FCP 7: Tips for Successful On-lining (From Offline to Online)

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in “Larry’s FCP Newsletter.” Click here to subscribe.
May 2, 2004, Feb. and April, 2005, and January, 2006, with reader comments at the end. ]

Media Manager is a quagmire that can trap the unwary. It is way beyond the scope of this short article to explain all the tricks of Media Manager.

However, if you want to take an existing project that uses footage captured at low resolution to save disk space and up-res it to improve video quality, here are some tricks that will make it a whole lot easier.

Update note: Always capture audio at the highest possible quality. In comparison to video, audio files are small and there is no benefit to capturing a low-resolution version of your audio.

Also, when capturing audio, avoid using these audio formats (since discontinued in FCP 5):

Final Cut HD always imports two, and only two, audio channels. FCP 5 allows capturing up to 24 audio channels. Using these three settings gives very weird results — as I have discovered to my dismay.

Use “Ch 1 + Ch 2” when bringing in dual channel mono audio. For stereo files, use the “Stereo” option.

I have discovered that Final Cut HD does not reliably create a perfect copy of sequences when on-lining. It is often off by a frame either way. (Apple tells me this has been fixed in FCP 5.)

Most times, being off by a frame may not cause you a problem. However, if you need to make sure your on-line is frame-identical to your off-line, here is what you need to do.

  1. Create a flash frame in your off-line sequence 2 seconds before the start of program. One frame of bars works great for this.
  2. Export a low-res version of your timeline that you can use for comparison. Go to File > Export > Quicktime Movie.
  3. Uncheck “Make Movie Self-contained,” because you are the only person who will be using this movie.
  4. Follow all the steps below to create your on-line master. It is critical that you provide at least 1:00 of handles on recapture.
  5. When your on-line version is complete, import the off-line movie you made in step 2 into the Browser. Do NOT add it to the Timeline.
  6. Open the off-line movie in the Viewer.
  7. Position the Playhead in the Viewer on the flash frame you created in step 1.
  8. Position the Playhead in the Timeline on the same flash frame in the high-res version.
  9. With both Playheads positioned on the same frame (one in the low resolution movie in the Viewer and the other in the high resolution movie in the Timeline), go to the middle pop-up menu in either the Viewer or the Canvas and select, “Gang.” (This menu changed in FCP 5, but you still select “Gang.”)
  10. Click the Timeline to make it active.
  11. Now, using the up and down arrow keys, move from one edit point to the next (actually, it’s from In to In) and make sure your shots match. As long as the gang is in effect, you’ll be able to jump anywhere in the Timeline and have the Viewer keep perfect sync.

I’ve used this technique to precisely compare shots in a number of critical on-lines and it’s worked perfectly every time.

Here are the steps to improve your on-lining success:

This is the SECOND most important step:

When you are done capturing the first tape, test the clips in your sequence to make sure they are playing OK and that in’s and out’s seem correct. If everything is working as you expect, capture the rest of your tapes for that sequence.

The reason for selecting “Make Sequence Clips Independent” is that it prevents Media Manager from capturing material that is not in your sequence (i.e. your original captures). This significantly reduces file size.

The reason for unlinking audio and video is that way, Final Cut won’t be tempted to capture material you don’t need. (For a better explanation, see the update below.)

The reason for setting all Ins and Out’s to “not set,” is that Batch Capture will then just capture the length of the clip in the timeline, plus handles. This, also, reduces the amount of excess, unneeded material that is captured.


After reading this article, Feb. 2005, Rick Lavon wrote:

I was mainly an Avid editor until a few months ago when I talked my bosses into switching to a FCP station after getting frustrated with Avid business & sales practices. I had used FCP at home and for small projects. Now I am using it on a daily basis for full-blown shows for broadcast and news features and loving it.


My question is about using Media Manager (MM) as laid out in your article on your website. I am trying to do a hi-rez version of an offline project. I followed your guidelines and still came up with issues. Mainly, I create a new project in MM using your settings. I get a bin full of offline master clips. I try and capture them. I get a message saying there are duplicate files with the same name. I skip them, even though it seems like it is listing every clip as having a duplicate. I even delete the offline sequence. Same thing. Anyway, I try and digitize from one tape, 5 clips. They all show up with the same duplicate file box message. I capture them anyway. Of the 5 clips, all show up in my sequence as captured. But in my bin on 2 of the 5 show up as redigitized. Three still are “offline” even thought they are in the sequence. Is this weird or what? Do you have any suggestions?…


As an alternative, could you use a trick I did from my Avid days, where if you were clever and organized enough, all your off-line files reside on one drive, You then unmount it from the desktop, restart FCP, they show up as offline, and then you recapture at a higher rez to another drive. You then trash the files on the other drive when you remount it.

Larry replies: Rick, the reason you are having problems is due to those “duplicate” files. They aren’t actually duplicates. When you unlink a sequence of clips, you are disconnecting the audio from the video. This means that both the audio and video components of a clip will be captured separately. However, both the audio and video clips have the same name.

When you capture, the name given to the media file stored on your hard disk is the same as the clip name. However, since both the audio and video clips have the same name, Final Cut puts up an alert saying two clips have the same name and gives you the chance to rename them. (Now, I grant you, this dialog is very poorly worded, and it’s taken me the better part of a year to figure this out.)

If you DON’T rename these duplicates, then the second clip you capture automatically erases the first because two files in the same folder can’t have the same name.

It is not intuitive, but to solve this problem, what I do is add the letter “a” to the end of each duplicate file name. Everything captures fine and all my clips appear, on-line, in the Timeline. (There’s nothing magic to the letter “a,” it’s just fast for me to type.)

As for unmounting a drive, this solution will work as long as you have more than one drive to store media. For those who are using a RAID as their central storage, this trick won’t work. You are better off following the tips in this article.

(April, 2005)

Rick Llewellyn writes:

I have a suggestion that seems to work to avoid the duplicate file names. First, since I work with DV, I use the FCP automatic sub-clip generation. As such, I select the “Use clip name” option in the MM. (Although I never renamed them, I guess it counts as renaming if FCP generated sub-clips.)


After generating the full-res offline project, I delete the entire master clips folder, leaving only the sequence. I then do a batch capture on the sequence from the Browser and like magic, no duplicate file name problems. I don’t think this created any problems. If I need a copy of a clip, I just drag it out of the Timeline back to the Browser. This is the only way I have found that avoids the duplicate file name problem. I must say that it is a little frustrating that Apple has not fixed this problem in lots of updates, and in my case all the file/clip names are Apple generated.


I have used this system through several revisions and it seems to work.

Larry replies: This works, but I don’t like discarding the original capture clips. They are a very useful reference in the event a clip gets lost during final recapture.

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One Response to FCP 7: Tips for Successful On-lining (From Offline to Online)

  1. Spencer says:

    Thanks for all of the wonderful information you provide us with, Larry. Question for you — how is the workflow affected if your hi-rez footage isn’t sourced from a tape, but h.264 MOVs pulled from a card?

    I’ve already converted the footage to ProRes LT, made my edits, and am ready to export but I’d like to online back up to h.264. I believe I set my ProRes timeline settings accordingly. Also I’m using FCP 5.

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