlash was deafening. Adobe dusted Premiere off and pushed it back out, even bringing it back to the Mac platform. ”
That is simply not true. FCPX was released in 2011. Premiere Pro has been on Windows and Mac since its 1.0 release in 2003. Adobe did change their marketing and feature updates to capitalize on the situation, but they definitely didn’t “dust off” anything that had been previously shelved.

gary adcock
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gary adcock

Jamie,
Adobe discontinued the Mac version of Premiere for about 2 years in Version 6 (about 2001-2?) Relaunching the app in the market to compete with the uptake in FCP Users during the early days and it then took a couple of years before there was parity between the mac and the windows versions for items like hardware support and I/O choices.

Version 1.o of Premiere dates back to the mid -1990s, Premiere Pro is just the name after FCP became the industry mainstay for that few years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Premiere_Pro

Jamie LeJeune
Guest

Sure, but that all happened years before FCPX was released, so there’s no way that it had anything to with backlash to FCPX. The order of those two sentences makes no sense. There’s no temporal or causal connection between them. though by ordering them that way you are implying that the two are somehow related.

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

I was working for Adobe at the time they killed Premiere for the Mac, so yeah, that part is VERY true. Only it was discontinued for FOUR years, not two, so so much for decent research.

But you are most definitely correct stating that “There’s no temporal or causal connection between them”, since the Mac version returned with CS3 *in 2007*(!). So to suggest that there is any correlation whatsoever between the two releases another FOUR YEARS later is pretty ludicrous, yes.

Dan Preston
Guest

Apple totally botched the rollout of FCPX and it’s doubtful they’ll ever win my shop back. We were totally FCP7-based … but then not only did Apple bring out FCPX which was closer in design to iMovie, it couldn’t even import existing FCP7 projects. With our client-based work, we needed continuity, and ability to re-open and update previous projects. Adobe stepped up with a workflow that made it fairly easy to migrate FCP7 projects to Premiere Pro, something Apple couldn’t match. We’re still on Apple hardware, but using our aging but highly-upgradeable classic Mac Pros. But those are getting pretty… Read more »

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

Oh wow… bla bla… what an embarrassing rehash of SEVEN YEAR OLD BS MEMES. We’ll just live in our own little, self-righteous world and ignore that the ability to import FCP 7 projects into X was made possible a mere THREE MONTHS after it’s release, so maybe try not to show your painful ignorance so blatantly. “We were totally FCP7-based … ” Ouch. Well, don’t worry, no one looking for ACTUAL PROS wants you back in their camp, believe you me. Anyone still on SEVEN today can’t be taken the least bit serious. Hilarious. Yeah, as if ANYTHING that YOU… Read more »

Anthony A
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Anthony A

I’ve had a Canon videocamera that records AVCHD for 7 years now I guess. Family videos. Still no good system for working with/archiving the clips. Would FCPX and its ProRes Raw be a good archive format? Trying to pick and choose or delete individual clips of the mts files is just no fun.

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

Dude… ProRes raw is NOT AN ARCHIVING FORMAT. It’s an ACQUISITION format! You can’t OUTPUT raw. That would be complete NONSENSE to even try.

Deb Gallegos
Guest

Yes, that would work well for it. Best of luck!

Matthew Davis
Guest
Matthew Davis

Two words for the distressed : Project Rush.

Scott Simmons
Guest
Scott Simmons

Something tells me Project Rush won’t support ProRes RAW!

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

Yeah… Adobe’s completely cringeworthy attempt at plagiarizing FCP X any way they can, since they know exactly what a horrible turd-hole they’ve dug themselves with their horrible SLOTH called Premiere. They know full well that that’s the only TINY chance they have of catching up with Apple i.e. FCP… by essentially doing EXACTLY what they did back in 2011… hilarious.

Matthew Davis
Guest
Matthew Davis

Touché.

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

How exactly is ProRes raw a “SUCCESSOR to the existing codec”?? If anything, it’s an “ADDITION to the existing codec”. Very odd and confusing choice of words. Oh and… “Using the Roles functionality, users have the power to link CC content to individual clips in the timeline, allowing for a re-ordering of media while maintaining the relative captioning content in place with the clip…”??! Huh? Wha? I suspect you don’t have a very firm grasp on how things work in FCP, since “maintaining the relative captioning content in place with the clip” has absolutely ZERO to do with ROLES. Keeping… Read more »

Rob Scar
Guest
Rob Scar

Oh… and never mind that ProRes raw already IS the native codec for one camera manufacturer… DJI?!!

Research, research, research. I highly recommend it. 😒

But I like how you managed to squeeze in that last inane jab at the end, with the tired and worn “If only Apple’s hardware commitment to the professional market was compelling enough” nonsense. As if tech like THUNDERBOLT (of any flavor), the iMac Pro or the upcoming (and, yes, last!) Mac Pro were somehow for noobs? Oh puh-leeeeeeeze… lay off the childish memes, hm? Does wonders for one’s credibility.

André
Guest
André

Writing style also does a lot for the credibility…