Capturing Video and Audio

Finally: how do you get video and audio into and out of FCP?

DV over FireWire

If you have a Mac running FCP HD, and a DV-format deck with FireWire, you're all set: FCP supports all flavors of DV (DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO50, and DVCPROHD) captured and played back over FireWire. Plug a FireWire cable between deck and Mac, select the appropriate capture preset in FCP, and (if necessary) set the deck up for FireWire transfer, and you're good to go. (See your deck's manual; DVCPRO machines may require menu manipulation to "talk FireWire.")

The DV datastream is copied across FireWire in its native form, without decompression. What you get on disk is the same as what was written to tape (unless you choose to capture to OfflineRT format; FCP can transcode DV25 to OfflineRT, a Photo-JPEG format, which saves you eight times the space).

FCP can extract 24p Advanced pulldown (2:3:3:2) material on the fly when you use FireWire transfer, resulting in 23.98 Hz clips ready to use in a 23.98 timeline.

FireWire DV Converters

Many vendors offer converters/transcoders that plug into FireWire, converting from DV25 on the FireWire side of the box to standard-definition analog composite, Y/C, component, or SDI on the other side. These boxes let you capture all manner of video formats into FCP, as long as you don't mind using DV25 as your editing format. Sony built the first such converters, but they've been discontinued (and supported NTSC only).

The Canopus ADVC100 is a typical example. It offers composite and Y/C video I/O as well as locked stereo audio on RCAs. It's switchable between NTSC and PAL formats and even lets you add and remove 7.5 IRE setup in the analog domain.

As you move up the spectrum, DV converters add component and SDI connections, XLR analog audio, AES/EBU digital audio, and even built-in timebase correction and proc amp controls for massaging incoming analog signals. Canopus, Datavideo, Laird Telemedia, Miglia, Miranda, Promax, Sweet Pea Communications, and others build them.


Apple made changes in the FireWire on the 2004 G5s that may be incompatible with the FireWire implementations in some early-model DV cameras and DV converters. If a camera or converter doesn't work with a new G5, try it on an older Mac, and try a different DV device on the G5, before assuming something is wrong with the FireWire port on either the Mac or the DV device.


Many DV camcorders and decks can transcode between analog inputs and FireWire outputs on the fly, although you may have to dig through the machine's menus to enable this feature. You can use such decks as analog-to-DV converters if you don't wish to buy a separate converter box.

FireWire Uncompressed Converters

AJA Video Systems builds several converters under the Io label that interface standard-definition analog and/or digital video, audio, genlock, and RS-422 control to Macs over FireWire, using an uncompressed video codec co-developed with Apple.

FireWire's 320 Megabit/second isochronous bandwidth has plenty of room for uncompressed video's 270 Megabits/second as well as eight channels of audio, timecode, genlock, and RS-422 control, so these boxes let you capture any format of SD, uncompressed, without having to open up your Mac and use up a precious PCI slot for a capture card.

HDV Over FireWire

Final Cut Pro 5 supports HDV capture and playback over FireWire in both a native HDV mode and a transcoding mode.

In native mode, operations are the same as with DV: you can log clips by timecode and batch capture them or use "Capture Now." After editing your show, you can print to video, recording the timeline to HDV tape.

In transcoding mode, the HDV datastream is copied across FireWire in its native form and transcoded on the fly to the Apple Intermediate Codec, a low-loss, I-frame-only codec designed to optimize responsiveness on the HD timeline while preserving quality.

When you choose the intermediate codec for captures, however, FCP 5 offers only a simple tape-naming dialog instead of the Log and Capture window; you capture the tape in a single pass, and FCP breaks the tape into scene-based clips as it captures. Future versions of FCP may offer a more smoothly-integrated Intermediate Codec workflow.

After editing, FCP renders the timeline back to HDV's highly compressed MPEG-2 before sending it back out to FireWire when you print to video.

The choice of workflow is yours: using the Intermediate Codec is a bit less convenient, but provides better multi-generation performance if you bounce clips between FCP and Motion, Shake, Combustion, or After Effects. Using the HDV-native workflow offers a more seamless editing experience (FCP's native HDV implementation is superb and responsive) and its rendering quality is very good.

Of course, you can also capture via FireWire using either codec, and edit HDV material into a DVCPROHD or uncompressed HD timeline.

PCI Cards

PCI cards plug into the internal expansion bus of your Mac and provide analog and/or digital I/O, RS-422 control, and genlock as required. Most provide capture to uncompressed codecs as well as one or more compressed formats (a DV format or a Photo-JPEG format, usually). Some provide hardware acceleration of simple effects and some filters.

PCI cards vary in their bus speeds (33, 66, 100, or 133 MHz) and PCI-X compatibility. PCI-X, used in the newest G5s, gives the best performance.

Most PCI cards have more I/O options than the back-panel slot allows. They usually ship with hydra-headed adapter cables running from the high-density connector(s) on the card to a handful of BNCs, XLRs, RCAs, Y/C jacks, and the like. These cables are certainly sufficient to wire up the system, but they're not especially convenient if you need to rewire things.

An extra-cost option to deal with the connector problem is the break-out box (BOB), a tabletop or rack-mounted box with all the necessary connections. BOBs make rewiring the system a lot easier; they're like the back panel of a VTR with all the jacks neatly lined up and labeled. Each card has its own BOB (or selection of BOBs) along with the necessary card-to-BOB cable; BOBs aren't interchangeable between different brands or models of cards.

Here's a list of recent PCI card offerings, in alphabetical order by vendor. It's fairly correct as of press time, but ask your supplier or go on the Web for current information. Prices and features vary considerably and change from time to time as hardware gets modified and software gets updated.

