In Review: GenArts Sapphire Edge
A good script or compelling documentary subject is the beginning. Of course, having well composed, exposed and creatively shot visuals helps. And don’t forget audio. Bad audio is a surefire way to lose your viewers. But it is the “look” that conveys the true feel of any piece.
GenArts recently released Sapphire Edge, a $299 collection of some 350 customizable looks presets combined with a one-year subscription to its new FX Central service. Now some readers might say, “There are tons of free looks out there on the Web, and besides, I can create my own.” Both are true. However, what sets Sapphire Edge apart from many albeit well constructed homebrew looks is the Sapphire render engine. Sapphire plug-ins have always ranked among my favorites, and the GenArts product line is used extensively in film and broadcast projects. The Sapphire engine is fast and its rendering is precise. It is the Sapphire core that makes Edge well worth the price of admission.
Sapphire Edge is available in FxPlug format for Mac (meaning Apple Final Cut Pro 7, Motion 3.02 or greater, Final Cut Express 4.0) and Sony Vegas Pro for PC. An update due by the time you read this review will add FCP X compatibility.
I tested Sapphire Edge on an Apple Mac Pro running OS X 10.6.8 with an Nvidia Quadro 4000 and Final Cut Pro 7.0.3. Installation is straightforward, and it works like any other effect or transition plug-in. Select the clip and apply the filter or select the edit point and apply the transition. Effects plug-ins include FilmStyle, FilmDamage and TVDamage. Transitions are Sapphire’s renowned lighting effects: DissolveLensFlare, DissolveGlow and DissolveGlint.
That’s where the fun begins. Click the Presets tab and a separate screen appears with all of the available presets for the Edge filter or transition you’ve selected. Presets are searchable by keyword. Clicking on the preset shows a real-time preview of the clip with preset applied. This feature can be turned off if desired. In my test system, the built-in CUDA-aware acceleration of Edge combined with my Quadro 4000 card to produce smooth previews. Click “Apply” and there it is in your Viewer window. Tweak the sliders to refine or customize your look or transition. It’s that simple.
The software is GPU-accelerated for Nvidia CUDA cards, but even if you don’t have a CUDA-capable card, the engine is multiprocessor-aware. It remains to be seen whether this produces the same advantage in FCP X with its ability to use all processor cores.
Currently in beta but set to launch shortly, FX Central provides continual updates, tutorials, useful information and customized looks that can be downloaded. GenArts has promised to post a new set of looks each month. Following the initial one-year complimentary subscription, FX Central costs $99 per year.
Sapphire Edge provides a simple but powerful tool to add dramatic impact to your clips. The available presets plus those downloadable from FX Central create virtually limitless possibilities for creative filmmakers. Its powerful render engine is fast, the architecture is 64-bit, and it is precise.
A question remains whether buyers of Apple’s $299 Final Cut Pro X would spend another $299 on an effects package. My answer is simply that they should. FCP has always been enhanced through plug-in packages and standalone plug-ins. I lament the loss of direct FxPlug support in FCP X and welcome any plug-in that works to enhance the creative juices. Sapphire Edge gives a definite edge to editors and I heartily recommend it to FCP and to Vegas editors. Your viewers will admire you for your choice.
GenArts Sapphire Edge
Pros: Virtually unlimited choice of looks. Fast and accurate rendering. Constant updated looks through FX Central.
Cons: Some editors find pre-packaged looks constraining. Perhaps price sensitivity for FCP X users.
Bottom Line: Sapphire Edge gives a definite edge to editors and I heartily recommend it.
MSRP: Sapphire Edge: $299. FX Central: First year free with Sapphire Edge purchase, $99 per year thereafter