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Exporting from FCP to Compressor, or use a QuickTime Movie instead ?

written by Stefaan Lesage on 10/01/2009

This article will describe a few scenario's on how you can get your video file from Final Cut Pro and make Compressor process it into a target video suitable for the Apple TV or for the iPod / iPhone. The goal of this article is to show you the different things we have tried and to give you some advantages and disadvantages on both work-flows. to show you how to set everything up the way we currently have it. Our current work-flow is probably not the best yet, but we if we discover something better, we will let you know about it in a new Article.



Final Cut Studio Machine

During the last two years, Devia has been producing a few Video Podcast episodes. This means that with each episode of those Video Podcasts, we have to convert our video into a format suitable for Podcasting and which can be played back on portable devices like iPod and iPhone. For this task we are using Final Cut Studio and we are always trying to get the best performance.

Since Final Cut Studio was completely new to us, we had to try out a few things before we found a good work-flow. The goal of this article is to show you the different things we have tried and to show you how to set everything up the way we currently have it. The whole work-flow is probably not the best yet, but we if we discover something better, we will let you know about it in a new Article.

For each of the options described below, I have included the time which was required to compress a 3 minutes and 41 seconds HDV 1080i50 sequence to two different targets, one is H.264 for Apple TV and the other is H.264 for iPod video and iPhone 640x480. The export was done on a MacPro with two Dual Quad-Core 3 Ghz processors and 8 Gb of Ram.

If you would try this yourself, your test results might be different based on your machine, the available memory & processors, the source format and the output targets.

Exporting from Final Cut Pro to Compressor

Exporting to Compressor

Exporting to Compressor

The first option is to export a finished sequence from Final Cut Pro directly to Compressor. This can be done by selecting the Sequence and picking the File -> Export -> Using Compressor menu (or using the Export -> Using Compressor from the Shortcut Menu).

This is the easiest way to do it, and I've used that technique when I started using Final Cut Studio. Final Cut Pro will start Compressor for you if it isn't already running, and it will send the selected sequence frame by frame to compressor. From what I have heard though, it is the best option if when Quality is concerned, since each frame will be sent to Compressor in it's own format, regardless of the format the sequence is in.

I soon found that this isn't very efficient speed wise though. Since FCP will send the Sequence frame by frame to compressor, you will be unable to use Final Cut Pro to do any further editing while compressor is encoding. The whole process of sending the video to compressor takes quite some time, even on my MacPro.


  • There is no real need to render the Sequence out before sending it to Compressor.
  • Frames are sent Frame by Frame to compressor as raw data, there is no encoding / compression occurring before the video is processed by Compressor.


  • Final Cut Pro can't be used while it is exporting to compressor !

Time needed to finish the Job


Time needed : FCP to Compressor

Well, as you can see in the screenshot, the whole process took 1 hour and 24 minutes, and that for a 4 minutes clip. During that time you can't use FCP for further editing or even to work on another project. Since there is no way you can use the machine as a Final Cut Pro edit station during the whole process, we quickly tried to find another approach.

Yes, I'm one of those people who just hates having to wait for a computer until it has finished it's job. For some of you this approach might be good, but in our case having to wait 1.5 hour to get a 4 minutes clip ready to be displayed on an iPod was just a bit too long.

Using Compressor to process QuickTime Files

Exporting a QT Movie

Exporting a QT Movie

Finding an alternative to our previous workflow wasn't that hard. There is always the option of exporting the sequence from Final Cut Pro to a QuickTime movie, and then using that QT Movie as the source in Compressor. In this situation it is always a good idea to make FCP render the sequence first, en preview your movie. Once that is done, select your sequence and use the File -> Export -> QuickTime Movie

You should now get a dialog box in which you can alter some settings. First of all you will have to choose which Codec you want to use for the export. In my case I will be using the same presets as the one I used for my Sequence, which is HDV1080i50. Remember though that this export might cause some loss of detail, depending on the preset your sequence is, and the preset you are exporting to. If you have added Chapter Markers in FCP, I would strongly advise to choose the Chapter Markers or DVD Studio Pro markers from the Markers pull down. That will make sure the Chapter Markers are included in the Exported QuickTime Movie


  • The process is a lot faster !
  • You can use FCP again once the movie is exported, and even while Compressor is doing it's job.


  • You have to render the Sequence before exporting it.
  • You might loose some detail due to encoding to a QT Movie.
  • Another disadvantage could be that this approach requires more HD space, but for our setup this wasntt really an issue.

