Compressor Interface

There are five windows in Compressor.

Figure 1 Compressor interface

The upper left window is the job window. You can have as many jobs as you want in the window to batch process your media with as many settings for each job as you want.

In the upper right is the Preview window, which shows you your media in the selected job.

Below the Preview window is the History window, which shows you the progress of your jobs as well as completed jobs.

In the middle is the Inspector, which, as in FCP, is context sensitive, changing to display the specifications of whatever is selected. This is where you make changes to your settings to customize them.

In the lower left is the Settings window, with two tabs, one for Settings, Apple presets and Custom settings you create, and a second tab for Destinations. Here also are Apple preset destinations, like the Desktop or the Movies folder, as well as custom destinations.

Apple Presets

In the Settings tab there are nine groups of Apple created presets that you can access from within FCP without any customization.

Folder 1 Apple Devices: It has three formats; the first two are basically the FCP Share to Apple Devices, one 10Mbps (Megabits per second) for newer devices, and one 5Mbps for more compatibility with older devices. The third is for standard definition output. You probably don’t need to tinker with these or duplicate them, as there is no adjustment you can do and still keep them compatible with Apple devices, which have very stringent requirements for compatibility.

Folder 2 Audio Formats: This isn’t really very useful for export of a project as all five options offered here are available directly in FCP using Export Media (Command-E) and selecting Audio Only. It’s useful in batch processing inside Compressor however.

Folder 3 Disc Burning: In previous versions of Compressor this used to be a multitude of different variations for different lengths of project. Now it’s simplified to three basic presets, one for compressing audio, which should be done for all disc formats, and one each for HD onto Blu-ray and one for standard definition onto DVD. This is where it gets tricky. You’ll probably want to customize the settings, which you can do inside Compressor and is handy for a one-off compression of a file or multiple files. However when you make a change to the Compressor preset and close the application, the settings will revert to the default. So the best way to make a custom setting is to duplicate the setting template and save it as a custom preset. Then it will appear in FCP and in Compressor any time you need it. In the Blu-ray preset, you’ll see in the Inspector the default 30Mbps allows for 101 minutes on a disc. To adjust that, click the Action (gear) button and adjust the slider. Notice at the bottom the adjustment shows how long a project that setting supports (Figure 2). For two hours of media you need to have something like 25Mbps or less as an average bit rate.

Figure 2 Adjust Blu-ray Average Bit Rate

Once you’ve made a preset you like, click the Duplicate Settings button.

Figure 3 Duplicate Settings Button

In the Custom folder in Compressor you will find the duplicated setting. In the Inspector you can rename it, maybe adding 25Mbps to the name. Once the preset is saved in the Custom folder, it can be accessed directly in FCP. However, when encoding for disc, Blu-ray or DVD, you’ll want to export first so that you can access both the video preset and the audio Dolby Digital preset in one batch process. Let’s look at some of the other processing options.

Folder 4 HTTP Live Streaming: This has seven separate settings for HTTP Live Streaming, which is another format that is best to export from FCP first, as you’ll want to export to multiple settings. HTTP Live Streaming can be done from any server; it does not have to be a dedicated streaming server. The concept of HTTP Live Streaming is the server automatically switches to the best supported file to send to the viewer based on the viewer’s bandwidth. To do that you’ll need to send a variety of different files of different sizes and bit rates to be able to accommodate the server’s demands. In fact you might want to batch process your project to all of them.

Folder 5 Motion Graphics: The Motion Graphics folder has four presets, two for image sequences, Open EXR and TIFF, and two for video formats, either using the Animation codec or the ProRes 4444 codec. If you want to export video with an alpha channel you’ll need to use one of these two codecs. None of these presets can be altered unless they are duplicated. The 4444 codec can be accessed from within FCP’s Export Media function.

Folder 6 MPEG Files: This is the MPEG group of heavily compressed video formats including audio that’s multiplexed into the video stream. This is different from the DVD elementary stream that is video only, and the audio remains separate until it is muxed by the DVD authoring application.

Folder 7 Podcasting: This group has three presets, two for audio, AAC and MP3, and one for video using H.264, which is now the most ubiquitous codec for QuickTime web delivery.

Folder 8 ProRes: Here is where you can access the Apple ProRes codecs. The only downside, which I completely do not understand, is that ProRes LT is missing from the list there. There should be five ProRes codecs available not only four that are displayed. You can however access LT on direct export from FCP. It is an excellent codec for most uses, substantially smaller in file size than full ProRes, with no discernible loss of quality on most media. I really wish it would be available as an optimization codec in FCP import.

Folder 9 Video Sharing Services: Video sharing basically provides another way to access the presets used for uploading to YouTube or Vimeo, which has high quality HD presets either in 1080 or in 720; a large preset that’s 960x540 that really should be avoided; and a standard definition at 640x360, and a small preset at 428x240. The standard definition presets will adapt to 4:3 media.

To make your own presets, the best way is to adapt one of the Apple presets. To do that you’ll have to launch the application. By default it opens the drop down menu in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Compressor Template

This gives you access to the presets for audio podcasts, discs, streaming, AppleTV, and YouTube. If, like me, you find this an annoyance ever time you open the application, you can switch it off in preferences. In the option For New Batches switch from Show Template Chooser to Use Blank Template. If you want to access the template chooser, for instance to make a Blu-ray disc with the Apple menus, you can at any time from the File menu selecting New Batch from Template (Shift-Command-N).

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