More than two years since Apple released Final Cut Pro 6, Apple has updated its flagship pro-level nonlinear video editing app: Apple Final Cut Pro 7.

While there are a few extremely sexy new features in Final Cut Pro 7 that will attract attention - among them new ProRes flavours, iChat Theater - the main focus of Apple Final Cut Pro 7 seems to be enhancing stability, speed, and productivity.

ProRes, a high-definition lossy video compression format developed by Apple for use in post production, was introduced in 2007 with Final Cut Pro 6 (FCP). The new variations are designed to broaden the codec family's capabilities into higher-end post production, news markets, and offline editing.

In the most compelling new feature of Apple Final Cut Pro 7, Apple builds on the success of its excellent ProRes codec family by adding three new flavours: ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 (LT), and ProRes 422 (Proxy). ProRes 4444 is designed for highest end work or compositing with alpha channel. The LT version is for lightweight deliverables, such as broadcast, while the 422 (Proxy) is specifically for offline editing.

That's in addition to the two flavours for 'normal' editing and finishing - the regular flavour for most projects, and the HQ for higher end quality, which are still included from the previous version.

ProRes 4444 is for video editors who try to push FCP as far as it can go, there is now a ProRes codec for working with high end formats (think HDCAM SR or Redcode) or for higher quality when rendering from FCP or other programs, specifically compositing applications. ProRes 4444 supports either the traditional Y'CbCr video colour space or RGB at full 4:4:4 colour sampling, at up to 12 bits per pixel according to Apple. Wait, what is the fourth four for? It is for your alpha channel, and yes, they did it right and it does have 10 bits per pixel as well.

This codec runs at 330 megabits per second in a "worst-case scenario" of 1080i60 video, not including the alpha channel. The alpha is "mathematically losslessly encoded" Apple says, at a variable data rate, which hints that the codec is using some kind of compression that makes the file size smaller than an uncompressed alpha channel but of identical quality.

ProRes 422 (LT) is the regular ProRes 422 on a bandwidth diet. So why bother? Turns out a lot of broadcast equipment is built around 100 megabits per second pipelines - Panasonic started it with the Varicam and its DV100 (aka DVCPRO HD) codec, and continued with its AVC-Intra codec, both of which run at a maximum data rate of 100 megabits per second.

So a lot of folks had their digital plumbing set up for 100 megabits per second, and regular ProRes 422, which can run up to 145 megabits per second for 1080i60 footage, could gum up the works since it was nearly 50 percent larger than the anticipated data rate. So along comes ProRes 422 (LT).

It's the same thing as ProRes (10 bit, full raster, 4:2:2 colour sampling), just at a lower data rate, and it'll fit nicely into existing broadcast infrastructure. Sports and news editing for broadcast, for instance, will love this codec, since the decrease in quality will never be noticed by the time is it is compressed even further and sent out to air.

The other ProRes codecs are fine for online editing (at final quality) for various quality expectations, but what about for offline editing? That's where ProRes 422 (Proxy) comes in. It is still full frame, 10 bit, and 4:2:2, but is much more heavily compressed. It takes the data rate all the way down to 45 megabits per second for 1080i60 video - or a touch over 5.5 megabytes per second.

How small is that? That's about 20 gigabytes per hour, or a bit less than twice the data rate of DV, if that gives you a better seat-of-the-pants sense of how tight this new codec is. But instead of DV's Standard Definition resolution, this is 10-bit full raster 1080 resolution video at less than twice the data rate.

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ProRes 422 (Proxy) is clearly of inferior quality, compared with the other ProRes codecs or DVCPRO HD, but this is for offline editing, not finishing work. When editing for offline purposes, you don't need the quality, nor storage capacity and throughput of a codec meant for finishing or online work. Our non-scientific vibe after looking at some samples of ProRes (Proxy) footage is that this looks like fairly heavily compressed satellite or cable HD footage.

Easy Export will probably be the favourite new feature of most editors for its ease of use and time savings. Found under File->Share, it replaces Export Via Compressor. At first glance, it looks like Apple has just lifted a page from the Share interface of iMovie '09, but there's more to it than that. There are three new aspects of the Easy Export feature that significantly enhance productivity and flexibility.

You can assign settings for target outputs such as Web, iPod, AppleTV, or DVD, directly in Final Cut Pro without having to launch Compressor, thus keeping the editor in the friendly and familiar confines of Final Cut Pro. You can assign multiple settings right from this interface, as well.

You can assign post compression Job Actions to any of the queued targets, which are more extensive than the options you could to assign in Compressor in the past.

You can, for instance, do any of the following (or more) with the click of a button: post directly to MobileMe upon completion of compression; import into iTunes to sync to AppleTV, iPod or iPhone; publish directly to YouTube; burn a DVD or Blu-ray disc directly from this interface without going to DVD Studio Pro; or create your own post render process within Compressor, even launching Automator scripts. Then of course, you can make them available via the Share interface.

That's right - you can burn a Blu-ray disc directly from within Final Cut Pro 7. The downside is that Apple (as of this writing) still doesn't sell a Blu-ray capable SuperDrive, so you have to get a third-party drive. You can, however, burn AVCHD Blu-ray content to a standard recordable DVD disc in your SuperDrive via Share, and that will play in a Blu-ray player. DVDs and Blu-ray have a limited slate of templates to choose from, but you can at least assign custom graphics (with alpha) for background, logo, and title graphics, and even generate a chapter menu.

Another significant catch - this is the only Blu-ray support offered in the entire Final Cut Studio suite. DVD Studio Pro doesn't support Blu-ray in any fashion, and gets only the smallest of increments - from version 4.2.1 to 4.2.2. It doesn't support Blu-ray authoring, encoding, or burning. Easy Export is powerful, convenient, and useful, but that is the extent of Blu-ray support in this release. Considering that Adobe has offered Blu-ray authoring support on Intel Macs for two years, this is a startling hole in Final Cut Studio's capabilities.

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