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Benchmark Tests: Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 vs. Apple Final Cut Pro X

There have been lots of comparisons between Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro CS6, with most focusing on features and workflows. This article discusses a series of multiple-format benchmark tests that analyzed comparative performance between the two programs.

There have been lots of comparisons between Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro CS6, with most focusing on features and workflows. In this article I'll discuss a series of multiple-format benchmark tests that analyzed comparative performance between the two programs.

Source and Export Formats

There are myriad formats to test and an unlimited combination of effects to apply. I tried to keep my approach simple. I tested with common formats that both Premiere Pro and FCP X could handle natively, like AVCHD, XDCAM EX, and footage from DSLRs.

I used one basic output preset with each program for all tests, encoding to 720p output using the H.264 codec, Main Profile at a video data rate of 10Mbps and audio at 320Kbps stereo. The files I created could be used for uploading to a user-generated content site like YouTube or Vimeo, or an online video platform like Brightcove, Sorenson 360, or Kaltura. I encoded at 29.97fps for 29.97 and 60p source footage, and at 23.976 for 23.976 source footage.

Test System

I performed all tests on an 2 x 2.93 GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro from early 2009 running MacOS X version 10.7.4 with 12 GB of RAM and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 graphics card with 1.5 GB of onboard RAM.

Test Projects

I describe each test project in detail below. With one or two exceptions, with each format, I started with a simple test, just a single 1-minute color/brightness-adjusted video output to the H.264 target. Then I added a range of common effects, including titles, blurs, sharpening, layering via opacity adjustments, picture-in-picture, and creating a video wall, to see how these effects impacted performance.

All the effects that I applied were GPU-accelerated via Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine and the NVIDIA graphics card, as I suspect most Adobe producers in a hurry also do. Fortunately, in CS6, Adobe greatly expanded the list of accelerated effects, so this wasn't limiting in any way.

Workflow and Encoding Options

Both Premiere Pro CS6 and Final Cut Pro X enable multiple encoding workflows, so let me define which I used up front. When rendering from Premiere Pro, I exported directly from Premiere Pro, not by queuing and outputting via Adobe Media Encoder. This locked up Premiere Pro for the duration, but in some instances, decreased rendering time by as much as 50%. My thought was, if you were in that much of a hurry to get the file rendered, you would use this technique and find something else to do during the encode.

FCPX offers a wide range of rendering options, as shown in Figure 1 (below). I started testing using the Send to Compressor option, which saved the time and disk space associated with creating an intermediate file. Then I tried Export Using Compressor Setting, which proved significantly faster in many cases, so I ran all tests using this option.

benchmark1

Figure 1. Choosing the most efficient output

When encoding in the Adobe Media Encoder, I exported with Use Maximum Render Quality enabled. While this can extend encoding time significantly, it can also increase quality, as you can learn about in this article on OnlineVideo.net. Since this is the setting I recommend that producers use, it seemed fair to use it in my tests. I also used 2-pass VBR for encoding, because it's the setting I use in my own practice. In my Compressor presets, I used multiple-pass encoding, again because this is what I recommend, and because it's also the default setting in all of the Compressor presets that I checked.

In addition, I disabled background rendering for all of my FCP X tests for a number of reasons, the most important of which was the ability to create duplicatable results. With background rendering enabled, I would get one result if I worked straight through a project, and another if I took a break for lunch in the middle.

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