Compressor Interface

While Compressor 4 was essentially the same interface as previous versions, 4.1 brought the application the dark interface with a starkly minimalist look with a single window, just like FCPX.

Figure 1 Compressor 4.3 Interface

The window appears divided in two; the top pane has a Viewer with controls, while the bottom pane is the Batch area where you put the different Jobs you want to work on. The Batch pane has a button to Add File. You can add as many files are you want to create as many jobs as you want in one batch. There are three central buttons at the top that switch between three windows, the Current window, which is in Figure 1, the Active window, which the application normally switches to when a batch begins, and Completed window that lists any completed batches and their jobs, what used to be called History in ancient versions.  You can switch between these with the keyboard shortcuts Command-1, Command-2, and Command-3.

At the lower right is the Start Batch button, which is active when there are jobs in the Batch pane that are ready to be processed. In the lower left is a single popup (see Figure 2) that lets you add a file, an image sequence, or a surround Sound Group, which produces the sheet in Figure 3. To add elements to the group you click on a speaker and select the file you what to place in that speaker. From FCP you might create separate Roles for each speaker and export the Roles as separate files to drop into the Surround Sound Group.

Figure 2 Add Popup

Figure 3 Surround Sound Group

The real work is in two panes that are hidden, Settings and Locations on the left and the Inspector on the right. These are opened with the Show button in the upper left, and the Inspector button in the upper right. They use the shortcuts Command-4 for the Inspector, just like FCPX, and Command-5 for Settings and Locations.

The Settings pane pops out to show the Apple presets as well as Custom presets. With the pane open the + Add button moves to the middle and a new + Add button for settings appears in the lower left corner (see Figure 4). This Add button lets you create a New Setting, New Destination, and a New Group. A setting is a preset, a group is like a folder with multiple presets, and a destination is a preset with a job action, such as Add to iTunes Library or Create DVD or Open with Application or Publish to Vimeo or similar. Destination should not be confused with Location, which is where your file is saved on your hard drive and appears as a separate pane behind Settings, accessed with the Locations button at the top of the open pane. 

On the right is the pane is for 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.

Figure 4 Add Buttons

Apple Presets

In the Settings tab there are 15 groups of Apple created presets, the first seven of which are Destinations, that is they have job actions attached to them, iTunes Library, Blu-ray, DVD, HTTP Live Streaming, Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 Some of the Compressor Destination Presets

If you twirl open Add to iTunes Library there is one preset Apple Devices HD (Best Quality). With the preset selected you can open the Inspector and see the settings used. None of the Apple presets can be altered, but if you want to use one as a template simply duplicate it using the Action popup (the gear) at the bottom of the Settings pane. In the Inspector you can see that the file will be up to 1920x1080 in size. If you compress a smaller file, say 1280x720, it will remain that size and not be scaled up to 1080. If you put in a 2K or 4K file, however it will be scaled down to 1080, the maximum size Apple Devices currently support. Notice also that the format is .m4v, a variation of MPEG-4 used by Apple Devices. Even if you could it's not a good idea to mess around or alter the Apple Device settings as the devices use a very specific format and very restricted encoding options. If you click on the Video pane in the Inspector you'll see the grayed out settings used by the preset. Notice the compatibility section that appears showing what devices will support the selected format. To make it compatible with older devices, you'll have to duplicate the preset and reduce the maximum size of the image. There is also a button that allow you to select Best Quality or More Devices. More Devices for instances will let you create videos that are compatible with first generation Apple TV.

The Create Blu-ray and Create DVD destinations both have two presets, each with a Dolby Digital preset for compressed audio and either an H.264 for Blu-ray preset or an MPEG-2 for DVD preset. Blu-ray allows HD quality up to 1080p at 29.97fps or 720p up to 59.94fps. The default job action for both of these destinations is to burn a disc. If you duplicate one of the destinations, for instances, Create Blu-ray, you will have other options in the Inspector. You burn a disc or save it to a hard drive, which will create a disk image. You can also, using the Blu-ray settings, switch to Create DVD, which will make a red laser disc that can burn a limited amount, about 40 minutes, onto a standard DVD disc. It still needs a Blu-ray player to playback HD quality. 

