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Working with effects allows you to add a lot of interesting elements to your sequence, but it also takes a toll on your editing system. Keep in mind, every time you play back an effect, which is actually something that isn't really there--like a resize, a reposition, a retiming, and so on-- Media Composer is actually working overtime to try to play those effects back in real time. If you notice your system is struggling, there are several things you can do to help it along so that you can maximize the playback of real time effects. Before trying to solve performance problems, it's important that you understand how Media Composer retrieves the media from the drives.
Avid retrieves media from the drives very quickly, much faster than real time. When you hit the Play button, Avid loads the clip or sequence, finds the media, and quickly fills a buffer full of video frames that comprise the media. This buffer, historically called the spring buffer, is a ten-second container that holds the media that's ready to be played. If you're playing just a few streams of video, the spring buffer stays filled the whole time. That is, Avid is always able to fill the buffer faster than real time, and playback it smooth. If you're playing many strings of video, the spring buffer can't always stay totally full; it's only partially full, and while you're not dropping frames yet, Avid gives you a warning that you might drop frames soon.
This is displayed as solid, yellow or blue dashed lines in the time code track in the Timeline. If you're playing back too many streams, the spring buffer empties completely, and this results in dropped frames, or red warning bars in the time code track. This simply means you're not achieving real-time playback. So, with this explanation, there are a couple of options in Media Composer that can help you playback your media in real time. We have here a pretty complex sequence. There's not much to it.
There's just a lot of picture-in-pictures with all of them popping on, one after another. I'm going to play through it so that we can see exactly what warnings we get and if we drop any frames. So let's go ahead and just press Play. I'll press the spacebar. All right! You probably noticed that we dropped frames at the end, and let's go ahead and scroll down so we can take a look at our time code track. All right! So up to here, we didn't drop any frames.
We were okay. But we're receiving some warnings. These yellow bars in the time code track indicate that my computer processor is being taxed. If these were blue lines, that would mean that my drives were being taxed. So that can help you diagnose what the problem might be. Then, starting right here, we've just started dropping frames, Avid couldn't handle it, and by the end, we really weren't getting any playback at all. Keep in mind, these results do vary depending on what system you're on, so if you're following along, you may receive completely different results.
So let's take a look at a couple of options to help you out, in case you need to playback your media in real time, which is usually desirable. If you come down to this menu right here, the Video Quality menu, and right-click, you'll see that you have three options: Full Quality, Draft Quality, and Best Performance. In Full Quality, the frames are being sent through your system at full resolution, but at Draft Quality, you can send the frames through your system at one-quarter resolution. Now, when you're dealing with HD media, you really can't tell the difference, so I highly recommend that you work in Draft Quality.
Full Quality should only be for screenings and output. So let's go ahead and play this back and see how it goes. All right! So that went much better. We're looking down here in the time code track, and we see that we started to get a little bit bogged down, about right here. We're getting these yellow warning bars saying that my computer processor is being taxed, and oh! At the end, we dropped frames.
So you can actually go down one more step, to Best Performance. This is sending frames to your system at one-sixteenth resolution. You will notice a degradation in quality here, but again, if real-time playback is the goal, sometimes the drop in quality is okay. Let's go ahead and play this back. All right! So we were able to play all of that back just fine. We had a couple of warning bars near here the end, but we had no red lines, which means that we are able to play back in real time, and the spring buffer just emptied a little bit near the end, but not completely.
In the ruler above the timeline, we see the performance from the last-played example. So this is the current example, and this is the last-played example. All right! So this can really help you out. The Video Quality menu is a tremendous way for you to be able to play back the maximum number of real-time streams, and depending on what you're doing, you can just switch back and forth. And like I said, I highly recommend working in Draft Quality most of the time, except when you're doing heavy compositing--then Best Performance can really help you out.
I also want to show you the Format tab. The Format tab will allow you to switch from the HD flavor to an SD flavor, and this can often help you out as well. So instead of playing in a 1080i59 94 project, and we switch to something of a like frame rate, like a 30i NTSC, I'll go ahead and switch over, and we'll go ahead and play it through in Draft Quality. I'm going to press my spacebar. All right! We played through just fine, and we had no warning bars down here in the time code track.
So that was our best option as far as not taxing the system. There are a couple of other methods, but these are the main ones that will help you out in making sure that you can play back your media in real time. Again, your Video Quality menu, and switching to a different format of media, will really help you out if you have a lot of tracks to play.
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