Category Archives: Editing

Recording video direct to Mac hard disk (updated)

I have re-written this original post. I discovered that upgrading to Snow Leopard destroyed my ability to record from a Firewire HDV camera direct to the Macbook.  Apple has buried in a support note on their web site that this, apparently, previously relied on Final Cut Pro native HDV support. As of Snow Leopard, support for Final Cut Pro 5.1 was terminated and all users, especially those using HDV, must upgrade to FCP 6 or the newest version 7.

However, it appears there is still a work around to make this work, without any version of Final Cut needed for basic HDV capture live from the camera. And it even works with the new Quicktime X installed by Snow Leopard. (FYI – the older version of Quicktime Pro, if you had it, is moved to the Applications / Utilities folder so you can still use that too).

What you need to do

Go to Perian.org and download and install Perian on your system.

Go to this university web site and download the Perian HDV and MPEG2 components. These are ZIP files. Double click to unzip the PerianHDV.component file and the PerianMPEG2.component file.

Using Finder, navigate to the Library / Quicktime folder. Move the above two component files into the Quicktime folder.

Launch Quicktime X.

Choose File / New Movie Recording

When it starts, it shows the view from the built in iSight camera (if on a Macbook notebook). On the bottom of the screen are the video record controls. At the right hand side there is an inverted triangle. Click on that. This shows a pop up menu with a selection for Camera, Microphone and Quality. Select your camera, then select your camera also for the Microphone, and then set Quality to High. In “High”, Quicktime will capture your video in the HDV native format. Captured video will be saved to the folder listed in the “Save to” pop up menu item; you can change that if you want.

Then select the Red record button to record your video.

After capturing the video clips, I imported them into Final Cut Pro 5.1, which I have on my notebook. FCP gave a warning about these clips not being optimized for FCP, what ever that means, but I was able to drag them into the project timeline and edit without any problems. I assume this would likely work in FCP 3.5 HD also, if you don’t have version 4.

Sure wish I could have figured this out before last Saturday. Then, I did do some recording direct to disk using a work around of importing through iMovie. But this was gawd awful. I fed the live Firewire video into iMovie and captured the video. If you turn off the camera before stopping the iMovie capture, iMovie crashes. If you do it right, iMovie than starts creating “thumbnail” images. Which took 4 to 7 minutes for each clip! I didn’t have that much time before I had to start recording the next event!

I had to use Force Quit to kill iMovie, then restart iMovie and set up the capture all over again.

iMovie does not capture in native format either – it transcodes to AIC format and your 13 GB/hour HDV video grows to about 40 or more GB/hour, quickly using up your hard disk space.

While this work around using Perian will let you capture native HDV on your Mac notebook, you will still need either Final Cut to edit the native HDV file, or you can import to iMovie – which will then transcode in to AIC and make the file bigger.

Apple’s success seems to be causing them to turn into Microsoft in terms of their deleting functionality during upgrades and not adequately testing software, like iMovie.

Editing Canon 24PF using Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10

For a software project, I had to recently update my old Windows XP machine to a newer machine running Windows 7.

I decided to also look at the free demo version of Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 10 editing software.

Update: The following review is not quite correct. My original test footage was inadequate to test this out. Here’s the scoop: Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 10 will work with true 24P video. You can set a timeline to 23.976 and import video clips that are true 23.976. However, video recorded in the 2:3 24p “pulldown” mode which involves mapping 24p images into a 60i interleaved stream, will not work unless you use a separate program like Voltaic HD or CineForm’s NeoScene to remove the pulldown prior to editing.

I still really like Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 10 – in fact I have ordered a copy – but it does not do  pulldown removal. But once I had everything in some form of 24p – including a combination of HDV, SD and AVCHD transcoded to remove the pulldown – I was able to edit the entire mix just fine in Vegas.

For a test, I gave it what I thought would be a difficult challenge – I combined 24PF video from an Canon HG10 in AVCHD format, with 24PF from a Canon HV30 in HDV format, with a 24P DV video stream. For those not familiar with those terms, 24PF is a 24 frames per second video stream embedded into a conventional 60i (interleaved) set of frames. To edit a 24PF video requires removing extra frames used to fit the 24 full frames into a 60 half frame (60i) video stream used by conventional video recording.

Incredibly – it worked!

I set the Project Properties to 23.97 IVTC (inverse telecine) option. I then imported the media – in the case of the AVCHD video clips, these were already on the system hard disk. The HDV was imported from tape using the Sony Vegas video capture function. The 24P DV video was actually shot as 60i on a Panasonic DV camera, imported and converted to 24p using DVFilm Maker.