In older 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 when the preset is applied to a job, which is handy for a one-off compression of a file. However when you make a change to the Compressor preset and close the application, the settings will be lost. 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.

Prepare for HTTP Live Streaming has seven separate settings. You want to encode all of them. 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. HTTP Live Streaming can be done from any server; it does not have to be a dedicated streaming server. To do this you need to send a variety of different files of different sizes and bit rates to be able to accommodate the server’s demands and the viewer’s Internet connection. 

The Publish to Facebook, Publish to Vimeo, and Publish to YouTube  are identically presets up to 720p. These services are offering ever higher formats, so if you want 1080p on YouTube you’ll have to duplicate the preset destination and in the Video pane change the frame size and frame rate, remembering that services like YouTube will crush the video to conform to their specifications. Also, if you want to access other services such as Youku or Tudou or CNN you need to duplicate one of these presets. To add your username and password for the service you’ll also have to duplicate the Apple destination, or you can add it once the preset has been applied to a job. If you do duplicate the Publish to Vimeo preset and enter your username, you should be aware that your password does not stick and has to be entered each time you open the application.

The Apple Devices section has three presets based on resolution and compatibility. The Best Quality setting is 1080p and is compatible with newer iPads, iPhones, and Apple TV. As in the Add to iTunes destination the lower section of the Video pane shows the compatible devices. The Most Compatible setting is 960x540p and covers most devices (see Figure 6). This settings covers more recent devices except iPhone 3G and Apple TV 1st generation era, basically devices from before the middle of 2010. The SD for Apple Devices setting is 640x480 and covers every Apple device from the first iPhone and video iPod.   

Figure 6 Device Compatibility

The Audio Formats group isn’t really very useful for export of a single project as six of seven options offered here are available directly in FCP sharing a Master File and selecting Audio Only. It’s useful of course for batch processing inside Compressor. The one format that’s missing in FCP is EC3, the Dolby Digital Plus format, a development of AC3 used in DVD and Blu-ray authoring.

Motion Graphics contains 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 with alpha. If you want to export video with an alpha channel you’ll need to use one of these two codecs. The 4444 codec can be accessed from within FCP’s Master File function, and by default exports with the alpha channel. 

The MPEG Files group is for MPEG-2 only. This is a 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. There are three flavors of MPEG-2, two program streams, one of which uses 422 color space, and one transport stream. The presets all have the same basic bit rate of 15Mbps, but of course that can be increased by duplicating the preset to make a custom version.

There are three Podcasting 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.

ProRes has eight variations using different data rates. The settings for these all look identical because, though these are Variable Bit Rate codecs, the bit rates are set by the codec. The only visible difference is that the 422 codecs have colors set to millions, while the 4444 with alpha codecs has colors set to Millions+, the plus being the alpha channel. If you need a QuickTime file with transparency the ProRes with alpha codecs are the ones to use. ProRes without alpha will treat the areas of transparency as black. The codecs in order of bit rate from the lowest are 422 Proxy, 422 LT, 422, 422 HQ, 4444, and the newest codec, 4444 XQ for high resolution cinema quality delivery for 4K and 5K images. 422 HQ and 4444 are more than adequate for 2K images, and 422 is the best to use for HD or lower resolution. To save drive space and improve playback 422 LT is great for video that’s from H.264 formats like AVCHD and other heavily compressed camera acquisition formats. 422 Proxy is for smallest file size, lowest bandwidth, and intended solely for offline production work and not for any kind of delivery.

There are two Uncompressed presets, 8-bit and 10-bit, which require enormous amounts of drive space and hugely fast drives. 

And finally there are the six Video Sharing Services presets. The HD 720p preset is the same as that used by the Publish to Vimeo and the Publish to YouTube functions. Compressing your files here allows you to save them to a location of your choice and then upload them to whatever server you want. You can also use one of the presets to serve as a format for you to put up video on your own web site. Video sites and sharing services are now allowing formats larger than HD, like 4K, put you’d better expect your viewers for have very fast connections to use these high bandwidth formats. Small is 428x240, which is quite a bit smaller than most Internet users would find acceptable. It may be suitable for personal email messaging, but not much else. Now that iCloud allows emailing large file sizes using Apple servers, this small format becomes even less important. 

1 2 3 4 5 >

Copyright © 2014 South Coast Productions