Setting Final Cut Pro 5 Preferences

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the July, 2005, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

As we move into Final Cut 5, I get lots of questions about how to configure your system. So this is a tutorial that explains new FCP 5 preference settings and gives you the settings I use on my system. (This does not cover all preferences, for that you’ll need to read the manual, just those that are either new or really important.)

There are three groups of preferences in Final Cut:

  1. Those that configure Final Cut to your audio and video gear.
  2. Those that configure Final Cut to your computer system
  3. Those that configure Final Cut to you.

And, when I’m configuring a system, I work in that order. All the screen shots show the settings I use on my system. And, with few exceptions, these screens are the same for both FCP HD and FCP 5.

Configure your audio/video gear

If you are using DV, Final Cut Pro > Easy Setup should be your first choice.

Select DV – NTSC if you are in the US, or other NTSC country. Select DV – PAL if you are working with PAL format video. Notice that new with FCP 5 are selections for the various sizes of HDV. Again, HDV-PAL users should select 1080i50, and HDV-NTSC users should select 1080i60. 720p runs only at 30 frames per second.

If you need to change individual A/V setups, select Final Cut Pro > Audio/Video settings.

My general recommendation is to leave these alone if you are new to FCP. The default settings are usually OK. However, the two settings at the bottom are important. Be sure you are monitoring your audio and video from the same place.

If you are watching your video on your computer screen, where Video Playback is set to either None or Digital Cinema Desktop Preview, then be sure you are listening to Built-in Audio.

If you are watching your video via FireWire on an external monitor, then be sure you are listening to your audio via FireWire DV.

If you watch your video via FireWire and listen to your audio on your built-in computer speakers, your audio and video will be 3-9 frames out of sync. This is due to the delays caused by converting to and from DV. This delay will drive you nuts, so, remember to always watch and listen to your audio and video from the same point: both on an external monitor or both on the computer, never mixed.

Configure your computer system

Final Cut Pro > System Settings > Scratch disk tab is, without a doubt, the most important preference screen in Final Cut. If this is not setup properly, you’ll never get the performance or reliability you need from Final Cut.

Here’s what I do: I create a folder on each drive I want to use to store media (I never store media on my boot disk). I name the folder Final Cut Pro Documents. Then, I “point” my scratch disk to this folder using the Set command at the top of this screen.

If I have more than one media drive, I create one Final Cut Pro Documents folder on each drive.

Final Cut automatically records media to the drive that’s the emptiest. This means your media will be stored fairly evenly across all your media drives. This decreases the playback demands on each drive.

Here are some other tips to use with this dialog box:

  1. You should always use a second hard drive (either internal or external) to store all your media. The drive that holds your operating system and applications will be too busy doing other tasks to playback media fast enough to edit.
  2. I used to capture media to one drive and render files to a different drive. But, now, I capture everything everywhere. Final Cut can easily keep track of it, and it simplifies my setup.
  3. Never capture audio and video to separate drives.
  4. Set the minimum free space setting to 10,000. This makes sure your hard disks don’t get too full, which slows down both recording and playback.
  5. While it isn’t necessary to store your Waveform, Thumbnail and Autosave files to the second disk, I like doing it for the symmetry of it. It keeps everything in one place and decreases the load on my boot disk.
  6. I am NOT a fan of Capture Now — I find it to be inaccurate and unreliable in FCP HD. However, if you are using it, be sure to check the bottom box and give it a value equal to your longest tape. That way, FCP won’t capture black when a tape runs out and you’ve left the room for a meeting.

The Search Folders tab is new with FCP 5. This allows you to specify where FCP will search when it needs to reconnect new files. This is a very useful setting because it makes finding and reconnecting media much faster.

If you created the Final Cut Pro Documents folder that I just mentioned, then set a Search Folder for each occurrence of Final Cut Pro Documents on each of your media drives. In other words, if you have one drive, there would be one line listed. If you have two drives, there would be two lines, and so on.

Here, you see I’ve set a search folder to the Final Cut Pro Documents folder on my second drive.

System Settings > Playback Control tab was revised for FCP 5. New in this version is Dynamic RT, which allows Final Cut to vary playback quality during editing based on the complexity of your effect and the speed of your system. Dynamic RT is what Unlimited RT should have been, because it dramatically decreases the time you need to spend rendering during editing.

With FCP HD, I set RT to Safe, because for me this works the best. With FCP 5, I set RT to Unlimited, with both Video Quality and Frame Rate set to Dynamic. This allows me to see a wide range of effects in real-time, without waiting for rendering.

I still need to render before final output, but, now, I don’t need to render nearly as much during editing.

The rest of the settings in this dialog are system defaults, which I leave alone.

The System Settings > External Editors tab caused a lot of confusion in FCP HD, because it changed depending upon whether you bought the retail package or the upgrade.

This dialog allows you to configure FCP to open an external application to edit a clip in the Browser or Timeline. I’ve found this to be a tremendous timesaver. However, in this version, LiveType is hard-wired so that control-clicking on a LiveType clip automatically opens Livetype, so you don’t need to set the preferences here.

In my case, I set this to open PhotoShop to edit my still files and Soundtrack for my audio files.

Configure Final Cut for you

Select the Final Cut Pro > User Preferences > General tab to configure FCP to your method of working.

First, I like all the default checkbox settings. So, in general, I leave them alone.

Limit Real-time video to # MB/Second is new with FCP 5. Apple writes, “Final Cut uses this number to limit how many video streams can playback from your scratch disk in real time. This is useful when … you have a scratch disk with a limited data rate” such as a Firewire drive.

The key benefit is that this attempts to reduce the number of times you see the dreaded “dropped frames” error message.

For instance, if you create an effect that requires a lot of clips playing back at once from your hard disk, if this is not turned on, Final Cut will attempt to play your effect, but fail, because your hard disk isn’t fast enough.

If this is turned on and set to about the data transfer rate of your hard disk, Final Cut will realize your effect exceeds the ability of your hard disk, so it puts a red render bar over the effect, requiring you to render it.

Because rendered effects always play smoothly, this setting is very useful in improving performance when you are using slower FireWire drives, or XSAN volumes.

I use a setting of 22 for an external FireWire drive on my G-4 laptop, and 36 for an external SATA drive on my G-5. If you have a RAID, you can leave this alone.

Here are the other changes I make to this screen:

  1. I set Undo to 25 — this take a lot of RAM, so if you have 1 GB of RAM or less, don’t change this.
  2. I tend to work on one project at a time, so I leave Open Last Project” checked. If I’m always switching between projects, I leave this off.
  3. I increase the size of text in the Browser and Timeline to Medium (this is FCP 5 only)
  4. I decrease the Auto-Render setting to 15. I’ll write an article about this feature in next month’s issue.
  5. I change the defaults in the Auto-Save Vault so that it saves sooner and keeps fewer backups.

There’s one last preference screen I want to mention — the User Preferences > Editing tab.

Here, I change the default Preview pre-roll and post-roll to 4:00 and 3:00, respectively.

Why? Because when I want to preview an edit, I press the backslash key ( ). The Playhead backs up the amount of seconds specified in the Pre-roll, plays through the edit the number of seconds specified in the Post-roll, then stops and resets back to its original position.

I use this preview method constantly — and have never liked the default settings. So, I changed them and, now, you can too.

That’s an overview of the preference settings in FCP 5 and how I suggest you set them up. I’ve found these to be reliable with excellent performance characteristics.

You can keep this as a record in case your system gets trashed and you need to reset them yourself.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.