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There are a few ways to get your project from Final Cut into Compressor, whether you're producing a DVD, preparing a Quicktime movie for the Web, or prepping a clip for Apple TV. Lots of folks prefer to export a Quicktime movie from FCP, then import it into Compressor; others use the Export Using Compressor feature in FCP6. Going through a Quicktime movie noticeably reduces the quality of Compressor's output, but Final Cut Pro 6 makes using the superior Export To Compressor option fairly painful.

Our advice has changed with the new Final Cut Pro 7 upgrade, which has dramatically improved Final Cut's output workflow.

With the new upgrade, there's no longer a good excuse to sacrifice quality by exporting video to a Quicktime movie before bringing it into Compressor.

FCP 6 (Final Cut Studio 2):

In Final Cut Studio 2 (FCP6), the Export Using Compressor mode has the disadvantage of locking up Final Cut for the duration of the export, but it improves the quality of your export in several ways:

  • Most importantly, when you export "Using Compressor," Final Cut automatically places compression markers at every edit and transition in your project. In most projects, this visibly increases the quality of stream-based encodes, including H.264 and MPEG-2 for DVD (by forcing an intracoded frame at each shot change, if you're curious). You could place these compression markers manually (by moving your playhead to the edit points, pressing "M" twice, then clicking Compression Marker), but that's awfully labor-intensive.

    To prove to yourself that these compression markers get placed, send a sequence directly from Final Cut to Compressor, then be sure to turn on "Edit/Cut" markers in your Compressor viewer.

  • When you export a Quicktime movie -- yes, even a "reference movie" -- you transcode any composited portions of your sequence (including transitions) to your sequence's native codec. In a ProRes sequence, this is no big deal: ProRes is pretty dang high in relative quality. But the quality difference is quite noticeable when you're working in DV. In either case, when you use the "Send To Compressor" option, Compressor is drawing from the original, full-quality frames as Final Cut composites them. This improves your output quality (significantly, if you're working in DV) by removing a transcode step.

You'll see a noticeable quality boost if you use Export To Compressor, but you'll have to wait while Compressor locks up your FCP interface during the export.

FCP 7 (Final Cut Studio 3):

Final Cut Studio 3 dramatically improves this workflow. Now, the old "Export Using Compressor" option has been moved to the "Send to" submenu (File -> Send To -> Compressor). Also, you'll find a new Share feature (File -> Share) that allows you to skip the Compressor interface altogether, and submit your sequence directly to Compressor's behind-the-scenes engine using any of several preset or custom workflow settings.

Both of these options are visibly superior to exports through Quicktime, and now both work in the background. That's not really because of issues with Quicktime's image quality, but simply because skipping Quicktime allows FCP to force I-frames at edit points and transitions.


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Green Checkmark and Stripes in Final Cut Pro was the previous entry in this blog.

Broadcast Safe Filter in Final Cut Pro is the next entry in this blog.

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