To an editor/creator, there is nothing more frustrating than a timeline that won’t respond quickly when scrubbing or one that won’t play in real time. Let’s face it, with larger frame sizes, ever changing codecs, and newer complex automated effects, there will always be an element of catchup in terms of performance matching.
To help with this, our UI designers came up with color and badge indicators on the Timeline to give you that “over the shoulder” view of how Premiere Pro is reading the formats and what kind of performance you should expect.
Let’s start with the basics – the colored lines at the top of the Timeline are what I refer to as your performance indicators. These colors tell you what hardware resources Premiere Pro will use when playing back those frames. If you are new to the term CTI, it stands for Current Time Marker, commonly known as the Playhead.
Premiere Pro has two modes for playback: Hardware and Software only. “Hardware” means Premiere Pro is using the GPU (Graphics Card) or newer dedicated hardware technologies, like Apple Afterburner and Intel Quick Sync chip sets. “Software only” means Premiere Pro is using just the CPU (Intel or AMD) to decode your media for playback.
If you are new to Hardware/GPU accelerated playback, I’ll be covering this a bit more in a future article where I will discuss Apple Metal, Intel Iris, AMD, and NVIDIA: Premiere Pro uses these hardware components and their drivers to accelerate playback and rendering (export).
Here are the official Timeline color-coding definitions in Premiere Pro
Red: This segment of the sequence does not have a rendered preview file associated with it. For playback, Premiere Pro will render each frame just before the Playhead (CTI) reaches it. Playback at full resolution will probably not be in real time (but it might be).
Yellow: As above, this segment of the sequence does not have a rendered preview file associated with it. Premiere Pro will render each frame just before the Playhead (CTI) reaches it. Playback at full quality will probably be in real time (but it might not be).
Green: This segment of the sequence has a rendered preview file associated with it. Playback will play using the rendered preview file. Playback at full quality is certain to be in real time.
No Color: This segment of the sequence does not have a rendered preview file associated with it, but the source media codec is simple enough that Premiere Pro can treat it as its own preview file. Playback will play directly from the original source media file. Playback at full quality is certain to be in real time. This only occurs for a few legacy codecs (including DV and DVCPRO).
What color-coding definitions really mean to the real world (in my experience)
Red: The CPU is doing most of the heavy lifting during playback or rendering/Export. Even if you have GPU effects applied (more details on GPU effects below), you may have other effects on the same clip that are CPU-only and this causes the line to show as Red.
Another thing I hear is that Red means it will not playback in real time. This is FALSE! With newer computers having faster memory, bus speeds, and CPUs, Red section in Timelines often play without any issues. Think of Red as an indication of when the CPU is doing most of the work.
Yellow: Hardware is being used for playback and Premiere Pro is rendering the frames on the fly. It could be CPU or GPU (mainly GPU) depending on the frame size and codec. It’s important to know that some codecs use GPU for playback and some are optimized to use the CPU.
Codecs like Apple ProRes, Avid DNx, ARRI, and XDCAM use CPU threading, while other codecs, like RED R3D, ProRes RAW, H264, and HEVC use the GPU. Video memory (VRAM) on your GPU is also an important factor for playback. The larger the frame size, the more memory you need. For example, if you have 2GB video card, 6K frame size for an R3D clip will show as Red and if you have a 4GB video card, the same clip will show as Yellow.
This is a common question and an easy place to get confused as people might open their project on one computer and playback is different than on another computer due to the VRAM on the GPU. This also why we recommend at least 4GB of GPU memory. To net it out: Yellow=Performance.
Green: The Timeline has been rendered for real-time playback. One thing I see too many editors doing is pressing the enter key to render the timeline to try and guarantee real-time playback to preview their work only to have to re-render on export.
The better method is to right-click on any clip that shows as a red line, select Render and Replace and check “Include Effects.” This will render that clip with all effects applied (even third-party effects and even Warp Stabilizer). Make sure to choose a Smart Codec preset like Apple ProRes 422 (Mac and Windows), which will result in much faster exports when Exporting your final “Master” timeline in the same codec i.e. – Apple ProRes422.
I’ll cover more on Smart Codecs and creating rendering presets in a later article. Knowing that workflow will save you a ton of time.
No Color (blank): The media (codec) can be played back with no additional pre-processing and the CPU and memory have enough processing to playback on the fly. Remember that a Yellow line pre-processes the frame using CPU or GPU during playback.
There are additional colored indicators that appear on clips, like the blue Repeated Frame Indicator. This tells you when a clip or any of its frames are being used elsewhere in the Timeline. Note that Repeat Frame Indicator color will change as you have different clips/frames that are repeated.
Clip FX Badges and their colors
The picture below shows the FX badge colors and what they mean. YellowFX + PurpleFX = GreenFX.
One key FX color indicator to watch for is the Master Clip Effect (Purple with a Red line) as this can help you see when an auto LUT is applied on import or when someone has used a Master Clip Effect on the Source media in the Project panel. In many cases, I see people putting an additional color grade on a clip by mistake that already has a MasterFX and it cause frames to drop during playback.
Just remember that when you see color change on the Timeline, Premiere Pro is giving you indicators to help you predict how your system will perform for playback, rendering, and Export.
Performance is a huge focus area for our engineering team, making better use of newer chipsets, CPUs and GPU advances. We’ve made some big performance improvements this year and you will see more of those in upcoming releases of Premiere Pro and After Effects.