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Getting Your Video Out Of Final Cut Pro

Once you finished editing, added all the titles and effects, mixed your audio and color corrected everything, you need to get video out of Final Cut and into a format which meets your distribution needs. There are a variety of different ways to do this, but one of the most common ways is to compress the video with a more efficient codec for delivery. Apple's tool for this task is Compressor...


Compressor is a stand-alone program which Apple includes with Final Cut Pro. As it's name implies it's primary function is to compress your video so that it takes up less size - an important consideration whether delivering online, on CDROM or on DVD. Unfortunately, all three of these delivery platforms have significantly different compression requirements, so we can't just compress the video once and be done with it. This is where Compressor becomes very useful - it lets you start with a single video and create multiple copies, each optimized to a different delivery medium, all in a single step.

While you can use Compressor on it's own (just drag movie clips onto it's application icon) it's integration with Final Cut Pro makes the process a little more efficient because you don't have to export to an interim movie file first.

Start by opening up the sequence you want to export in FInal Cut, and then from the menu bar choose File>Export>Using Compressor... Compressor will start up and you will be presented with the Batch window: This is the main interface to Compressor and it allows you to set up batches of files to be exported. In this case we will be working with only a single source file (the video from our sequence) but creating multiple copies of it in several different formats. Lets take a look at the different elements of the interface:

1. Source Media
This gives the name of the source media to compress - in our case it is the name of the sequence we opened in Final Cut. If we were compressing several different videos at once each would be listed here.
2. Preset
Compressor comes with a bunch of presets for common encoding settings and formats. If you click on the small blue arrow (next to the words "3 entries") you can choose from a list of the included presets. Each time you choose a preset it will be added to your list as another output file - so in the diagram here we will be generating three files total once we run the batch. The first file on the list will use MPEG4 for web streaming while the second and third will create an audio and MPEG2 file for DVD studio Pro. I'll discuss the different presets later in these notes.
3. Destination
From here you can tell compressor where to put the finished files. Each Preset entry can be given a different destination from the others if desired. The blue arrow button will let you choose from a list of pre-configured destinations (you can customize the list with shortcuts to favorite locations) or you can select a folder manually from the same menu.
4. Output Filename
This is where you give the new files a name. You can simply double-click on a name in the list to highlight it and type in a new one. There's no need to add a file extension here - Compressor will add it automatically.
5. Preview Window button
This will open up a window which lets you preview the compression effects on your video as well as manually crop and trim the video before output.
6. Presets and Destinations buttons
Presets will give you a list of compression presets and has controls to add your own presets or modify the existing ones. Destinations has a list of favorite locations on your hard drive (or even on a remote server) and you can customize the locations from there.
7. + and - buttons
These let you add or remove source files or presets to your list.
8. Submit
When you click this the batch you have created will be submitted to compressor and the Batch Monitor window will open up to let you monitor the compression progress.
It's a fairly simple interface and the process of using it is also simple:
  1. Add some source media - either by dragging in quicktime clips from your hard drive or using the File>Export>Using Compressor option in Final Cut
  2. Choose one or more presets to use for export to the formats you need.
  3. Choose a destination for the finished files.
  4. Give each compressed file a name
  5. Click submit and wait for the batch to finish.
The main question then is what preset/format should you use? For DVD the MPEG2 format is required and there are a lot of different presets to choose from. However, choosing the preset comes down to two questions:
  1. How long is your video?
  2. The MPEG2 presets have a time listed in their name - 60, 90, or 120 minutes. In general you want to use the one with the shortest time that your video will fit into. The longer your video, the more it has to be compressed and the worse it will look. The 120 minute setting will use half as much data per minute as the 60 minute setting will, so that means a lot more picture information will need to be thrown out.

