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Achieving a Rock Solid Final Cut Pro System

Final Cut Pro How to from The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents Achieving a Rock Solid Final Cut Pro System



Jerry HofmannJerry Hofmann
Denver Colorado, USA

©2006 Jerry Hofmann and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
In this Creative COW Magazine article, Jerry Hofmann describes how to set-up a Final Cut Pro system that really works - no matter which version you are running...



As a leader on the Creative Cow FCP forum, I frequently read people who are installing or reinstalling software, hardware and peripherals without any understanding of the outcome of their actions. Often, a little foresight would have saved what a lot of hindsight cannot undo - at least not without wiping the drives and performing a clean install.

For the past five years with literally hundreds of Final Cut Pro stations, I have proven to myself and to co-workers, that what follows is the "Holy Grail" of stability and happiness with Final Cut Pro. If you are just setting out to build a system or you have one that is less than stable, then the following steps will help you to achieve the Final Cut system that will deliver job after job successfully.


SOFTWARE CONSIDERATIONS

Hofmann's Law One: Never install an earlier version of FCP on a later MacOS than the one that your version of FCP was specifically written for. Never. "But, hey," you say, "I really want to be running in Tiger and I'm not ready to upgrade from FCP 2 yet." No problem. Just set-up a dual-boot system. Install the last version of whatever OS your specific version of FCP was written for and run it in that OS.


HARD DRIVES & START-UP

Hofmann's Law Two: Always build your FCP station with a clean system. By clean, I mean erase your old hard drive. If you are going dual-boot, then buy a new drive for your FCP system. With two drives, one can run all your other software on the very latest Mac OS and the other drive can run an older OS to give you an FCP 1, 2, 3 or 4 system that rocks.

It's OK to partition a large drive and put this possible second "system start-up disk" on a partition, but don't use the same physical hard drive you start your computer with for media storage unless it's highly compressed - such as MPEG files or OfflineRT files. Trying to use your boot drive to capture high resolution video to, will be more than your system is capable of and it will lead to dropped frames and other issues.

Contrary to what some users incorrectly state, please remember that FireWire drives work fine as startup disks.

Two or more OS's on a single drive also works great and starting your computer from either OS is easy. Just select "Start-up Disk" from your System Preferences, and choose the "other disk drive" from which to start your computer. See the example in Figure 1 just below.

All you need to do is connect another drive with an OS on it. It will then appear in the dialog box where you can simply select it and restart your Mac in that OS.

You can have as many systems attached to your Mac as partitions and drives in fact. I like keeping at least two system start-up disks: one for the previous version of FCP and the system software on which it's rock solid; the other, for the latest release that I am currently using.

This is especially helpful during an OS migration - say from Panther to Tiger, for example. Once I'm happy and stable (and I was for FCP 5.0.3 running in 10.3.4.), I'm free to erase the other working system or keep the old one until Apple releases a new OS. This old system serves as a back-up NLE, just in case a hard drives dies! Keeping copies of my project files on the older system is another habit I've taken up. It's a safe back-up system on a physically different internal SATA hard drive. Call it "cheap security."

Max OS X Startup Disk
Figure 1

I often read folks who are not happy with FCP when running a newer version of the OS than their version of FCP was written to run on. This is why I suggest running a dedicated system for your video editing system, especially if you aren't running the latest version of Final Cut Pro. There's an article on Apple's support site that's worth a look see, it lists compatible configurations for earlier versions of Final Cut Pro. Read it here: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=24991


MATCHING FCP VERSIONS TO THE BEST OS VERSION

Remember this article is about achieving a rock solid system. In every case that I know of, the most stable set-ups run with the last update to any version of FCP, running on the OS that was then-current for that version of FCP.

For FCP 1, 2 and 3, this really means running a set-up in OS 9.2.2, with QuickTime 5.0.6. Forget OSX on your start-up drive when running these earlier versions.

Final Cut Pro 3.0.2, the last update to FCP 3 for OS 9, runs best on OS 9.2.2 with QuickTime 5.0.6 and is a set-up so stable that it has become legendary in that regard. See http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=75186 for OS 9.2.2, and then just run software update to get to FCP 3.0.2 for OS 9 or download it here: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=122009

Run OS 10.2.8 with FCP 3.0.4 if you must have OS X and FCP 3.0.4 running at the same time. While you can run it, it does not have the extraordinary level of stability that FCP 3.0.4 enjoys under OS 9.2.2. http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=25633

FCP 4 runs best as FCP 4.5 (aka FCP HD) on Panther 10.3.8 if you have a capture card; if you don't, then 10.3.9 is good to go. An FCP HD system runs best in QuickTime 6.5.2. http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=120252

Final Cut Pro 5 runs best in Tiger. 10.4.4 and QuickTime 7.0.3, with FCP 5.0.4 is a very stable set-up. Run all the latest software updates with this system. It is still being tweaked by Apple as of this writing, so check for any new updates. It is likely to remain this way until we see 10.5.