AJA Video Systems

AJA ( offers two PCI cards in addition to the Io series of FireWire interfaces: Kona LS and Kona 2.

Kona LS supports 10-bit SDI, as well as component, composite, and S-Video I/O with 12-bit A/D. It handles DV25 and DV50 playback as well as playback and capture of both uncompressed and JPEG-compressed video, and it supports 3:2 pulldown removal and insertion for 24p material.

Kona 2 supports 10-bit SDI, HD-SDI, and dual-link HD-SDI for 10- or 12-bit 4:4:4 HD, It also provides SD-to-HD upconversion, HD-to-SD downconversion, analog component outputs, and DVCPROHD hardware acceleration. Kona 2 includes a hardware-based "Qrez" 4:1 compressed codec in addition to uncompressed capture, and hardware acceleration of DVCPROHD timelines, allowing more real-time effects than would otherwise be the case.

Both Konas have BOBs available for easier connectivity.

Kona cards allow the video outputs to be used as desktop extensions outside of FCP, so you can (for example) work in Photoshop or After Effects and see the results directly on a video monitor.

Aurora Video Systems

Aurora's IgniterX cards ( start off with SD capture and playback of composite and Y/C SD video, along with unbalanced audio. Upgrades or options allow for component, SDI, AES/EBU audio, LTC I/O, genlock, RS-422, and 24 fps support (2:3 pulldown removal and insertion).

Igniters work with uncompressed video, or use MPEG-A codecs for compressed video.

Aurora's newer Pipe series starts off with Pipe: a composite and Y/C I/O card with 8-bit capture and playback, unbalanced audio, and genlock. PipeSDI is a digital-only card: 10-bit SDI and AES/EBU, plus RS-422 control. PipePRO adds 10-bit analog outputs (composite, Y/C, component, and audio) to 10-bit digital I/O, and PipeHD provides 10-bit HD-SDI I/O with downconverted analog monitoring.

Pipe cards capture and play back uncompressed only.

Blackmagic Design

DeckLink cards from Blackmagic Design ( range from analog component-only (DeckLink SP) or 10-bit digital-only (Decklink) cards, to digital cards with analog monitoring (DeckLink Pro) or analog and digital I/O both (DeckLink Extreme).

For HD work, there's the 10-bit DeckLink HD with SDI in either SD or HD; the DeckLink HD Plus, adding genlock and separate AES audio I/O; and the 12-bit DeckLink HD Pro, which adds 14-bit analog monitoring and dual-link HD-SDI capability.

All the DeckLinks support several real-time filters and transitions, including cross dissolve, proc amp, and the 3-way color corrector. They provide a video desktop function like the AJAs do, play out DV files directly (without real-time effects), provide RS-422 control, and supply SDI sync: no genlock required.

DeckLinks have 8- and 10-bit uncompressed codecs.

Digital Voodoo

The SD line from Digital Voodoo ( includes the FCP HD-compatible SD|Flex, with 10-bit processing and the full complement of analog (composite, Y/C, and component) and digital I/Os.

Flex includes video desktop capability and real-time acceleration of the 3-way color corrector, dissolves, and several other filters.

The SD-Edit is an SDI output-only card (not every editing system needs ingest capabilities, especially with the shared-storage options discussed in Lesson 9), whereas the 64RT has SDI input and output.

Digital Voodoo's HD cards start with the HD|Fury with HD-SDI I/O, real-time downconversion to SD, and eight channels of AES audio. The HD|Vengeance adds dual HD outputs and dual-link capability.

Digital Voodoo also has two output-only HD cards. The HD|Iridium outputs HD only (no SD downconversion) in single- or dual-link formats, while the HD|IridiumXP adds the real-time downconverter.

The Digital Voodoo cards work with uncompressed as well as Photo-JPEG codecs. They work in either RGB or YUV modes with hardware colorspace conversion. They also include nifty features like onboard keyers for superimposing graphics on live video, or outputting a key signalbut FCP doesn't support these added capabilities.


The RTMac from Matrox ( is a unique card built around a hardware DV25 codec. Analog composite and Y/C video and unbalanced audio I/O are converted to DV25 and edited like any other DV source; it's like having a DV converter box on a card instead of dangling off of FireWire. The RTMac also accelerates a variety of dissolves, wipes, and motion effects in hardware, and it provides a VGA-compatible second monitor output, too, so you can connect another computer monitor and extend your desktop. RTMac comes with its own BOB.

The RTMac supports FCP 3 and FCP 4 through 4.1, but FCP HD is not supported and development of the Matrox drivers has been discontinued.

RTMacs capture to and play back DV25 video.

Pinnacle Systems

CinéWave from Pinnacle Systems ( is a hardware-accelerated video engine of considerable flexibility. Depending on the break-out box(es) you get, you can deal with analog video and audio in all its varieties (Pro Analog), 10-bit SDI with embedded audio (Pro Digital), SDI I/O with separate AES/EBU audio and analog monitoring (Pro Digital Plus), full analog and digital I/O (Pro Digital and Analog), and HD-SDI with embedded audio (Pro HD Digital). These BOBs can be mixed and matched at any time.

CinéWave lets you play out DV25, DV50, uncompressed, Photo-JPEG, LiveType, and RGBA clips in the same Timeline without rendering. It offers simultaneous SD and HD outputs, upconverting or downconverting as required. You can capture HD to the DVCPROHD codec. Real-time 2:3 pulldown removal and insertion are provided for 24p material.

CinéWave has both 8- and 16-bit uncompressed codecs as well as its own CinéOffline compressed codec, DVCPROHD capture capability, and support for playback of multiple codecs.

More Info

Have a look at Video Basics and Equipment, Volume 1, Chapter 2 of Final Cut Pro Help. The FCP team did a great job on the book that ships free with every copy of the program.

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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