And it just worked! I didn’t have to do any futzing around – it just worked.

I output the result to an MP4 file at 1440×1080 and the results are excellent.

Since the DV video was shot outdoors at an evening concert, the colors were muted. I used some Vegas filters to slightly increase the contrast and saturation, and added a bit of sharpening. This was then scaled up to the AVCHD/HDV frame size, producing an excellent result.

I’m still using the demo/trial version but I think Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10 is a keeper. I’m pleased so far.

You can learn more and download the demo version at Sony Creative Software.

More on converting AVCHD for editing

This afternoon I downloaded and tried out the Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9.0b trial version. Vegas is unique in that it is able to edit AVCHD directly, without conversion.

But as I learned, you’ll probably need a dual core processor.

The process was slow on my 3.2 ghz single CPU PC with 1.5 GB of RAM and running Windows XP.  Vegas quickly imported the clips from the camera, and arranging them on the time line was quick and easy. BUT – all videos stuttered when I tried to play them without using the “render to preview” step.

By the time I started doing rendering so I could watch in real time, the whole process had bogged down. Converting to other formats was not real fast on the 3.2 Ghz machine, either.

Seems to me that if your system really can not handle true AVCHD editing, then you are best off doing a conversion to another editable format.

On the Mac, I’m likely to stick with Voltaic HD 2.x for both transcoding and elimating the 24p pulldown frames. Voltaic HD is also available for Windows. I have not tried the Windows version yet, but the idea is the same – it should transcode from AVCHD in to (probably) an .AVI file that you can use in your favorite HD capable video editor. (Note – not all video editors can handle 24p – you’ve been warned.

Now that Voltaic HD 2.02 properly converts AVCHD to AIC and removes 24p pulldown frames – I will probably just use that. Sure, there is a transcoding step from AVCHD to the AIC format. But it is darned hard to see any meaningful loss except for a very slight softening of the colors. Since my destination is eventually to MPEG4 files that I play on my HDTV any image losses in the AIC transcoding are irrelevant.

More info on AVCHD and also 24p is available in other posts on this web site. In other posts, I describe how you can use iMovie and the free program JES Deinterlacer to process hv20/hv30 24p, or AVCHD with 24p video frames.

For now, I’m likely to use Voltaic. It is not real fast but it does produce the best results for when you want to be picky about images.

Handbrake – converting AVCHD to MPEG4

I wrote in the past about dealing with AVCHD and 24p editing on the Mac OS X.

I just installed the latest version of HandBrake, the free video converter for Mac and it easily converted AVCHD directly to mpeg4 video files. Unfortunately, it does not know what to do with the 2:3 pulldown removal required for the 24p on my HG10. Still, if you’ve got 30p or 60i video in AVCHD and want to go direct to MPEG4, this would be a good solution.

Unfortunately, Quicktime doesn’t know what to do with the resulting mpeg4 file, but other programs, like VLC and MPEG Streamclip, played the mpeg4 file just fine. Go figure.

Update: I have been experimenting with Voltaic HD 2.0.2, which now correctly processes the 24p AVCHD files from my Canon HG10. I have successfully transcoded from AVCHD with 24p pulldown removal to AIC, Photo JPEG and uncompressed 4:2:2 and more.

  • Uncompressed 4:2:2, not surprisingly, gives the best result. But an 82 Mb 40 second input file becomes a 3.7 GB uncompressed file! The most noticeable change is enhanced saturated color in the 4:2:2 color scheme versus AIC and Photo JPEG – and some improvements in subtle color graduations that leave compression artificacts in AIC and Photo JPEG. But the huge file size makes this unusable.
  • It is very hard to tell much difference between AIC and Photo JPEG. They can pretty much be considered equivalent. The Photo JPEG codec definitely softened the colors while the AIC codec seemed to have a slight softening.  The quality, otherwise, is basically identical – however, the Photo JPEG version is about 1/3d smaller than the AIC file.
  • I  downloaded and used the free Avid DVxHD code. Transcoding to this codec produced results similar to uncompressed but with an 800 MB output file instead of 3.7 GB. Still, that is a ten times file expansion. I also used the AVID DV100 codec which produced a 446 MB file with better color than AIC but the compression issues seemed no better. The Avid Meridien codec produced slightly larger – but all AVID codecs had better color.
  • Conversion to HDV did not work, even though the original AVCHD is in 1440×1080. This appears to be a bug in Voltaic HD and this is supposedly a feature of Voltaic.
  • I also have an XDCAM 35 Mbps variable bit rate codec (1440×1080/24p) that I believe came with FCP version 5.x. Unfortunately, like HDV, this did not produce a proper output file. If it had, the file size would have been smaller than AIC and provided better compression and color than AIC.
  • The

