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In the context of computer graphics, rendering is the creation of an image from a set of inputs. This essentially refers to the creation of the frames in a sequence from the decoded source media for the clips, any transformations or interpretations done to fit the source media into a sequence, and the effects applied to the clips.
For clips based on simple source media that match the sequence settings and have only simple effects applied, Premiere Pro can render the frames that make up the sequence in real time. Premiere Pro caches these results so that it doesn’t unnecessarily redo work when you revisit a frame.
For more complex sets of effects and more difficult source media, Premiere Pro can’t always render the frames of the sequence as fast as needed to play them back in real time. To play these frames in real time, they need to be processed and saved ahead of time, so that they can be read back and played instead of being recalculated on the fly. The creation of these frames to be saved for rapid playback is what is meant by rendering a preview.
By the way, it’s common but confusing and misleading jargon to refer to rendering of previews as rendering all by itself. Rendering for display, rendering for final output, rendering for previews—these are all valid uses of the word rendering. Don’t fall into the trap of using this general term to refer only to the specific case of rendering for the purpose of creating preview files for real-time playback.
Note: Rendering of previews is only for preview purposes. Preview files will not be used for final output unless you have Use Previews option checked on output—which you should not use except in the case of rough previews. Using preview files for final output will in almost all cases cause a decrease in quality. It can speed things up in some cases, so it may be useful for creating a rough preview in less time.
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