Deadlines tempt Murphy’s Law

With the shutting down of PCM Business Solutions, Inc., this month, I have to finish my current video archiving project. The final product of this project is a distribution of iDevice ready video files and a set of DVDs.

Background: The video files started life as Super 8 movies, going back as far as 1939. Some of the video was transferred directly from film to Standard Definition DV at another company. Some was transferred to VHS at another company many years ago and I transferred it to DV. Once in Final Cut Pro 7, I segmented the DV streams into clips which I and Joe B. color corrected in Color (part of Final Cut Studio 3). Audio descriptions of the films were collected (hindsight – get an actual audio technician next time). I did a bit of audio repair in Soundtrack Pro, but some things can’t be helped – like reconciling travel schedules and construction noise in the building at the remote site in which the audio is being captured.

As Apple has EOLed (End of Life-ed) Final Cut Studio, I wanted to play around with Final Cut Pro X. So I imported the audio and color correct clips and made 100+ “projects” (formerly called timelines in FCP7). Then I exported “Master Files” from FCPX, which I wanted to run through Compressor 4 to create .m4vs which could be used on iDevices. That is when the fun began.

I have a 12 core 2010 Mac Pro with 32 GB of RAM which I got to do this kind of transcoding as quickly as possible. Compressor won’t use all the cores by default. It is necessary to create a Quick Cluster and select it as what you want to process with instead of the “This Computer” option. This is all about the ability to create multi-computer processing/rendering farms and so on. I had not been able to coax Compressor 4 to do this properly as I had been able to get Compressor 3. This annoyed me. To the Internet I turned to fix this problem as I wanted to convert 108 files in a timely fashion – using Compressor 4. Scouring the Internet, I found many tidbits of information.

Also in the mix of variables is that I had upgraded from OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) to OS X 10.9 (Mavericks). It turns out that 10.9 breaks the QMaster System Setting pane, which is the GUI that allows for the configuration of the QMaster Quick Cluster which allows Compressor to work – sort of. See, here’s the thing: When you download and install the new Final Cut apps, it moves all the Final Cut Studio apps into a new Final Cut Studio folder. Compressor 4 has a QMaster menu which allows for the same customization as the QMaster System Preference pane did. What I really think is going on is that having Compressor 3 (32 bit – Final Cut Studio) and Compressor 4 (64 bit) co-installed – while different programs – have some degree of overlap.

With OS X 10.9 breaking the QMaster System Preference pane, configuring QMaster via Terminal is the only option. My hypothesis is that this configures 32 bit QMaster for Compressor 3, whereas the QMaster menu in Compressor 4 configures 64 bit QMaster. Into Terminal I went, and I setup QMaster just as a promising example showed me.


I became really good at changing parameters and trying again. I changed the number of instances. I turned things on and off. I did this on both the command line and in the QMaster menu on Compressor 4. Nothing improved. Eventually all Compressors got frustrated with me and wouldn’t process anything. It even took away the “My Computer” option. I restarted the computer. No change. Now what?

When I upgrade the Operating System on my computer, I always know that it will break something that I use. So I install the new OS on to a blank hard drive so that I always have the previous version (AKA last known working setup) available (it also gives me an ability/excuse to move up a hard drive size). So I thought, OK, I need to get this done, so I’ll boot into 10.8 and do it there. I changed the startup disk to the disk with 10.8 on it and clicked restart. The computer restarted and the boot-up “gear” spun and spun. After quite a while, and I mean a while, I decided that this wasn’t working. I hit the power button (my least favorite thing to do). I try booting again. Same thing. I booted into the recovery partition to use Disk Utility to check out the drive. The Repair Disk function in Disk Utility said to me, “This drive cannot be repaired.” It provided further advice to back up whatever data I could gain access to and reformat the drive. Oh dear. Now what?

Since all my data had been copied over to the OS 10.9 installation, I decided to wipe the drive and reinstall 10.8. Which I did. I then installed Final Cut Studio 3 into this fresh and clean environment. BTW, installing FCS from disk images instead of DVD goes much faster. It took about 30 minutes to install from disk images while installing from 7 DVDs takes many HOURS. Optical media is SLOW. The result of all this was that Compressor 3 worked without any issues in the clean environment. I was able to convert all the files with no issues what-so-ever. The QMaster System Preference Pane works in 10.8. I was able to setup a Quick Cluster to maximize processor use and averaged 95% utilization. Note to self: the magic number was 11 instances (N-1 where N = the number of cores in the computer).

I’m going to keep this new OS X 10.8/FCS 3 installation just the way it is. It will be my separate video editing system and I’m not going to install anything else there. I’m thinking of removing FCS 3 from my OS X 10.9 installation and keeping the new FCPX programs there. Maybe this will untangle Compressor 4 and get that working? As an Apple Certified Master Pro for Final Cut Studio 2 and 3, I’m a bit nostalgic for those apps.  Anyway, my deadline for the DVDs awaits…