  3. How long can you wait for the encoding to finish?
  4. Each time setting also has two options - fast encode or high quality. High quality takes twice as long to encode but gives you dramatically better video in many cases, especially if you have a lot of transitions or effects in your video. High quality goes over the video twice - the first time it looks at which parts of the video need the most data and which need the least. Then on the second pass it does the actual compression, distributing the available bandwidth for the optimal picture quality. In general the high quality preset is the best option, but if you are in a rush you can use the fast encode setting.
Choosing a web preset has it's own questions:
  1. What's more important, picture quality or download times?
  2. The fastest download will come with the streaming presets - their designed to play in real time without having to wait for the movie to download. However, this requires the video to be compressed more, meaning you lose a lot of picture quality. The other option is to use one of the progressive download options, which are higher quality but may require some download time before they begin to play. "Progressive" means that they will start playing as soon as enough data has downloaded to keep the video playing steadily, so in most cases (at least with broadband) the viewer doesn't have to download the whole movie before they can watch it.

    True streaming also requires a streaming server, which can add a lot of expense to the process of putting video online. For most purposes progressive download will probably be a better option.

  3. How much bandwidth do your users have?
  4. If they are on dial-up you'll need to use a setting that compresses the video much more, or else they will be waiting a long time for it to download. With Broadband you can go with the much higher quality progressive download settings and they should load and play fairly quickly. If you don't know, or want to accommodate both, you may want to use 2 presets to create a large and small move so your viewer can choose the one best suited to their particular connection.

Creating your own presets

You may find that there isn't a preset for your particular needs - fortunately you can create your own presets and save them for future use. Click on the Presets button and you get the following window:
1. Preset list/groups
This lists all the current presets, and they are grouped into folders of related presets. There are primarily a lot of different MPEG2 presets for DVD, with a few MPEG4 presets for web and CDROM.
2. Presets
Here we can see the MPEG4 NTSC group opened up and the list of presets in that group. Each preset is named with it's intended delivery platform and the description gives a list of the major properties: image size, frame rate, data rate, audio sampling, etc.
3. Preset Settings Window
The summary tab gives a more detailed breakdown of all the settings for that particular preset. The other four tabs let you change the settings. Encoder lets you choose the codec to use for the audio and video compression. Filters lets you choose filters to apply to the video as it's being processed - things like contrast or color adjustments. Geometry lets you crop and/or resize the clip, and actions let you set things to happen when the encoder has finished, such as sending you an email or running an applescript.
4. + and - buttons
These let you add or remove presets from the list. The + button actually has a submenu which lets you choose the format of video the preset is for - Quicktime, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, AIFF or TIFF. Once you've added a new preset you can use the preset settings window to customize it to your needs.
From this window you can create, remove or modify presets and they will be saved so that each time you return to Compressor your custom settings will be available. To learn more about compression, codecs, and how different settings will affect your video check out my compression notes for the After Effects class (the information all applies here too) by clicking here.

Previewing your compression

Compression is generally a slow process, so it's good to have some idea of how the settings you choose are going affect the look of your video. Using the preview window you can see the effects your compression will have on individual frames of your movie as well as manually crop your source video before compression. Click on the preview button to open the Preview window:
1. Media/preset selection menu
This menu lets you choose the media clip and one of the presets you've applied to it to preview.
2. Preview Window
This is where you can see the effects of the compression. The left side shows your original video source, the right side shows the same frame after compression.
3. View Settings
Here you can scale the preview window and also change the split screen location (by dragging the blue bar at the top of the preview window.
4. In and Out points
These work just like the in and out points in Final Cut's Viewer window. You can drag them to a new position if you only want to compress a portion of the original movie.
5. Crop Lines
The red line indicates cropping - you can drag the dots on the corners and edges to change the crop values manually.
The preview window gives just an approximation of the quality you'll see in you finished video. Because it only shows one frame at a time you it doesn't take into account motion (which can significantly impact the final quality). However it does give you some idea of what your video will look like before you commit to compressing it. If you want a better idea you should do several test clips that are 10 seconds long or so and get a feel for how the different settings impact your actual video.

This just starts to cover some of the topic of compression - fortunately, using Compressor's presets can save you a lot of trial and error and simplify the whole process. However, if you find the quality you are getting isn't good enough for what you need you may want to spend some time researching compression, codecs, and Quicktime to learn how to squeeze the most quality into the least space.