Selecting Hardware

Selecting hardware for online and offline projects involves many factors, including budget, convenience, and flexibility. When you make any choices about hardware, take into account the other components in the system to avoid conflicts. A helpful reseller can make the difference between a smooth and rough first day, so choose your supplier based not only on price but also support and experience.


Selecting your computer setup is relatively straightforward. Basically, when it comes to speed and RAM, the more you have, the greater the power and flexibility. Final Cut Pro is amazingly flexible, and it can run on a variety of CPU and laptop configurations. You can find the current minimum system requirements for Final Cut Pro on the Apple Web site ( However, if you want an optimal system, you must go beyond the minimum requirements. Generally the computer equation depends on your needs: project size + media codec + media storage + additional components + portability + budget = correct choice.

For the offline workflow of The Magic Hour project, the media codec was within the low data rate range, the storage requirements were modest (under a terabyte), it did not require capture cards, and it involved editing while traveling. The decision: laptop.

Project Size and Capture Codec

Workflow Type

Computer Options

Short or small section of long project; low data rates and bandwidth


PowerBook G4[*]
Power Mac G4 w/min.
FCP setup
Power Mac G5 w/min.
FCP setup

Mid-length; low data rates and bandwidth


Power Mac G5 w/min setup

Large; low to medium data rates and bandwidth

Offline and some online projects

Power Mac G5[**] w/extra RAM

Large; high data rates and bandwidth

Offline and any online project

Power Mac G5 w/Fibre and video cards and extra RAM

[*] A laptop offers no expandability, but it allows portability.

[**] The G5 can be expanded with additional drives, external FireWire, RAID, and SAN.

  • Laptop Laptops are great for field editing and mobile presentations. And they can be fantastic for more than just mobile editing stations. When they're not on the road, the post-production team can utilize a laptop for everything from creating graphics and titles to logging and organizing. As a stand-alone system, a small project can often work well on a laptop, but the scalability is limited. Laptops provide tremendous portability but may not provide enough options for every project.

  • Desktop Desktop machines are the workhorse machines for Final Cut Pro. With a desktop machine, you can increase your edit suite options and upgrade internal components as your project requirements grow. Generally, desktop machines are more powerful and expandable than laptops although not nearly as portable.

If you're working on a small offline workflow project with a tight budget, a single desktop computer with minimum Final Cut Pro requirements is the way to go. If you're working on a large project, beginning with an offline workflow and finishing with an online resolution, a higher-end system will be the best option. An offline workflow project that requires a team of editors working on individual components of a larger project might consider multiple Power Mac G5s with extra RAM. If the same team of editors needed simultaneous access to their media, they could install the necessary cards and components to run Xsan.

Apple offers many configurations. Because you can interchange hardware components, like upgrading the video card, increasing the factory installed RAM, and installing Fibre cards, in many ways your decision boils down to how much computer horsepower you need for a given set of project parameters. Keep in mind that more is better when it comes to computer systems, so always aim for a little more power than you anticipate needing.

Selecting a Picture and Sound I/O Device

Adding a video card to your system will provide additional video horsepower within Final Cut Pro and let you connect to external devices such as monitors, tape decks, and serial control cables. Generally, the input/output (I/O) device, whether external or internal, is dictated by your project workflow and deck interface. Offline workflows will often use external I/O devices connecting via a basic FireWire device and capturing lower data rates; online workflows regularly use internal video cards that enable the capture of uncompressed 8-bit and 10-bit SD and HD through a professional deck. An exception to the external I/O for offline and internal I/O for online norm is AJA's ( I/O FireWire interfaces, which allow online workflow projects the option of capturing D1 10-bit uncompressed video without the need for an internal video card.

For offline workflows or simple projects with straightforward capture and common effects, an external I/O device is usually ample. However, if your project is using an online workflow, and you plan to use a large number of effects, consider a powerful internal card to make your render times shorter.

  • External I/O device You can use a number of external devices to capture picture from a variety of sources. An example of a common external I/O device is a DV camera or deck controlled over FireWire. Although an internal device doesn't require additional hardware for capture or machine control, currently there are few I/O devices capable of delivering uncompressed video through a FireWire interface. External I/O devices are best suited to offline workflows with the exception of AJA's I/O FireWire interface. (See Lesson 8 for technical details.)

  • Internal video card The benefit of an internal video card is that it lets you capture both analog and digital SD or HD (depending on the capture card), with genlock and RS-422 control. Internal capture cards interface with most professional decks, and although an internal video card requires some initial configuration, most provide capture to uncompressed 8-bit and 10-bit codecs in addition to several compressed formats. Some manufacturers also provide hardware acceleration of the most common effects and filters, alleviating some of the CPU render burden. (See the PCI cards section in Lesson 8 for more information.)


Genlock is short for generator locking device, and it is also referred to as blackburst. In simple terms, it's a composite signal, commonly containing black video that allows the synchronization of two video signals so that the chroma levels in your video remain consistent and stable.

RS-422 is a serial connector commonly used by professional decks for timecode and control.

DeckLink high definition capture card

The most important factors for choosing external/internal devices are your project workflow and deck interface requirements. An online workflow can benefit greatly from an internal card, especially one that can handle some of the render processing. The Apple Web site lists a number of qualified devices, and the Apple support pages ( contain pertinent information on compatible I/O devices.

Selecting a VTR or Video Deck

Your VTR (videotape recorder) will likely follow your picture acquisition format in a video online workflow or the picture transfer format in an offline workflow. For example, the online New England Aquarium project was shot with a Panasonic Varicam camera and captured via a Panasonic AJ-HD1200A deck. The Cohen brothers' film Intolerable Cruelty was shot on film and transferred to HD 24p then down converted to DVCAM for the offline ingest via a DVCAM deck.