FCP to QuickTime Movie to Compressor

Time needed to finish the Job

The process was a lot faster than sending the Sequence directly to Compressor. Rendering out the Sequence took about 7 minutes, but that was because I used quite a few SmoothCam filters in that sequence. Exporting the Sequence itself took another 2 or 3 minutes.

Once that was done, compressor took another 14 minutes to encode the video in the two different targets. During that time, average CPU load on my machine didn't get higher than 35%. In total, the whole process took a little less than 30 minutes, but once the Sequence was rendered and the QT Movie exported, I could continue working in Final Cut Pro.


Well, as you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages in both work-flows. Wether you choose to export directly to Compressor, or export a QuickTime movie which you then import into compressor is completely up to you. In my case, I wasn't worried about drive space. My complaint with the first approach was that I couldn't use my machine as a Final Cut Pro editing station for more than an hour, so the second approach is our current Work-Flow. I still wanted it to be faster though, and even that is possible. But how we achieved that ... well look forward to another article :-)


  • 1

    Actually you don’t have to render anything by yourself when exporting as a QT movie. I never do this and my footage comes fine with all FX applied.
    The rendering process will happen when exporting to QT anyway.
    When exporting, always use the settings of the sequence you want to send to compressor.

    I spotted you article about speeding up Compressor today and will try out how much influence a changed setup has when exporting to compressor.

    written by scrimski on 27/05/2009
  • 2

    I have been looking looking around for this kind of information. Will you post some more in future? I’ll be grateful if you will.

    written by GarykPatton on 16/06/2009
  • 3


    I will be trying to Post more information on this and many other topics in the future.



    written by Stefaan Lesage on 16/06/2009
  • 4


    I have been working with Final Cut for 5 years, and always output from the timeline to compressor. My projects are usually an hour long, and take about 6 hours to render.
      Well, I just tried exporting as a quicktime reference file, with a sequence already background rendered = time 5 minutes. Then had compressor take that ntsc file and change it to m2v…. Um it took 15 minutes. 
    OMG, from 6 hours to 20 minutes… I cant believe I waited so long to try this.  Doh!  and not even using Qmaster…

    written by Sean on 26/09/2009
  • 5


    That’s actually a big difference indeed.  I know when I started I used to export from the FCP timeline directly into Compressor and it just took ages to complere.

    My current workflow is to finish up the edit, render the sequence in FCP, export as a QuickTime movie and then bring it into Compressor and get my Virtual Cluster to chunk away.  Works as a charm.



    written by Stefaan Lesage on 29/09/2009
  • 6

    Hey, that was interesting,

    This is some great aaaaadvice, thanks for sharing this, I now have my videos on my iphone,

    Keep up the good work,

    Thanks for bringing this up

    written by custom software on 27/10/2009
  • 7

    Great article, thanks.
    But I just have a query about the quality of the output from compressor when you send the file from FCP to Compressor without pre-rendering the sequence?
    I have tried both with and without pre-rendering and noticed quite a considerable difference in quality between the 2 (the pre-rendered file being superior). When I did this test my final final is a PAL SD .m2v, 2 pass ave b/r 7.7.

    I’m trying to find the best (quickest) way to do the editing, the render, the encoding so I don’t have too much time where I can’t access the programs. ie. I want to keep editing and working while there are some of the time consuming processes happening in the background.



    written by Paul on 29/11/2009
  • 8

    Hi Paul,

    The sequence was actually rendered inside FCP before exporting the Quicktime movie.  I didn’t really compare the quality of both options yet though, should have a look at that.

    Apparently the new Final Cut Pro 7 allows you to export in the background while still having access to your FCP.  Maybe that’s worth investigating for you.



    written by Stefaan Lesage on 30/11/2009
  • 9

    I have a FCP 7.0 with the new snow leapord i am trying to export normally using
    ~Current settings

    The problem is when i take this video to windows the one fine becomes 2 and i cant play it there.

    I tried al formats bt it happens the same

    the other file created is just of 2 kb

    and it has the same name as my source file is.

    written by Ash on 27/01/2010
  • 10

    Hi Ash,

    What format is your sequence in ? It might be that you still need the codec for that format on the Windows side.  I think the 2 files isn’t really a problem, the bigest one is the file you need.

    But you will have to make sure you have the same Code on the widows side as the code used to encode the movie on the mac side.



    written by Stefaan Lesage on 27/01/2010
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