SATA RAID
Figure 2


HARDWARE CONSIDERATIONS

CPU Considerations
Running Final Cut Pro with the fastest Mac you can afford is the way to go. The biggest difference you'll see in performance as you go up in CPU power is rendering time and realtime playback of unrendered effects. The more CPU power you have, the more realtime playback you'll get; also, when you do have to render, your renders will go faster.

A dual G4 isn't going to render as fast as a dual G5. A single G4 will just barely run FCP 5 in fact.

Keep in mind that PowerMacs can be set-up to edit any format of video, whereas a Mac like an iMac will never cut full-resolution HD. An iMac or a portable Mac just isn't expandable enough.

Capture Cards and faster disk arrays cannot be connected to a Mac that has no expansion slots. Not a problem if you don't need to edit in these higher-end formats.

Portables and iMacs that are fast enough to run your version of FCP, work great with DV or HDV, compressed SD formats, and even DVCPRO100 formats. However, they fall short when working in formats you can't capture through a Firewire port, such as uncompressed video and full-resolution High Definition. Via Firewire, you won't be able to capture them at all.

If you intend to edit HD, want to export or capture analog video to other than the DV format, you need to be running a PowerMac.


Monitor/RAM Considerations

Adding a second computer display is also recommended to any hardware set-up. Once you start running more than one program at a time, it's almost mandatory. Apple's suite of software is often what FCP users are installing, and running them all at the same time requires not only a lot of computer, it requires a lot of RAM, also. If you become used to using Motion, After Effects, Final Cut Pro and Photoshop all at the same time, a minimum of 4 gigs of RAM is what your computer should have to keep things happy. 2 Gigs of RAM is plenty if you only intend to run Final Cut Pro.


Storage Considerations

All media should be stored on a drive other than your start-up disk. The reason for this is because it's just too much to ask your start-up disk to run the OS, Final Cut Pro, QuickTime, and read your project file as well as play these enormous media files. It's best to add another drive or a set of drives to your system for this purpose. Keeping these drives set aside to capture and playback video for you will keep dropped-frames to a minimum, and if the drive set-up is fast enough, you'll never see this dreaded condition during playback.

If you want to edit DV, HDV, or even DVCPRO100 material, you only need to add the least expensive storage solutions to your system. Firewire 800 drives striped in a RAID 0 configuration are wonderful with these systems. It's easy to set-up too. Buy two Firewire drives which match each other exactly. Format each of them as Mac OS Extended. Then just open the Disk Utility program found in your Utilities folder in your Applications folder. Click on the "Raid" button in the upper area of the opening dialog box, select the two Firewire drives and drag them to the list box. Format them as a striped RAID set as in Figure 2. All disk drives on your system should be formatted Mac OS Extended, in a RAID situation or not. It's best to reformat a new drive in any event using Apple's Drive Utility.

There are manufacturers which sell very fast Firewire RAID set-ups. I've had terrific luck with the G-Raids sold by G-Tech. Why the RAID? It's because you'll get more realtime playback of multiple streams of video if you can read these files faster.

If you set your sights on editing Uncompressed SD and HD, the requirements for disk drive storage become much more demanding. Remember that the faster the drive set-up, the better in any case, and more streams of video you can play at the same time. It's also a fact that DV files are only 1/5 the size of an uncompressed SD media file, so you need much faster drives to keep your system humming.

For Standard Definition systems that want to work in 10bit uncompressed formats, you'll want to be looking at SCSI 320 arrays for about 3 streams of video, FireWire Arrays (for a single stream only), or fiber channel arrays, which can deliver up to 5 or even 6 streams of uncompressed SD 10 bit streams.

I only recommend that you buy ATTO's SCSI or fibre channel cards for your system at this time. www.attotech.com, unless you buy a turnkey system supplied by the drive manufacturer.

SATA arrays are also usable, however they aren't as fast as the SCSI or the fibre channel solutions. Expect 2-3 streams of video playback from them.

If your intentions are to edit full resolution HD, I recommend using fibre channel arrays. Again, the faster, the better. Dual channel fibre arrays can playback media at 500+mb/second, and you'll be needing this sort of speed if you want to playback more than one stream of uncompressed HD.


Capture Cards & Sync Generators

When you need to capture formats other than what can be captured through Firewire ports, you need to add a capture card to your system. As of this writing, there are four manufacturers of capture devices that work with Final Cut Pro. They are Aurora Video Systems, Blackmagic Design, Convergent Design and AJA. Each of these manufacturers sells cards/devices that serve different purposes and the price ranges from about $700 to about $3,000. The more they cost, the more they do, in most cases. Most can capture compressed video as well as uncompressed video formats. Be aware that different Macs use different cards.

