Hands on with the PROCUTX app for Final Cut Pro X
It's nice to look at but doesn't offer any significant speed improvements ... yet
By Scott Simmons | February 07, 2013
If you’ve been around the internet (or social media) in the last few days then you’ve probably heard of PROCUTX. This is an iPad app (iTunes link) that is designed as a control surface for Final Cut Pro X. It’s a gorgeous app that is very well designed. There’s lot of little buttons all over the interface to perform any number of FCPX tasks. There’s also a big jog wheel that dominates the center. At $25 it isn’t a cheap iPad app as iPad apps go. Is it worth it? Probably not for me in its current form so I doubt I'll use it very much but it sounds like there is some real potential for the future.
PROCUTX suffers from the same problem that
any and every * most other iPad control surface / button emulator suffers from (and I’ve tried a lot of them): You’re constantly having to look back down at the iPad to use the damn thing. While this might not seem like a big deal (especially to those new to editing) experienced editors will tell you that great speed comes from the muscle memory you gain where your fingers just know where to go without constantly looking down at the keyboard, mouse, trackball or tablet. I don’t think you can ever get that kind of muscle memory on an iPad since there is nothing to feel when you’re placing your fingers. I’ve tried a lot of different button emulators for the iPad and have ended up rarely using any of them all for that same reason.
UPDATE: No story on a product from PROCUTX maker Pixel Film Studios would be complete without a link to this story about them allegedly using another company's copyrighted elemets in one of their own products. While there's most likely nothing like that involved in this PROCUTX product it's still worth a read.
The PROCUTX interface is gorgeous but at this point it's little more than a bunch of buttons on the screen though a few of those buttons make it easier to access certain functions. As development continues that should change.
While you may have read a lot of blog posts about PROCUTX over the last day or two, every one I read felt like it was just an alert that this new app is available and a reposting of the press release. I paid my $25 the morning it came out and sat down with it for three different sessions between then and the publishing of this post. I kept drawing the same conclusion: technically it works quite well but forcing myself to use PROCUTX meant it was significantly slowing down my overall productivity. You can accomplish the majority of PROCUTX tasks faster with the keyboard.
* I crossed out any and every above because I was reminded by the folks at Digital Rebellion that their remote app Editmote added gestures. This we'll test out.
What's not to like
There's a couple of problems that I felt right from the beginning of using PROCUTX. As discussed above the lack of a tactile surface on the iPad means you're always looking down to see what buttons you are touching. PROCUTX has a lot of little buttons. They key word there is little so I often found myself really concentrating making sure my finger was in the right place, hitting the right button. I can hear people saying: "wow, what kind of idiot has to take that much time looking down to touch the right spot." Truth told it doesn't take that long to hit the right button but even a second or two multiplied times hundreds of times a day is collectively too long when compared with using the keyboard to achieve the same tasks ... which takes only a fraction of a second with good muscle memory. There's a reason keyboards have that raised little nub on the F and J key. You can position your hand without looking down.
The second problem I saw was with the choice of buttons to include on the app itself. While things like UNDO/REDO, zoom, and jumping to the next or previous edit makes sense (you do those all the time) things like Render management, exporting and audio recording are things that aren't done nearly as frequently so IMHO shouldn't take up valuable real estate on an interface. These are all very subjective things but it goes back to something I discussed at length in the Keyboard Manifesto and that's speeding up your editing at all costs. For the most part that means a more efficient keyboard. If you can offload that speed to some other input device all the better but I've been through many of them and, so far, nothing can beat the keyboard. While FCPX is a much more mouse-centric NLE than its competitors you can still do a lot with the keyboard and asking the editor to now use an iPad and touch little tiny buttons instead of a big old keyboard key isn't going to speed up that edit. Don't get me wrong it's fun to use PROCUTX and I did use it a lot but it's just not making me any faster.
Overall during an edit, things like render management and exporting of projects aren't done all that frequently. Do they really need to take up real estate on an editing interface? I'd much rather see something I use a lot more often like the Source Media selection (All, Video Only, Audio Only) or a more detailed way to assign Roles.
One of the prettiest things about PROCUTX is its most distinguishing feature, the big jog wheel that dominates the center of the app. Spin that jog wheel with your finger and you can scrub the skimmer forward and backwards. But I have to ask: Does anyone really ever use a jog wheel when it's available? I've used a Contour Shuttle Pro for years and one of the first things I did was map the jog wheel to zoom as I never used it to jog. While I don't want to project my jog thoughts on everyone else a quick survey of editors with Shuttle Pros revealed few of them used the jog wheel either. There's also single frame buttons under the jog wheel in PROCUTX. While that just duplicates the functionality of the jog wheel I have to ask: why spend time searching out those little single frame buttons when you can quickly use the left and right arrows on the keyboard? Even those horrible little wireless keyboards that come with an iMac include arrows keys and you can easily have your fingers find them without ever taking an eye off the screen.
