How to achieve faster video exports in Final Cut Pro X

FCP X 10.2

One of the great things about Final Cut Pro X ($299 on Mac App Store) is that you can export high quality videos extremely fast, even on underpowered hardware. For example, my Late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display lacks a discrete GPU, but I can still export 4K videos with relative ease.

Some of the speed can be attributed to a technology of Intel’s called Quick Sync Video. Quick Sync is a hardware accelerator for H.264 encoding. It’s baked into Intel’s consumer line of chips, so ironically, it doesn’t apply to the beefier Mac Pro. Those machines are powered by professional grade Xeon chips that lack integrated graphics.

That means that even the 12″ MacBook, which is the most anemic piece of Intel-powered hardware currently available from Apple, can export 4K videos competently.

With all of that said, there are some things that you should know in order to fully take advantage of faster video encoding when exporting projects with Final Cut Pro X, and you can learn more in this post.

Export File FCP X

To use the H.264 hardware acceleration for your video exports, you must make sure that you export using the H.264 Faster Encode setting inside of Final Cut Pro X, as denoted in the screenshot above.

Step 1: Click the Export button

Step 2: Click Add Destination

Step 3: Select Export File

Step 4: For Format choose Web Hosting if you’re exporting for YouTube

Step 6: For Video Codec make sure you choose H.264 Faster Encode

Step 7: Choose the desired Resolution

Step 8: Click on the name of the export destination to rename it to something appropriate

Step 9: Close the Destinations panel

Step 10: Click the Export button and select the newly created Export Destination

Following this workflow will ensure that your export utilizes H.264 hardware acceleration afforded by Intel Quick Sync Video. In general, it’s much faster than using multi-pass exports, and the quality difference is negligible for most projects, especially after being uploaded (and further compressed) to a service like YouTube. From my testing, it simply doesn’t make sense not to use the faster encoding afforded by the on-chip hardware acceleration, especially when quality differences are virtually indiscernible.

I’m going to embed two videos below, and I want you to see if you can tell which video used multi-pass encoding, which doesn’t take advantage of Intel Quick Sync Video, and the much-faster encoding afforded by hardware acceleration. One might assume that the multi-pass option will automatically result in better quality videos, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Each video was exported on a 2013 MacBook Pro with integrated Iris Pro graphics and no discrete GPU. The export was performed using the Web Hosting Format at full UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) on unrendered video with a Cool Tones effect applied. One video was exported using Faster Encode, and the other was exported using multi-pass. The Faster Encode export was achieved in 5 minutes and 24~ seconds for the 2 minute and 25 second clip. The multi-pass export was achieved in 10 minutes and 33~ seconds for the same clip.

Note: be sure to watch each clip in 2160p.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Can you tell which one used multi-pass, and which video did not? By going the multi-pass route, in many cases, you’re more than doubling your export time. With a commodity as precious as time, it doesn’t make sense to waste it on diminishing returns in most cases.

Granted, there are exceptions, but for most uses, especially those devoid of extremely fast moving action sequences, the single-pass Faster Encode option is the better choice for sharing with streaming video services.

Keep in mind that I’m only referring to the out-of-the-box export options afforded by Final Cut Pro X. When we start getting into Compressor options, things can get a tad more complicated. But the general rule is that if you use Faster Encoding single-pass options, most of the time it will result in more than adequate results for sites like YouTube.