[ This article was first published in the November, 2007, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]
A codec (video compressor/decompressor) is at the heart of non-linear video. It compresses the video to meet the specific needs of a camera, editing system, or playback device.
There is no one “best” codec, just as there is no one “best” camera — each is designed to meet different needs. However, codecs these days seem to be proliferating like rabbits. And, sometimes, you can’t tell your players without a program (to badly mangle an old baseball joke).
This was brought home by a question Steve Denn, from WJBK in Detroit, asked:
My question is about using the Animation CODEC. Our Art Department uses the Animation CODEC for everything we use. It has proven to be the cleanest looking CODEC for our 720X486 videos.
Now that we are moving into the big world of HD they made us an Open that is 1280 x 720 30 fps, using the Animation CODEC. I matched the sequence to the clip. It plays fine in the Canvas and displays on our 30-inch HD Samsung monitor via AJA’s breakout box, but as a still image only. So I posted my question and got a response back from Philip Hodgetts, who wrote:
Use a codec FCP likes. Animation and Video are not all I-frame and will never play successfully in an FCP timeline even if the settings match. DVCPRO HD, ProRes 422, Uncompressed or Photo-JPEG will work. Animation, Cinepac, Video et al will not work and require rendering before playback.
So what do I do?
Larry replies: Philip is correct. Some codecs are designed for data transfer at high quality, such as the Animation codec, while others are designed for real-time playback, such as ProRes 422 or Uncompressed video.
The easiest workflow for your organization is to have the art department continue creating materials using the Animation codec. It has great quality, and a known workflow. Then, bring those Animation files into Final Cut and edit them to a ProRes 422 timeline. This workflow means that your art department doesn’t need to do anything new, while ProRes provides you with real-time playback and great quality.
You’ll need to experiment to decide whether you prefer the look of ProRes 422 or ProRes 422 HQ. My suspicion is that ProRes 422 will be sufficient.
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