Post Production POSTS

Optimizing Your Computer for Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro Version 10.1 is designed to take advantage of the newest technologies included in Mavericks OS 10.9, particularly it takes advantage of what Apple calls Timer Coalescing and Compressed Memory, which speeds up low-level system events. Timer Coalescing allows these system events to be grouped, to happen in bursts when there is available processor time, allowing the system to be more efficient when it’s doing application tasks. Compressed Memory allows the system to compact background memory usage and allows more free memory for active applications like Final Cut Pro. This has been a huge improvement over previous versions of OS X, which had significant memory problems when many applications were open simultaneously, building up large amounts of inactive RAM, which would not be released quickly when suddenly need by an application. In previous versions of the OS, I could regularly run up this inactive memory state that brought FCP to its knees. This problem went back as far as Mac OS X Tiger in 2006. Mavericks has been an amazing improvement and for this alone it makes sense to require 10.9 for the latest version of Final Cut Pro.

Another important feature in Mavericks that is significant to FCP is the operating system’s ability to use multiple monitors including Air Display to wirelessly use multiple monitors. It also has integrated notifications to tell you background tasks like sharing have been completed. The OS also allows access to multiple graphics cards for processing, and FCP has taken advantage of that, allowing it harness the full power of the new Mac Pros.

TIP –  Memory Clean: Though Apple boasts of the capabilities of Timer Coalescing and Compressed Memory in reality when you have many applications open and are constantly switching between them, which we all do, and really know we shouldn’t, RAM usage does get overwhelmed. A very useful and free application, available from the App Store, is Memory Clean. It will release inactive memory and make it available. It works best when you have closed a RAM-intensive application, like Motion, that you don’t plan to come back to for a while. Simply open Memory Clean, click Clean, and it will free the memory in a few moments. The application can be left open, and it appear s as a menu bar display to show memory usage and allow you to clean it from there (see below).

Memory clean.

Optimizing Your Computer for FCP

Like most high-end professional software, FCP requires the best possible hardware you can afford, computer, monitor, and drives. The Apple FCP requirements are really the absolute minimum needed and should not be considered anything more than barely adequate. In addition to having the best possible hardware you can afford, there are some steps you can take to optimize your computer for video editing with Final Cut Pro, using a few simple procedures.

One of the most important is to check on Prevent App Nap in the Finder information box. This should be done for all professional applications especially FCP, Motion, and Compressor. To do this, select the application in the Applications folder and press Command-I or Command- click to select multiple applications and use Option-Command-I . In the Finder information window, check on Prevent App Nap (see below).

Prevent App Nap.

You do not want your video editing application falling asleep while it’s rendering or exporting in the background. As long as the application is in the foreground, this isn’t a problem, but as soon as you go off to answer e-mail or surf the web, the application is likely to take a nap. That said you really shouldn’t be using your computer for anything else while it’s working in FCP. You will just slow down the processes and create potential for encoding errors. If you just have to check your e-mail, use your phone or get an iPad.

Next, there are a few steps you can take to improve performance and make it easier to use the application. Many users who aren’t familiar with recent versions of OSX find the use of hidden scroll bars disconcerting. This functionality is hidden by default but can be switched on in General System Preferences as in below.

Scroll bar preference.

In System Preferences, you can switch off a few items that might interfere with the application’s operations while it’s running.

For the Desktop, most professionals recommend switching off screen savers and working in a neutral, usually medium-gray desktop, because it is more restful for the eyes and does not affect the color rendition of your eyes. (You’ll see this tonal display in the application—mostly gray shades.)

The Displays should be set at the resolution settings the system recommends for your monitor, which should be a minimum of 1280 × 768. The application will not run properly at lower resolutions. In Displays, the Color tab should be to the default color setting.

The Energy Saver should be set so that the system never goes to sleep. It’s less critical, however, that the monitor doesn’t go to sleep. I usually set it around ten minutes, but the system and the hard drive should never shut down. If you’re using a recent MacBook Pro, mid-2010, or later, you’ll see an option at the top of the Energy Saver panel that is on my default. This switches between graphics systems used by the computer. It tends to go to the low-powered, lower performance battery setting to lengthen battery life. If you can, it’s better to switch this off while using FCP to improve graphics processing performance.

Another feature that appears in Trackpad or in Mouse is the use of natural scrolling (see below ). Natural scrolling emulates mobile devices, push up to go to the button and pull down to go to the top. This is the opposite of older, conventional scrolling used on Windows machines. To keep the old way of scrolling, switch Natural off.

Natural Scrolling

TIP – Natural Scrolling Hand: The Hand tool when used in the Timeline to move the timeline content up and down uses natural scrolling , pull down to see the top of Timeline panel and push up to see the bottom of the Timeline panel. This cannot be changed and is not controlled by System Preferences.