At this point, for working with AVCHD/24p files that require pulldown removal, the highest quality will come from using Voltaic HD to transcode and do pulldown removal in one step (versus 2-transcode steps required in the iMovie–>AIC –> JES Deinterlace to inverse telecine –> AIC). As to which codec to use? I’ll probably stick to AIC.

Why does my 30p video show up as 60i?

I’ve seen some confusion on the online forums regarding shooting in 30p (or 24p) and then importing into a video editor.

Why does my 30p video show up as 60i in <name your editor>?

In an interleaved 60i video (normal old fashioned video), the image is scanned 60 times per second, producing one half frame at each scan (say the odd scan lines, followed by the even scan lines in the next half frame). Because movement can occur between the two half frames, you some times see interlaced jagged edges.

A better way is to take 30 still pictures per second of the entire image.

When your camera records at 30p video, it takes a single image – but splits it into two half frames and stuffs those into two 60i half frames (without any jaggies since its splitting one image in to two pieces whereas 60i creates one image from two separate pieces taken 1/60th of a second apart).

Consequently, a 30p video is stored as a 60i video. And two consecutive half frames, put together, become 30p. Your video software can’t tell the difference between between 60i and 30p.

So why do we have these strange 60i half frames? Historic reasons. The earliest TVs were not able to scan the full image top to bottom before the next image would arrive. The solution then was to draw only half the lines in each interval. Thanks to the persistence of the phosphor image of old TVs, the first lines remained glowing while the TV then scanned the alternate lines.

No one would design a TV like that today – but we’ve lived with it for many decades and it is still supported for compatibility reasons.

I can import 24p video into iMovie (or other editor) but it plays weird – why?

This depends on the camera. But it is common to store the 24p image in half frames, similar to 30p. But since 24 does not evenly divide into 60, the sequence of half frames is a little different.

In 30p, the sequence is basically 2:2:2:2:2:2 and so on where the 2 signifies 2 half frames.

In 24p, the video may be stored in various combinations such as:

2:3:3:2 or 2:3:2:3

In this way, the 24p mode uses up more half frames – consider 2 half frames and then 3 half frames. This slows down the video frames to match the 60i storage of the tape. Consequently, 24p gets mapped into a funky sequence of half frames on the 60i tape.

To a program like iMovie, this 24p footage looks just like 60i. But unfortunately, iMovie (And many other video editors) have no way of knowing that it is not really 60i footage with some frames appearing 3 times. So play back and edits produce strange artifacts.

If you want to convert this to proper 24p footage and then edit in an editor that supports 24 frames per second see these instructions.

The Mac, AVCHD and 24p

The only workable solution I have found for editing 24p video from my Canon HG10 (AVCHD) on Mac OS X is to:

1. Use iMovie 9 to import and transcode the AVCHD video to Quicktime AIC video files. Keep in mind that 24p on the Canon and some other cameras is actually stuffed into the 60i interlaced video stream. So you can import into iMovie even though iMovie does not know what to do with the 24p frames. (Note  – I only have Final Cut Pro 5 which does not support AVCHD. The newer versions, 6 and 7, do support AVCHD directly, although as best I can tell, they do not support the 24p stuffed into 60i video streams directly. So you still have to do the next step.)

2. Use the free JES Deinterlacer’s inverse telecine feature to remove the 2:3:3:2 pulldown from the previously converted AIC file. Just look in your Movies Events folder and let JES Deinterlacer process the imported movie clips. Let JES transcode the input back out to AIC files.

3. At this point, you now have 24p AIC files. You’ll need to run Final Cut Pro to do a good job of editing 24p because Final Cut Express doesn’t do 24 fps timelines. In FCP, set your timeline compression sequene to use the AIC compressor – that way you don’t have to render the AIC files to some other format. Drag your inverse telecined 24p files into Final Cut and have fun editing.

Timewise, this process is actually pretty fast. AIC files do “explode” to about 3 to 5 times larger though, than their original AVCHD format. The newer versions of Final Cut support ProRes422, which is a more compact compressor with excellent quality. But if you don’t yet have FCP 6 or 7, that option is not available.

