Final Cut Friday: Why you should use the ‘Checkerboard Player Background’ when editing in FCP X [Video]

In this week’s edition of Final Cut Friday, I explain why it’s advantageous to switch to the Checkerboard Player Background from the standard black background when editing video. Watch our brief hands-on video explainer for the details.


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Handy for reframing shots

When I decided to switch my videos over to a 2:1 aspect ratio from the typical 16:9 aspect ratio, it lent me some additional freedom to reframe my shots since I gained extra room to work with on the Y-axis. That may sound a bit ambiguous to those of you who aren’t knee-deep in this stuff on a day-to-day basis, so let me explain via a brief visual representation.

Final Cut Friday: Why use the Checkerboard Player Background?

Here’s a frame from a 16:9 video at 16:9 aspect ratio:

A 16x9 aspect ratio shot

Here’s a frame from a 16:9 video in a 2:1 aspect ratio. Notice the pillar boxing that occurs to fit all of the frame inside the new aspect ratio.

A 2:1 aspect ratio shot with pillarbox

When you zoom in manually, or choose to automatically fill the entire frame using Final Cut Pro X’s Spatial Conform → Fill Type, the clip is zoomed in to fill the frame, which essentially crops the upper and lower regions of the clip out of the frame. Notice how you can see less of the top and bottom of the frame in the image below.

A 2:1 aspect ratio shot with spatial conform set to fill

The cool thing about this is that it allows you to reframe the shot on the Y-axis (moving it up and down). This provides added flexibility in post, similarly to how you get freedom to reframe when shooting in 4K and delivering in 1080P, or shooting in 8K and delivering in 4K.

In the shot below, you can see how I’ve reframed the clip by moving it up on the Y-axis. This allows you to see more of my hands.

Reframing a 2:1 shot up on the Y-axis

Or I can reframe the clip by moving it down on the Y-axis. Now you see less hands, and more of the upper area of the clip.

Reframing a 2:1 shot down on the Y-axis

Black Player Background

Here’s where things can get a bit tricky when reframing shots: sometimes you can straddle dangerously close to the border of a clip without even realizing it. At times it’s possible to actually reframe the clip past its area, leaving you with a black area on the frame. You can avoid this by knowing the exact X or Y boundary for your clip, but oftentimes when you’re working fast and dragging position sliders, it’s easy to move the clip outside the boundary of the frame.

Here is an example of me positioning the clip too far down on the Y-axis, outside of the area of the frame. Notice the black border at the top; it’s subtle but it’s there.

Reframing a 2:1 too far on y-axis

You may ask the question: can’t you tell that you’ve moved the clip too far? Possibly, but Final Cut Pro X itself features a dark UI, so sometimes it’s easy to go past the boundary without catching it. It’s even more difficult to spot if the area of the clip itself is dark, which allows it to blend in with the player background.

As you can see from the screenshot below, it’s difficult to tell at first glance that I’ve positioned the clip too far down on the Y-axis. Of course, it’s good to know the numerical boundaries of your given aspect ratio, but when you’re working fast it can be easy to overlook.

Final Cut Pro X Player Background

Checkerboard Player Background

To prevent potential issues like this, Final Cut Pro X includes an option in its preferences to change the player background color from pure black to a checkerboard style. This checkerboard style means that no matter what color your clip is, you’ll be able to see when it has moved past the range of the frame, on any axis.

To enable the Checkerboard Player Background go to Final Cut Pro X → Preferences → Playback and enable Checkerboard on the Player Background drop down menu. For the record, there is a white option as well.

Final Cut Pro X Playback preferences

Here is what the Checkerboard Player Background looks like without any clips:

Final Cut Pro X Checkerboard Player Background

And here is the same clip from above, positioned out of range, with the Checkerboard background enabled. As you can see, it’s now immediately recognizable from a visual standpoint when my clip is out of range, no matter what color my clip is. This can potentially save me a lot of time, avoiding the need to go back and tweak the edit after I’ve already delivered the final video.

Checkerboard Player Background enabled Final Cut Pro X

9to5Mac’s Take

All of this being said, you should still recognize, from a numerical standpoint, when your clip is out of range. Final Cut Pro X appears to have a bug where the checkerboard doesn’t show up properly on some values. Even still, I recommend keeping the checkerboard background enabled, because it always shows up properly when quickly scrubbing through position values in the Inspector.

Final Cut Pro X is an incredibly thoughtful application that takes much of the difficulty out of editing. At the same time, it’s a very deep application that makes the entire process of editing very rewarding. Tips like these, while small, can be quite helpful when implemented along your editing journey.

What do you think? Do you have any additional tips or tweaks to add? Sound off down below in the comments with your thoughts and feedback.


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