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FCP X and Compressor: Hardware Encoding
Iain Anderson on Fri, March 14th 4 comments
Don't sit back and dream of faster encoding on your Final Cut Pro X / Compressor video setup... make it happen! Iain Anderson is here to help you achieve what you thought was impossible...

What if I told you there was a way to speed up your video encoding by an order of magnitude. That is, ten times faster? Even if that’s not quite achievable, you can probably do a lot better than you are right now. Let’s dig in and find out how.

The Goal

What we’re looking at here is how to produce a standards-based, high-quality movie that’s suitable for playing back on many kinds of devices, for sending to video sharing services like YouTube and Vimeo, and which strikes a balance between size and quality. Right now, that’s H.264, probably at 1080p, and as luck would have it, is one of the formats which is able to be sped up by using the new hardware encoding in the new Compressor and also in FCP X 10.1.

The new Compressor interface, showing the Current tab, with presets on the left and specific settings on the right.

The new Compressor interface, showing the Current tab, with presets on the left and specific settings on the right.

Sharing your video

It’s important to realise that when you send a video to an online sharing site, they will compress it further. Much further. Assuming H.264 as a codec, and 1920x1080 as a frame size, the main determining factor in picture quality is the amount of data used to deliver it. You might use 10-20 Mbps for that final output, and it’s going to look good no matter how long it takes to make it. But when it goes to YouTube, they’ll crunch it to just 2.5 Mbps. Vimeo crunches too, to about 3.75 Mbps. While that’s noticeably better, it’s a long way from the original file.

Quick encoding

There’s not much point using a massive data rate if it’s going to be compressed down to a tiny file anyway. Similarly, you might as well use a “quick” encoding method, because if the data rate is high enough, visible artifacts will be hard to spot in the final output. And that quick encoding method is what’s changed: the latest releases of Compressor and FCP X allow very quick exports using Single-Pass encoding.

Here’s the “Computer” flavor of single pass encoding at 20 Mbps.

Here’s the “Computer” flavor of single pass encoding at 20 Mbps.

In FCP X

Export with one of the Faster Encode options. You can start at “Apple Devices” and then choose “Computer” if you want a .mp4 file at 20 Mbps, or “Web Hosting” if you want a .mov file at 15 Mbps. (They’re otherwise similar.) Make sure, though, that you don’t choose one of the slower Multi-pass options.

And here’s the “Web Hosting” flavor of single pass encoding at a slightly smaller 15 Mbps.

And here’s the “Web Hosting” flavor of single pass encoding at a slightly smaller 15 Mbps.

In Compressor

Sadly, the built-in Video Sharing Services presets all use the slow multi-pass encoding settings. Option-drag the HD 1080p setting from the Video Sharing Services category to the Custom category, then visit the Video tab on the right.

The QuickTime settings you need.

The QuickTime settings you need.

Next to QuickTime Settings, click the Change button, then choose Faster Encode (single pass) at the bottom left, and “Restrict to” the data rate of your choice (I prefer 15000 kbps) at the top right. Press OK.

When you’re done, it should look like this.

When you’re done, it should look like this.

Lastly, I recommend unchecking the “Add clean aperture information” box, because this effectively enlarges your video slightly to chop off the edges when using apps like QuickTime Player—unnecessary in HD, and an inconsistent experience with other players. Your preset is ready, so rename it on the left as “HD 1080p 1-pass 15 Mbps” or something equally informative.

Enabling that preset

Setting up your new Compressor settings as a Share destination.

Setting up your new Compressor settings as a Share destination.

In Preferences > Destinations, find Compressor Settings and double-click it. In the sheet that appears, choose the custom setting you just created. Done. Now you can export straight to your Compressor preset from the Share menu.

And sharing it out.

And sharing it out.

How fast?

Well, Compressor and FCP X export in about the same amount of time. Buy Compressor if you want more control over the process, not if you just want to save time. But for goodness sake, use Single Pass encoding. It’s nearly ten times faster, the output is almost the same size, and I can’t tell the difference between the clips. Maybe faster motion might show up some artifacts with a faster encode, but I’d rather throw data at that problem than time.

Table

There you have it. Faster encodes are now much, much faster—on most Macs, anyway. Enjoy!

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Comments (4)

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  • Chuck
    Thank you Iain, this was indeed useful. But I am confused. The headline speaks of "hardware" encoding, but isn't all this done in software? To me, "hardware" implies some sort of PCI board or USB stick.
    • 5 years ago
    • By: Chuck
    Reply
  • Iain Anderson
    Chuck, it is indeed hardware encoding, but it's making use of a special module on the CPU, called QuickSync. The CPUs in most Macs are suitable, but not the Xeons in the Mac Pro. In fact, a MacBook Pro 13" can now encode faster than a Mac Pro in many circumstances, though it will be much slower at almost everything else. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Quick_Sync_Video
    • 5 years ago
    • By: Iain Anderson
    Reply
  • Andie
    Complete NONSENSE. As of 10.1 and OpenCL 2 no MBP on this planet will get close to the encoding speed of a Mac Pro. ESPECIALLY when it comes to H.264! QuickSynch is utterly IRRELEVANT here. No idea where you guys pick this stuff up.
    • 5 years ago
    • By: Andie
  • Iain Anderson
    Author here. Our initial data was collected much earlier this year, as part of this article: http://www.macprovideo.com/hub/final-cut/final-cut-pro-x-performance-test My colleague Ben Balser has a new Mac Pro, and you can see the results of our tests in graph form in that article. The Mac Pro certainly lagged other modern Macs in straight H.264 encoding, but was usually much faster in other areas, like rendering effects. While it's certainly possible that an encoder taking full advantage of the twin GPUs could do very well — or that Compressor has been further updated since we performed the tests — QuickSync is very efficient. The final result will depend on many variables, but I routinely use QuickSync on my iMac for very fast (faster than real time) high quality encodes.
    • 5 years ago
    • By: Iain Anderson
    Reply
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