So why go through this trouble to edit 24p? For me, I like progressive images much more than interlaced. However, 24p enables shooting at 1/24th or 1/48th shutter speeds, making it ideal for low light situations.

Update: VoltaicHD’s problems, noted in the next paragraph, have since been fixed. More here – VoltaicHD now works fine on the HG-10 and presumably more cameras too.

Update: Cineform Neo Scene, for both Windows and Mac, appears to do AVCHD conversion and 24p pulldown removal for 24p embedded in 60i streams. Costs $129.

Other options? I’ve tried VoltaicHD, whcih is recommended by many for transcoding AVCHD files to AIC on the Mac (both Intel and PPC versions). VoltaicHD includes a 24p feature that is supposed to remove the pulldown. But based on my testing with the Canon HG10, it only works some of the time. Some clips are successully processed while others have no pulldown removal. I’ve done many experiments with the settings and have concluded that VoltaicHD probably only works on pulldown removal on the 3 specific cameras they list on their website, even though the underlying data formats should be identical. Thus, don’t buy VoltaicHD for the 24p feature unless your camera is specifically listed.

How to mix HDV and AVCHD on the Same Final Cut Time line

Originally I planned to use Roxio’s Toast 10 to import AVCHD footage into HDV format video and then edit that, together with other actual HDV video, using Final Cut Pro version 5 (which does not support AVCHD).

However, the Toast 10 feature to import AVCHD and convert to other formats does not work – in fact, per Roxio support, the AVCHD import feature is broken and produces video that is not synchronized with the audio.

I have, however, found a work around that works well for me – and does not use Toast.

I am using iMovie to import the original AVCHD – this automatically transcodes to QuickTime movie files containing Apple Intermediate Code (AIC) encoding.

Then, run Final Cut Express HD (version 3.5.1). FCE HD supports HDV, it turns out, by converting HDV to AIC – so the clips are stored in AIC format. (Final Cut Pro, on the other hand, works with HDV encoding directly and so imports HDV as HDV.)

Next, import the video clips created by iMovie (in the Movies, Events folders – or other location if you chose a different location during import) into Final Cut Express HD. Once in your bin of clips, you can drag these clips directly to the FCE time line. Since the time line is set for AIC encoding, there is no need to render from one format to the other.

I am fortunate that I kept the older Final Cut Express HD on my computer after upgrading to Final Cut Pro. Combined with the new version of iMovie – which automatically handles AVCHD conversion to AIC – this works very slick.

I’m going to see about returning Toast 10 and getting a refund. Toast 10 is very buggy and some of the features claimed for the product on the Roxio web site do not actually work.

Separately, it is probably possible to import HDV and transcode to AIC in Final Cut Pro version 5. I haven’t tried that yet but I think of the option settings likely required to make that work. Then FCP could be used to do the same editing, all in AIC. (You can set the timeline codec to AIC so that you do not have to constantly render the video.)

Working with AVCHD on the Mac

I do nearly all of my video editing now on a Mac so this post is about processing AVCHD files on the Mac.

Easiest Import

The easiest way to deal with AVCHD is to let iMovie (latest version) import and transcode to the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC). If you want, you can then edit in iMovie. If you wish to edit in older versions of Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro, you can import the Quicktime .mov files created by iMovie. Set your timeline sequence encoding to the Apple Intermediate Codec. You can now edit copy your clips direct to the time line, edit as much as you want.

Converting AVCHD to HDV Format

If you must edit both original AVCHD video and HDV video into a single time line and do not want to spend lots of time rendering video clips from AIC into your HDV timeline, then it may be useful to convert AVCHD direct to HDV. If you do not need to merge with HDV footage, then you will not want to do this at all!

Toast 10 from Roxio is the only product that has successfully done the transcoding from AVCHD to HDV (for me). Toast can import your AVCHD files directly from the camera and then re-encode into HDV file format. You do lose some quality (but not very much that most people would actually notice) by re-encoding into HDV.

UPDATE 2009: The Toast 10 product has been riddled with bugs (defects). The company  came out with a 10.0.2 fix release five months later but much is still broken. Worse, the AVCHD conversion feature in Toast 10 DOES NOT WORK. Their decoder gets the video and audio out of synchronization. It does not matter whether you convert from AVCHD to AIC or to HDV. The synchronization will be off. Roxio knows about the problem but after many months has not yet produced a fix. I recommend that you do not purchase Roxio Toast 10 at this time. (Its now 2012 as I revise this text – presumably this has been fixed but I have not gone back to check.)

