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Review: iChat Theater and FCP7

This week I got to undertake editing and consulting with Final Cut Pro 7’s iChat Theater option.  It’s definitely been an interesting experience.

When using the iChat Theater mode, you and (from what I’ve learned so far) the other party must both be signed into iChat.  When one of my test runs was with someone running AIM on a Mac, they couldn’t video chat.  Turn on iChat Theater from the View menu in FCP, then start a video chat with the person you’re looking to partner with.  If you’re the one editing, ignore the chat window.  You have better things to do, and your mic will be picking up your voice anyway.  You can also turn on timecode for the chat, so as the video plays and stops, the viewer can see the timecode of the frame.

If you’re on the receiving end, you’ll see whatever video is being worked on – either from the timeline or a raw clip in preview mode.  You won’t see bins, timelines, or tools, just the video.  This means you can see what the cut is looking like and provide feedback, but you can’t see what’s going on in the program while your editor makes those changes.  It is however, hugely helpful.  I was able to preview and entire short film to one of my chat participants, and the quality on his end was reasonable to excellent through the experience.  In my other chat I was consulting on an edit I couldn’t be physically present for.  I had excellent video until I took a break and started streaming a documentary from Netflix.  Not wanting to loose my place, I kept the player open when returning to my chat and noticed a definite degradation in video quality due to my rather overtaxed processor.

Audio from both of my tests was good.  I had some audio problems when I was overtaxing my processor, but when I did what I was supposed to – give over the majority of the system to FCP, audio quality was great.  The participant not editing is audible through the entire chat.  I don’t talk when I screen footage, so I have no idea if you can talk while you’re playing video.

As an editor, the consult was a bit frustrating because there were times I wanted to grab the controls and help out.  That’s not what this tool is for though.  This tool is a way to screen footage to a director or another party who can’t be physically present in the room with you.  It’s not the same as sitting them down in your office – in my case, the living room – and letting things play out on a larger screen.  However, it’s worth it to be able to get live, real-time feedback from key people.

I also attempted a screen share during the chat I was consulting on.  The visual quality of the tiny FCP controls was alright, but attempting to play video back this way is simply too much for a 2-way Wi-fi connection to handle.  If you need to show someone how to apply a specific effect or setting, this would be a workable solution.  However, if you’re trying to preview a rough cut, you’ll quickly run into problems here.

Overall, FCP’s iChat theater option works will for what it’s designed to do – showcase the video.  If you’re looking for more hands on remote collaboration, you’re going to be disappointed by it.  So far, there’s no real workable solution for remotely patching a second person into a computer for editing unless your in a fully networked facility.  A wired ethernet connection may be able to solve some of the quality issues I found during my screen share attempt, but this computer runs off of wireless, and an ethernet connection isn’t an option in my set-up.  So there you have it.  If you haven’t tried out the feature yet, give it a runaround.  It’s a helpful little guy.