Using Compressor

After my previous post, I've had a lot of questions about Compressor. It seems a lot of people have never delved into this great little program, so I thought I'd write a quick tutorial. Compressor's job is simple. It compresses whatever video project you give it into another format. For example, if you need to output your video to the web, you could compress it down to a web-friendly size and format. I use Compressor a lot for setting my videos up to play well in ProPresenter. Before PP, I used it to create AVIs for Media Shout. It's a powerful program that's easy to use. Let's dive in.

I will assume you've edited your project in Final Cut Pro (since Compressor is only available as part of the FCP Studio package). Success with Compressor starts in FCP. Once your project is complete, choose Render Both from the Sequence->Render All menu. It's important that all of the checks are checked except Full. This ensures that all your video is in a properly rendered format. You need to do this even if your project is playing out fine in FCP using RT Extreme. Avoid this step at your own peril.

Now, set your In and Out points at the beginning and end of your program. I like to have a 1 second black Color clip at the front and a 2 second black Color clip at the end. Whatever is between the In and Out points will be rendered in Compressor. If you don't do this, you'll get the entire timeline, which you may or may not want.

Next, choose File->Export->Using Compressor... This will create a reference movie of your project and import it into a new untitled batch list in Compressor. It may take a minute, but should launch Compressor, with your file in the list. You should see something like this.

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Note that if you don't see all the windows shown here, you can add them by changing your view settings from the Windows menu. There are a number of pre-set layouts, and you can also make your own, just like in FCP.

First, notice that your Sequence has been added to the Batch list. I didn't name my sequence, so it's listed as Sequence 1- Liar, Liar. "Liar, Liar" is the project name. If you're better about naming things than I am, that will help if you batch a lot of jobs at once. Right now, if you hit Submit, nothing happens because you have not told Compressor how you want to format the final output. Look down to the Settings Pane. You'll see Apple as pre-populated a large number of formats to accommodate various workflows.

I have my own Custom preset that I use for formating movies for ProPresenter. You can download it here if you like. (Here's one for my Media Shout AVI format if you want). To utilize that Setting file, unzip it and drag the resultant .settings file onto the Custom folder int he Settings pane of Compressor. If you just drag it into the pane, it doesn't work. So our first step in Compressor will be to drag the setting we want to use and drop it on the sequence in the batch list.

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You'll see that our preset has been added as a line to our sequence. Note that it is possible to drag multiple settings to a sequence. For example, if I needed to make a ProPresenter QuickTime, a DVD and a FLV for the web, I could drag them all onto that sequence file. It will render out multiple versions of the file without further input from me. Very handy.

Also notice that the setting we applied has 3 columns to it. First is the Settings name, in this case ProPresenter. The second column is the destination, currently, "source." I only use source when I'm dragging movies into Compressor directly and not exporting from FCP. Rendering to source will put the movie into an obscure, hard to find folder on your Mac, so we'll change it. Finally the third column is the file name. We'll get back to that in a moment.

A second tab on the Settings Pane is labeled Destinations. Just like it sounds, Destinations gives you the ability to create and save places to have Compressor save your file. You can create new Destinations by clicking on the + sign in that pane and editing the parameters in the Inspector pane. In this case, we'll use Completed Projects. Simply drag your Destination to the Setting you applied to your file. Because we can have multiple settings, we can have multiple destinations. Set your batch up accordingly.

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Now that we have our Settings and Destination set up the way we want, the final step is to name the file. Don't adjust the name earlier, as the settings may not stick as you apply settings and destinations. Simply double click on the file name and name it as you want it to turn out. For this example, we'll use Liar, Liar

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Finally hit "Submit." Compressor goes to work. If you  want to see the progress of your project, twirl down the triangle on the topmost entry in the History Pane, and you'll see the progress bar. If you are doing multiple settings, the progress bar is calculated on the total job, not a single preset.

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When it's done, you can set back and enjoy your new movie. I've found Compressor to be quite good at creating compact files with excellent image quality. Once you get used to it more, you can begin to create your own settings, which you can preview in the Preview Window. Experiment to get the best balance of quality and file size.

I hope that helps. Perhaps another time, I'll delve more into creating presets and other goodies.