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Use an iPad as a second display with Final Cut Pro X? Sounded a great idea to Chris Roberts, so he thought he'd give the new $10 Duet app a go...

I’ve got a number of different editing configurations; from my 27” iMac with dual thunderbolt display in my office, to my 15” Retina MacBook Pro. I use both systems for the many and varied projects I regularly edit, but a large proportion of the work I undertake is often away from the office, meaning the iMac becomes rather impractical to keep lugging around (not impossible, just impractical).

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That’s where the MacBook Pro comes in. It provides a great mobile editing system and I’ve often put together projects in the strangest locations (including the front passenger seat of my car, but that’s another story…).

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(photo courtesy of Simon Cooper Media Production )

I love the quality of the retina screen on my MacBook Pro, but on more than one occasion I’ve longed for the second display on my iMac. I like using the second display for my events, where I can lay out all my footage in filmstrip view and just skim my way through it - especially when looking for that “lost” cutaway shot.

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(Click for larger image)

Yes, I could lug my Thunderbolt display out on location. But again, that’s not always practical. 

I’ve often wondered if I could utilise my iPad for this though and have occasionally scoured the App Store looking for something suitable, such as Air Display. However, the fact that you’re connected to the device via wi-fi and reading the mixed reviews has generally put me off.

But it was with interest that I spotted a post in a Facebook group for FCPX editors that mentioned Duet Display and it’s promise of zero lag when using your iPad or iPhone as a second display. This did indeed sound promising, but could it be used in conjunction with FCPX?

Looking at the website I saw that rather than relying on a wifi connection, Duet Display actually connects to you Mac using the lightning or 30-pin USB connector of your iDevice.

PurchasingDuet Display (£6.99) from the App Store is the first step, which is followed by installing the free companion software for your Mac from their website. A quick restart of the Mac and you’re ready to go. (We think the lower price was a promotion - it now seems to retail at $15 - Editor)

Connecting my iPad 2 (yes, retro, eh?) to my Macbook Air and starting Duet Display, the Mac immediately recognised the iPad as a second display. I could access settings directly in System Preferences for the displays, just like a proper connected monitor, including changing position (I prefer my second display on the left of my main display). I did have trouble reconnecting my iPhone to my Mac once. However, it seemed a quick restart of the Mac cured this problem.

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Opening FCP X I chose the option to Show Events on Second Display and instantly my Libraries and Events appeared on the iPad. Skimming worked flawlessly - it really does appear that Duet Display’s claim of zero lag is true. JKL scrubbing and shuttling all worked as expected. It really did feel like I was working on a dual-display system. The only thing I did notice was that when paused on or skimming a clip in the browser, the thumbnail shows a white blank thumbnail. However, when the clip is playing the thumbnail displays fine. You can still see the audio waveforms though if you have that option enabled.

One of the things I was also interested in seeing was if I could use the touch-screen functions. Indeed you can, but only to a certain extent. As you tap the screen this initiates the “click” function of the mouse. You can still drag your finger across the clip it does scrub the clip but also makes a range selection at the same time. However, using the trackpad or mouse to “point” to the clip and skim (one of my favourite features of working in FCPX) works as expected.

So is Duet Display about to find itself a part of my mobile editing solution? From the short time I’ve had to experiment with it, I would have to say yes. It seems to deliver on its promise of zero lag and this is of course an important part of video editing. Duet Display also claim that the added space makes you 48% more efficient in what you’re doing and though I can’t vouch for the statistic, less scrolling and less clicking is always welcome. I certainly look forward to my next editing job out on location when I can really put this to the test. And for £6.99, it’s also breathed a fresh breath of life into my iPad 2.


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Chris Roberts is a freelance video producer, editor and trainer specialising in working with Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro CC. Apart from contributing to FCP.co, his greatest claim to fame is that he was at university with Matt Lucas.