The Jog Wheel is big but I don't use it on any surface as I prefer the arrow keys to move my playhead/skimmer. It would be nice if this was customizable to something like zoom or moving of sliders (which may not even be possible).
What there is to like
PROCUTX comes with a new keyboard mapping that you have to import to make the most of the app. If you've done a ton of custom FCPX keyboard mapping you'll have to do a lot of that again but that's probably worth the effort if PROCUTX provides good access to certain functions. Under both the AUTO-CORRECT and COLOR GRADING section of the interface there's some nice one touch access to certain parts of the Inspector that usually requires quite a few clicks. Being able to get one touch access to audio enhancements and the Color Board will be a time saver. You can get to the Color Board and move around it via a few keyboard combinations but it's much faster in PROCUTX. But what isn't faster is actually manipulating the Color Board with the tiny PROCUTX joystick. You'll be reaching back to the mouse for that. That might be a limitation of how the PROCUTX can interact with FCPX but it's obvious how slow it is when you start trying to adjust exposure or colors right from the PROCUTX interface.
You have to install the PROCUTX Keyboard mapping to gain proper functionality. The downside of that is I guess I have to go back in now and remap all the keys I had changed. If you know of some way to merge two mappings please comment below.
There's an APPLY KEYWORDS section that is very handy. A touch opens the Keyword Editor and another touch applies via the number. While you're allowed nine FCPX Keyword saves there's only seven buttons for keywords in the PROCUTX interface. This is where I could see space being better allocated to things like logging as during the logging process a dedicated iPad interface could be more helpful for that phase of an edit rather than deep timeline editing.
I can see the whole Keywording process being helped by an app like this so maybe in the future the keywording section will be expanded upon.
The future of PROCUTX seems to be a place where it could really shine. Apple Insider had this to say about the app:
That sounds very promising. The idea that there could be an entire iPad screen dedicated only to Keywording or only to color correction makes much more sense than trying to cram everything into one page. Imagine if you were using PROCUTX on an iPad Mini. I don't think that would be very enjoyable at all. But then Apple Insider says this (which is a quote taken directly from the product page):
That's not actually true. You can only use the app to select a tool, not actually select footage. The Blade and Blade All functions of the app will add edits when the buttons are pressed but things like trimming and range selection can't be done from the app. A support chat with Pixel Film Studios says things like Range Selection from within the app will be coming soon in an update.
As I mentioned above the future of PROCUTX is what is currently the best thing about the app and hearing this from Pixel Film Studios is a good sign:
We are currently working with apple to do things never before possible.
That's cool to hear and it makes me think my $25 investment will eventually be worth it.
Setup and operation
Upon download of that app you'll be presented with a Welcome to PROCUTX window that asks for your email address. Don't skip this step as that's how you get the server software that has to install on the Mac.
Be sure and check your spam folder if you don't see the email to get the server software, mine went there. And don't skip this step as the software isn't own the app's website.
Once you get the link and download the software you're presented with two things, the ProCutX Server for the FCPX machine and the new Keyboard Set.
The Instructions file includes some helpful tips to getting the app connected to your Mac.
After installation of the ProCutX Server jump to the System Preferences and toggle it on.
Without the ProCutX Server installed and turned on you won't be able to connect the app.
Once that is working it should just be a matter of connecting to the server in the app.
You'll be prompted to connect to a ProCutX server when you launch the app.
I worked with PROCUTX on two different Macs, both MacPros. Since neither had wifi it's their direct connection to the router that makes it possible. One of the systems had a lot of trouble connecting and I've had to kill the app a couple of times to make the connection work. My guess is it might be easier on an iMac where both are hitting the same wifi network.
It's a strange world we live in (maybe not strange, just different) when $24.99 will be seen as an expensive piece of software to supplement another piece of software that many are using to make money. $25 is the introductory price and at some point it'll rise to $40. I won't be making much use of PROCUTX when working in FCPX at this point as it's mainly just buttons on the iPad and I can hit those buttons much faster with a keyboard. I don't regret making the purchase as I'm excited to see where the app goes. I'm not sure how Siri voice integration will work or how useful that will be but gestures are the right direction. A big swipe to the right to have triple-time playback would be cool. A big Color Board right on the entire iPad screen could make the Color Board actually a bit usable. Even a bit Inspector on the iPad could make good use of the screen space. We'll have to wait and see where PROCUTX goes ... and maybe where Apple allows them to take it.
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