The PCI card slots in your machine will determine the type of card that you can run, except in the case of AJA's IO, which connects to your computer's firewire port.

Regardless of whichever capture card you run, be sure that you are running the drivers that are current for its operating environment. This means if you are running in 10.3 instead of 10.4, there may be specific drivers for your card for each OS variant.

Check the web site of your card's manufacturer for specifics, but many times a problem with your system can be solved by just reinstalling the drivers for your capture card.

I also recommend a syncgenerator for a system which uses capture cards, especially when the source material is analog such as Betacam SP.

Final Cut System Preferences
Figure 3


External Video/Broadcast Monitors

You can't see what you have without an external video monitor connected to your system. End of story. Final Cut Pro's Canvas only shows you about 25% of the actual resolution that you are working with for starters, and the gamma response from computer displays in no way monitors the way that colors will look on a TV set.

Color correction depends on you correcting your video to the format that it will be delivered on. In most cases this means on a TV set. Viewing video externally on a properly set-up video monitor will keep you appraised of any problems you may have with picture quality, color, and even the look of rendered material. Many times they look very different from what you see in FCP's Canvas window. Renders may look great in the Canvas, but on that final tape you'll see artifacts you could have minimized or eradicated had you known it was there in the first place.

It's a must really, and a quality monitor that has a "blue only" switch on it, can be had for less than $1,000 from several manufacturers. Even a TV set is better than nothing.

Final Cut Pro's File Storage
It's really simple:

1. Keep your project file on your startup disk in your User's Documents folder.

2. Setup your scratch disk settings so that you select a drive as your "Scratch Disk". Not a folder you've created, a drive. Final Cut takes care of all of the sorting of different project's media files, captured or rendered, putting them in folders that are automatically created and named the same as your project file, so why fight it?

3. Put your Waveform Cache, Thumbnail Cache, and Autosave Vault also in your Documents folder. These files are accessed much more rarely than your media, so keep them away from your media disks for the best performance.

(See Figure 3)



Keeping Your FCP Super System, Super!

Depending on usage, rebuild your startup disk and reload your applications at least every 6-9 months. Yeah, you read right. Rebuild it with consistency. The reason for this is pretty simple. Files get corrupted over time. Small bits of information in your OS or QuickTime, or even Final Cut Pro get changed for whatever reason (updates come to mind), and slowly but surely, your stability wanes. If stability isn't waning, I'll wager that speed is.

It amazes me just how much faster my system seems to be when it's freshly reloaded. At the school I teach at part time, we have several users on many computers. Each semester, the IT department completely rebuilds the startup disks in these many machines, and I must say we enjoy tremendous stability in all of our labs at the Colorado Film School, and have for years. I'm quite certain it's because we are rebuilding these very busy machines every 4 months.


The Last Word...

There's an old adage that you should be living by too. Don't be the first on your block to run a software update for the OS, FCP, or QuickTime, before you ask about it at the COW! There are users there that try it first, and report back with findings good or bad, and it's best to save yourself a lot of headache if you let these brave souls try things first. Hey, if it's not broken, don't "fix" it.


Jerry Hofmann Jerry Hofmann is the author of the New Riders book, "Jerry Hofmann on Final Cut Pro." He is also a noted speaker at seminars around the country and is a longtime leader in Creative Cow's Final Cut Pro forum. Jerry also teaches at the Colorado Film School and is arguably one of the most knowledgeable guys on the planet when it comes to FCP.



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Comments

best QuickTime version for...
by chris gorman
I'm running OSX.4.11, QuickTime 7.5.5 and fcp 6.0.5.

I'm doing a reinstall and just the essential updates. What do you think is the best QT version for me? QT 7.6.4 is suggested by the "updater", but I won't do it unless it's better for my setup.
quite informative
by Sacha Thomas
Thanks for the overview. It is concise and informative!
Achieving a Rock Solid Final Cut Pro System
by Jerry Hofmann
Good to hear from you Richard!

It all still stands I think... just newer versions of the software have come and gone since I wrote this, but much is the same.

Jerry
Achieving a Rock Solid Final Cut Pro System
by Richard Clark
Hi jerry, I have been editing on FCP since version one, a B/W G3 which I still have. Now I am on a Quad with brand new G-Tech HD's, FCPStudio, the whole thing rocks. The article you wrote still appears to me, the best one to date, the simplest. It has helped me get back to a simple solid basic system. My only bug with FCP is, and always has been, media. I only just "got it" from re-reading your article. Allowing FCP to dictate media management. Do you have any more articles on this subject or do you think that what you have written still stands? I am editing two years of American West Footage, shot 2004/2005. It is MiniDV, DVCam, HDDV. All NTSC even though I am in NZ. I am simply importing DV NTSC, that is for a basic off line edit. Makes s ense to me, many thanks for a great article.


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