There are a variety of decks and a wide range of functionality for each format, so check all the options and models prior to making your final decision. (See the video recording formats section in Lesson 7 for more information.) Occasionally a small, low-budget DV project will use the shooting camera itself as a tape deck to capture media. However, you should avoid using video cameras as a deck since they aren't designed for the wear and tear of constantly shuttling and playing back. If you do use the camera as your capture device, you can limit the wear and tear on the heads by either capturing the entire tape or by using Capture Now in Final Cut Pro. On professional projects, you should use a professional VTR to capture your media.

  • Video camera For short DV projects, you can use the video camera to shoot and capture material, but make sure you minimize the wear and tear on the record heads by limiting unnecessary shuttling of the tape.

  • FireWire controlled VTR Many VTR decks allow deck control over FireWire. A VTR controlled over FireWire is specifically designed to be used as a capture device. Using a FireWire-controlled VTR is always a better option than capturing via a camera because the components are more robust. For longer projects or for future investment, try to opt for the professional models, which are intended for the rigors of constant use.

  • Serial controlled VTR Editors use a serial controlled VTR in professional environments. Many allow genlock, component, balanced audio input/output, and greater signal stability. Because there is no latency in the serial bus (because you use timecode to sync the deck to the computer), these decks are also more responsive. The sync control is delivered through a serial port called RS-422, which connects your computer to the deck. If you are using an internal video card, chances are it comes with the serial port adapter. If not, you will need to purchase a high-speed USB serial adapter. (See the machine control section in Lesson 8 for more information.) Depending on the deck model, you will discover a number of options, such as large timecode display, audio meters, and controls to adjust audio input and output. Professional serial controlled decks have many technical benefits (see the section on capturing video and audio in Lesson 8 for more information); in addition, they generally offer greater performance and reliability.

Usually the deck format will be predicated by your picture acquisition or transfer format and budget. However, within one category you'll find many deck models with options ranging from basic to advanced. Since the Cohen Brothers transferred the raw footage of Intolerable Cruelty to DVCAM, they could have captured their footage via a basic Sony DSR-11 deck with minimal deck options. However, if they needed additional options such as an LCD monitor for viewing content directly on the deck face panel, audio levels, and RS-422 control, they could have opted for the Sony DSR-45.

Sony DSR-11 DVCAM deck

Sony DSR-45 DVCAM deck

Regardless of workflow, a professional deck is robust and technically superior to using a camera or a consumer/prosumer deck. If you can't afford a professional deck for your project, consider renting one for capture ingest and output of your project.

Selecting a Playback Monitor

Most projects use a mix of monitors for playback. You can choose from a wide variety of devices for flexibility and performance. A small, low-budget project may use a consumer TVwhich is readily available and generally less expensive than the professional equivalentfor viewing cuts. Offline and online workflow projects benefit from using professional reference monitors because the color calibration between Final Cut Pro and external venues is important. Let's assume for stylistic reasons you decide to saturate the blue tones in your clips, and you base your color decisions on a consumer uncalibrated TV monitor. If the screening venue for your edit is professionally calibrated, you may discover that your saturated blues on the consumer TV are flat and drab at the screening venue. Monitor calibration is important to ensure that the colors you see when viewing and correcting your project are the same colors that your audience will see when they view the final product.

The same output can look strikingly different on different displays, so you need to understand the technical specifications for color variance of the monitor you choose. (See the sections on monitoring environment and setting up a video monitor in Lesson 8 for more information.)

  • Consumer TV A plain old TV can be a great addition to any cutting room, especially during the offline process. TVs are cheap and often help you look at your material through the eyes of your final audience. However, a consumer TV is not color-accurate and should not be used as your final color reference.

  • Professional reference monitor Professional monitors are more expensive but much more accurate. They range in options from standard to advanced. Standard professional monitors allow basic color calibration options such as hue and contrast, which allow you to perform rough calibration using SMPTE video bars. The more advanced professional monitors are accurately calibrated via various bias and gain components using a probe. You should always view your material on an accurately calibrated professional reference monitor for color correction or prior to duplication or broadcast.

    Sony BVM-14H5U broadcast multiformat monitor

  • LCD display An LCD display provides a sharp, rich-colored image from your computer. You can't connect an LCD display to a VTR though, so they are limited to playback from within Final Cut Pro using Digital Cinema Desktop. An LCD display is not as accurate in color or quality as a professional reference monitor, so again check your final output prior to color correction, duplication, or broadcast.

  • Plasma screen A plasma screen provides a spectacular image on a large surface. Currently, plasma displays are costly, but they tend to have a high contrast ratio that mimics the look of film quite well, making them a good option for a film project.

  • Video projector Video projectors are available in a range of sizes and costs. In a controlled environment, like a darkened room, a video projector provides a large image for many people to view. In general, the more money you spend, the greater the brightness and sharpness. Because all new Macs can output DVI (Digital Video Interface), they are convenient. Again, as with any uncalibrated device, projectors should not be the basis for a color correction.

In most cases, choose a playback monitor that mimics your material as closely as possible. A professional, calibrated monitor is probably going to be your best choice. Keep in mind that the gamma response of each of the displays we listed varies significantly. (See the section on measurement and control in Lesson 8 for more information.)

You might also consider your final output. If, for example, you are cutting a film, you might use a plasma display because it can replicate the look of film quite well. However, if you're cutting a documentary destined for video, and your budget is tight, you may choose a consumer TV for the offline workflow phase. Whenever you're considering a consumer playback monitorwhether it's a TV, video projector, or plasma displayremember to perform only temporary color corrections, because the choices you make while using an uncalibrated device may not be accurate. Prior to completing a project, allow time for final color corrections using a professionally calibrated monitor as your reference.

Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Year: 2004
Pages: 205 © 2008-2017.
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