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Apple FCP and Compressor vs. Adobe CC, Timeline-to-Transcode Workflows, Part 1: Methodology

We brave the "third rail" by testing two popular NLEs and their companion transcoding tools.

When it comes to transcoding, speed and quality often feel at odds: one wants quality—the highest quality, if possible—in the shortest time, regardless of the software-and-hardware combination being used. If time were no object, we’d go for the most economical software transcoding tools; if money were no object, we’d go for the fastest hardware options.

In between there is a balance, and that balance has been getting less expensive with each passing year. Here at the outset of 2014, we want to assess again a few workflow options for transcoding. And while there have been tests around higher-end hardware solutions and around exporting from timelines before, we wanted to update at least one of those tests as part of an overall workflow tweak we were doing for client projects.

These kinds of tests can be somewhat like touching the “third rail” in a subway or elevated train track: everyone has an opinion, and they’re not afraid to voice it, with or without data to back it up. Jan Ozer bravely touched the third rail back in 2012 with his short-clip Final Cut Pro X (FCP X) and Premiere Pro (PP CS6) timeline exports on older hardware. In addition, one of the authors of this article, Tim Siglin, did a different workflow scenario with high-end hardware as part of the inaugural Best Workflows report back in late 2010/early 2011.

Test Overview

For our new tests, we wanted to revisit a bit from each of these previous tests.

First, we will use footage from the Transitions high-end hardware test, which have known baselines, to see how newer software and general computing devices fare.

Second, following in Jan’s footsteps, we will use FCP X and the newer sibling to PP CS6, Premiere Pro Creative Cloud (PP CC). Recent updates in Apple Compressor 4.1.1 provide stability and, in Apple’s words, “improve reliability of Send to Compressor from Final Cut Pro X.”

Finally, we also include some longer-form multicam content, to address concerns in both previous tests about short-form content skewing results. While we find both previous tests to be without bias, we acknowledge there may be areas where hardware might do a better job with long-form content files.

As such, we’ve put together five tests, results of which the second article in this series will address in detail, broken down into NLE Timeline Tests and Standalone Transcoding Tests.

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The results are in! See link to project files, encoder presets, and output files from our test set added at the beginning and end of the article.