Compressor 4.1 and later

If Final Cut Pro X is a simplification of legacy versions, 7.0.3 and earlier, of that application, then similarly Compressor 4.1 is a simplification of earlier versions of Compressor, versions 4 and earlier. Where earlier versions of Compressor, such as 3.5 and earlier, had folders upon folders with multiple presets, version 4.1 will often only have one preset. We are now up to version 4.3, but the same design strategy is in place, though more and more presets and formats have been added including a huge list of broadcast MXF options. Many people think of this as a reduction in the application’s capabilities, but it’s actually not. It simply weeds out many presets that were mediocre at best because of their generic, one-size-fits-all nature. The new version of Compressor on the other hand goes in the opposite direction; instead of giving multiple, weak presets, it gives a single preset as a starting point. It sets up a formula that gives the user the basic options for the encoding process he or she wants, and then leaves it to the user to fill in the blanks. The application’s formula is basically: Here’s the template, adjust it how you need to for your media and your desired output.

Though Compressor is designed to work with Final Cut Pro X, being able to use its presets directly inside FCP, and being accessed from inside FCP, there is no reason to not use Compressor on its own. It’s a standalone application that can be used to convert and compress many different types of media into many other types that are based on QuickTime. It does have a number of limitations on the types of media it can import. For instance it will not accept MPEG-2 transport stream files, though it will accept non-muxed MPEG-2. It will not take MKV files, nor Windows Media Files, nor .mts files, but that still leaves a great many formats and compression types that it will accept. 

The whole black art of compression is based on finding the best balance of file size versus quality. The file size is determined solely by the bit rate: the higher the bit rate the larger the file. To maintain quality you can either give the file a large enough bit rate, or reduce the image size: smaller bit rate for a smaller image will maintain the quality. The other factor that will affect the bit rate applied to an image is the content. This is a factor of the complexity of the image; the amount of movement in the video, including pans, transitions, and effects; and how frequently the image changes in the video. If you’re making a production destined only for the web, the complexity of the image is an extremely important factor to keep in mind when shooting and editing the project. And remember, compression is a one-way street. It’s done by throwing away content information, and once it’s gone it cannot be brought back.

Sending vs. Export Using

Inside FCPX you have options to either Send to Compressor, which is in the File menu, or the Export Using Compressor Preset in the Share popup. These allow you to have Compressor encode while you edit in FCP, but you end up doing neither of them well. Editing in FCP becomes bog slow and encoding in Compressor drops practically to a stand still. If you use the Send to Compressor function I would suggest not to edit in FCP, in fact you should shut it down. This route used to be a lot slower, but in Compressor 4.1 the encode is no slower than if you exported a master file and took that to Compressor to encode.

Once you’ve finished your project you probably do want to make and keep a high quality master version for showing and for creating new copies in compressed formats. You don’t want to have to go back to, and don’t need to go back to FCP, if you have that high res master, you simply encode in Compressor from the master.

A common procedure for access to QuickTime export functions in legacy versions of FCP was to the use the QuickTime Conversion option, which no longer exists in FCP. In FCPX you now have the new option of using Export Using Compressor Settings, which is the best of both - Compressor’s capabilities without having to export a master from FCP. This is especially useful if you need to export a version, say with a timecode burn for screening. You do not need to overlay a timecode generator in FCP, you can add the timecode overlay using a Compressor setting. The trick to using this function is to make sure you have the preset you want in Compressor, either an Apple preset or a custom preset.

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