Compressor 4 review
Pros: Interface unchanged; Qmaster integration now handled under FCP X Share menu; supports 32-bit QuickTime plug-ins; close integration with FCP X; HTTP Live encoding
Cons: No visual unity with the updated Final Cut Pro and Motion apps; not fully 64-bit; App purchase now required for 64-bit rendering
Visually unchanged since 2007, this new version of Compressor features some significant updates under the bonnet. While it lacks the dark, smoky look of Final Cut Pro X (FCP X), and you now must purchase it separately, this app retains much of the legacy codec support that FCP X sorely lacks.
HTTP Live encoding
One of the greatest benefits of Compressor 4 is the addition of HTTP Live encoding, which offers a full set of files encoded for the gamut of desktop and mobile devices.
Compressor offers six pre-configured options: Broadband at 5Mbps and 2.5Mbps, WiFi High/Low at 1.25Mbps and 750Kbps, and Cellular High/Low at 500Kbps and 220Kbps. This HTTP Live stream offers the added advantage of moving freely without being blocked as often by firewalls or proxy servers in the same manner as a typical download would be. Typical video streaming methods may fail to work when behind certain firewalls or proxy servers if sockets required by the stream are blocked. HTTP Live Streaming is immune to this problem because it uses port 80 over the HTTP protocol, just like a standard web page.
Compressor features tight integration with FCP X. Existing format conversion capabilities, and the ability to import Compressor 3 settings, will benefit anyone making the transition
Still a 32-bit app
The seamless integration with FCP X lets a majority of users access the power of multi-core or multi-machine compression and transcoding directly, without having to launch Compressor. In addition, Compressor 4 offers accelerated 64-bit processing of codecs like ProRes and H.264, but maintains legacy support for older 32-bit codecs still in use.
Complex rendering benefits from a 64-bit application, as more of the processing can be handled within the memory buffer at one time. Exporting directly from within FCP X uses 64-bit processing to handle rendering of complex video and audio, while the encoding is handled at 32-bit. Why did Apple do this? Because simply making Compressor a 64-bit application would not solve the problem of codecs that are optimised for 32-bit, or which are not multi-threaded. In not making Compressor 64-bit, Apple preserves the program’s compatibility with a wide range of current third-party 32-bit QuickTime codecs.
Apple sees 32-bit encoding as a conduit for many of the professional workflows that are not yet supported in the new version of FCP X, and it gives users the ability to continue migrating between previously existing formats or file types to those that are more useable within FCP X.
Most third-party plug-ins will require an update to work with the new processing engine, but Apple has begun to take steps to ensure that updates from current developers will allow Compressor to operate smoothly, including the ability to access hardware-based compression acceleration like the Matrox CompressHD.
Under the new FCP X Share menu, common encoding workflows, as well as any custom settings created in Compressor 4, are now directly accessible from the timeline.
The HD DVD format is no longer supported as of this release. You’ll need to set up separate encoding pipelines if you plan to use FCP X alongside the previous Final Cut Studio. If you’re encoding clusters for Compressor 4 and FCP X, make sure that you have Compressor 4 loaded on each machine in the cluster. Apple recommends that you stay with Compressor 3.5 clusters if you’re going to continue working with Final Cut Studio, but to use Compressor 4 if you plan to work with FCP X and Motion 5.
Seemingly unchanged on the outside, the core of Apple’s newest release of Compressor 4 reveals a robust workflow that’s completely integrated within FCP X. As an upgrade, it’s better than average, though not stellar. That said, it facilitates direct access within FCP X to the power of Compressor’s rendering engine along with advanced customisation capabilities. Though you must make an additional purchase to get the two things professional video editors need – advanced setting controls and multi-machine rendering – for the modest price, you get advanced power with a minimalist toolset. Now, can we get it with the darker unified interface that fits in with FCP X and Motion 5?