TIP – Right-Clicking: If you do not have a three-button mouse, either an Apple Magic Mouse or a third-party mouse, you really should get one. If you have the Apple Magic Mouse, make sure you go to the System Preferences and enable right-clicking in the Mouse controls. Any inexpensive USB three-button mouse with a scroll wheel will also do. The application uses right-clicking to bring up shortcut menus, and the properly configured scroll wheel can move slider s as w ell as window displays. If you are not using a three button mouse, whenever I say “right-click,” you can press down the Control key while clicking to bring up the shortcut menu. Also on a laptop without a mouse, press the Control key and mouse down to bring up the shortcut menu.

I also recommend that you switch off networking. This is done easily by going to Network Preferences and creating a new location called None. Set up your None location without any active connections—no internal modem, no Airport, no Ethernet—everything unavailable and shut off. To reconnect to the network, simply change back to a location from the Apple menu that allows access to whatever connection you want to use.


Final Cut Pro is designed primarily to work with specific, standard video resolutions. It can edit anything from 640 × 480 standard-definition footage to projects that are 2K or 4K, 2048 × 1024 pixels or 4967 × 2048 pixels, which are feature-fi lm sizes with very wide aspect ratios. For most users, whether you shoot with an AVCHD camera or a DSLR or high-end HD camera, the aspect ratios are constant: All high definition is widescreen; if you work in DV or uncompressed standard definition, your project can be either 4:3 or 16:9. The application can also edit projects in nonstandard sizes and aspect ratios, portrait-shaped output for instance, or shapes for specific types of displays.

Apple has done a great deal to make this easier in Final Cut Pro by using the system’s ColorSync technology to keep color for your media consistent as it moves between applications. This will keep your video correct on your computer screen, but it will not show you how it would appear on a television set or a video monitor. This is important because your material is being made into a video format, and many video formats are still interlaced and work in color and luminance specifications that date back many years.

In addition to your main monitor, you may want to use a second computer display to break up the large FCP window. This is really useful for video editing applications. This is especially helpful for long-form video production, or any production with a lot of media, and it’s just nice to have the extra screen space. You can put either your Viewers, that’s the main Viewer or the Angle Viewer on a second display, or your Libraries and Browser on the second monitor. This selections can be toggled on and off from the View menu.

There are a number of ways to monitor video on your computer, either in the FCP Viewer or in full screen. Full-screen view can be toggled on and off with a button or with a keyboard shortcut (Shift-Command-F). One of the nice features of using the button or the shortcut is that it also initiates playback. In addition, there are third-party tools for monitoring and ingest.

Third-Party Hardware

There is an ever-changing field of third-party products, boards for use in older Mac Pros, and external boxes to connect your computer to broadcast monitors and decks to ingest media in the highest quality. If you’re working with an older Mac Pro, there are cards such as the Kona cards from AJA (, the Kona 3G for SD, HD, and 4K ($1995), Kona LHi for SD and HD ($1495), and KONA LHe Plus ($995). These can be used to mirror your desktop or as a second display. Some cards also offer a standard HDMI connector, which carries video and embedded audio to view work on large consumer flat screens; note, however, that color values will not be accurate broadcast gamut, which requires specialized calibrated TVs.

In addition to their Kona cards, AJA Video Systems make Io 4K and UltraHD boxes that use SDI and HDMI to Thunderbolt 2 ($1995) and Io XT for HD and uncompressed SD 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 ($1495) and Io Express ($995), all work with FCPX.

For older Mac Pros, Black Magic Design has the DeckLink series from as little as $145 as well as the Intensity Pro card ($199). They have a huge number of other products from H.264 Encoders (from $149) to UltraStudio 4K (from $995), UltraStudio Express ($495). For capture, they also have the Intensity Shuttle for USB3 ($199) and Intensity Shuttle for Thunderbolt ($239). In addition, Black Magic has branched out into acquisition with their amazing Pocket Cinema camera ($995), a Cinema Camera model ($1995), and Production Camera 4K ($3995). They also have acquired software products that they have continued to develop DaVinci Resolve ($995) and DaVinci Resolve Lite (free), both of which can be accessed from FCPX.

There is also Matrox, while primarily the manufacturer of PC products, which has an I/O box for FCP the MXO2, as well as the Mojito Max H.264 hardware encoder. Connections to external broadcast monitors can be toggled on and off by selecting Window>A/V Output .

NOTE  – New Drivers: Most third-party hardware technologies will need new drivers to work with FCP. Check on the manufacturer s’ websites to make sure you have the latest software add-ons that are compatible with FCP, and before you purchase any, make sure that the hardware has been tested and approved for use with the version of Final Cut Pro you’re using .

Excerpt from Final Cut Pro X Beyond the Basics: Advanced Techniques for Editors by Tom Wolsky © 2015 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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