Having to render any media that does not match the format of the sequence is a problem that has plagued Final Cut Pro versions 1 through 5. With Version 6 (bundled with Final Cut Studio 2, no longer available as a stand-alone application) this problem has gone away. Version 6 of Final Cut Pro introduced the ability to mix video formats on the timeline, a long awaited feature that was the source of lots of teasing from the Avid snobs.
The common wisdom used to be to either shoot all of your media in the same format (easily done with a narrative piece, harder with a documentary with many sources, especially when using archive materials) or converting everything to a common format (using something like QuickTime Pro, Compressor, Visual Hub, or Episode Pro) that matched your sequence settings prior to ingest into Final Cut. Otherwise you found yourself with long painful rendering times for all the media in your timeline that did not match the video format sequence setting. This is no longer good advice. In the fast paced world of digital media, common wisdom has a way of rapidly transforming into bad advice.
Just this morning I put together a DV-16×9-Anamorphic sequence with source material I shot with a a Canon PowerShot TX1 (720/30p, Photo-JPEG), Sony HVR-Z1U (1080/60i, HDV), and Sony PDW-F350 (1080/60i, XDCAM HD), in addition to DV media (480/60i, DV Anamorphic) that matched the sequence settings. Some formats require good unlimited-RT performance (a faster machine) than others, but on the new generation of Macs mixing media formats on the timeline works quite well.
The Photo-JPEG clips showed up with Orange (Unlimited RT playback) along the render bar and while this format might not be played back in real-time without dropping frames, it’s better than having to render to play back. The XDCAM-HD and HDV footage showed up with Green (Real time preview) along the render bar and it played back perfectly without rendering. So you might see some stutter, depending on the format and the system. On my MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) all three “foreign” formats played fine on the DV-Anamorphic timeline. Of course, once you introduce effects like a dissolve and a foreign format, you will have to render for full-frame-rate playback, but I was still able to preview (with some stutter) dissolves between the Photo-JPEG and XDCAM-HD footage on the DV timeline.
If you’ve not yet upgraded to Final Cut Studio 2, what are you waiting for? The upgrade is well worth the $500 (some vendors sell it for as low as $450) upgrade price. And add to that that Final Cut Studio adds Color to the mix, a professional level color grading application that used to sell for way more than the cost of Final Cut Studio, this upgrade is one of the best values ever to come from Apple. Another new feature of 6 worth looking into for high-end work is ProRes, a high quality format which makes a good choice as a mastering format or common format when mixing various video formats. ProRes is a 4:2:2 component format that does not mungh the color of materials originally shot in component formats the way DV and HDV does.
So start mixing media and defy the old wisdom of sticking to a single format. Now that Final Cut Studio 2 has removed the multi-format media editing barriers, you can shoot with whatever digital format you want, shooting each aspect of your project with the camera and format that’s right for that particular shoot, and all your archive and found footage from various sources call all be mixed in with ease. Viva La Difference.
Thanks to Josh Snider for asking me the question that led to writing this post. Many of my blog posts originate as my answer to a question posed to me, so I encourage you, dear reader, to send me your questions.