It Ain’t the Endian of the World

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the June, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

In the category of “there’s always something more to learn,” I was conducting a webinar on video compression last Wednesday when I was struck by something that didn’t make sense.

When creating an uncompressed audio file – whether WAV or AIF – we have the option of making it “Little Endian” or “Not-Little-Endian.” The not-Little-Endian format is called “Big Endian,” though you would not know that from the checkbox.

As I was rehearsing for the presentation, I was working on a G-5 computer, and got the screen you see below.

Then, when I was presenting on my MacBook Pro, I got a different screen. Notice the checkbox for Little Endian — both of these screens display the default settings for their respective CPUs.

After the presentation, I was troubled by the different screens and wanted to be sure the information I was giving was accurate. So, I contacted some friends at Apple who are paid to know about these things and asked: “Whether Final Cut Pro prefers Big Endian or Little Endian audio for versions 6 or later.”

Here’s the response I got from Apple.

PowerPC computers create Big Endian files. Intel/Mac computers create Little Endian files. From Final Cut’s point of view, it really doesn’t matter. Not even in terms of a “preference.” The conversion from big to little endian is far below the noise level of performance compared to the actual read from disk.


Internally, we use the native endian-ness of the machine upon which we are running (big for PowerPC, little for Intel), of course, but that’s internally (i.e. once files have been read and we are processing data in the audio engine).


From a file-reading perspective though, as long as the file is legally and properly annotated, we do not care whether it is big or little endian.

Cool. In other words, if you are creating files on a Power PC, uncheck Little Endian. If you are working on an Intel/Mac, check Little Endian. Both of these settings should be the default for your system. And add another piece of trivia to the pile. Thanks, Apple!


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