24p

If you have a consumer camera with 24p capability, you probably cannot directly edit the 24p video without first doing a conversion. But before you consider shooting in 24p, ask yourself if you’d be better off shooting 30p progressive? If you have sort of last year’s Canon camera (HV20, HG10, HG20), you can, in fact, shoot 30p progressive using a simple trick:  Use the Program mode and the Tv selection to set your shutter speed. Set the shutter to 1/30th of second. Your camera now records in 30p mode! This is because the camera actually contains a progressive imaging system-with a 1/30th second shutter speed, both “fields” of the 60i video are recorded without any field shifts. You get perfect 30p, as long as the 1/30th of a second shutter speed is acceptable. (Most 24p is shot at 1/48th or 1/24th of a second. Many people like the blurred motion effect of the slow shutter speeds. Your choice). This trick actually works on a wide variety of older cameras too. If you have a newer camera with true 30p, you may wish to use 30p for all your shooting since it can be directly processed for online or Apple TV/XBox360/PS3 viewing without having to de-interlace.

If you do use the 30p trick, just import your video as 60i and edit as usual. That’s all there is too it.

But if you choose to use 24p, then you must do a “reverse telecine” (or sometimes called “de-telecine” or “inverse telecine”) step to convert the recorded 24p to a true 24p that can be edited in Final Cut Pro. (Final Cut Express and iMovie do not edit 24p video).

VoltaicHD ($35) claims to do the conversion but the demo version did not do so successfully for me. However, if it works, you can use VoltaicHD to import and do telecine removal in one step, producing the AIC files for editing. If it worked, this would be my preferred solution.

HandBrake (see next section) also claims to do reverse telecine conversion but it failed to do so properly on my HG10 video stream. However, its output format is MP4 which is not ideal for video editing.

JES De-Interlacer does do reverse telecine and does it properly and very well (and also does excellent de-interlacing as well as several other features). And its FREE! To use, first import the 24p AVCHD files in iMovie. Then, find the converted files (.mov) in your Movies Events folder. Run JES-Deinterlacer, select all of your input files, and the options page, select the “inverse telecine” option. On the output page, specify a folder to store the converted files – and set your output file format to AIC (Photo JPEG is also very good). Then let it run to convert the input files, producing a new set of output files.

You can then import the output files to Final Cut and begin editing.

You can also see why editing 24p is viewed as somewhat difficult!

Update Fall 2012

Since this post was originally written, another popular solution has emerged called Neo Scene which converts videos to the Cineform codec (now owned by GoPro). Neo Scene converts your AVCHD into the Cineform codec – files do become much larger but editing becomes much quicker and smoother. The Cineform codec is better suited for editing than is AVCHD and many editing programs can play Cineform coded video in real time, smoothly.

I do not – yet – own this product but have used the trial version and have used the free GoPro Studio (which also uses Cineform but does not support so many cameras). Cineform really works.

Cineform can also handled 24p files embedded in a 60i video stream. Versions are available for both Windows and Mac, and based on my experiments on Windows – Cineform coded files work fine in Sony Vegas Movie Studio 11 and in Magix Movie Edit Pro latest versions.

Converting Camera Video Files Direct to MP4 Format

Plug in your camera and copy the files from the camera to your hard disk. (You can also use iMovie’s Archive feature to do this for you).

Then, run the HandBrake program. It can read AVCHD files and convert directly to MP4 files. HandBrake is quite fast and can be configured to re-size your images to 1280×720, as well as de-interlacing (if you did not shoot in progressive). HandBrake is probably the fastest (and FREE!) utility for converting your camera files direct to MP4 files for viewing XBox360’s, Apple TV etc.

Toast 10 can also do the AVCHD to MP4 conversion in one step.

Working with AVCHD video files

For those accustomed to working with miniDV standard definition video tapes or the HDV 1440×1080 high definition format, the switch to AVCHD may prove challenging from an editing perspective.

“miniDV” and HDV formatted video can be edited directly on most computers with the caveat that editing HDV can take 4 to 5 times longer than mini-DV simply because there are a lot more bits to manipulate for the high definition video. For editing HDV and AVCHD you definitely want at least a dual processor (or dual core) and a minimum of 1 GB RAM (2 or more recommended).

mini-DV records video and audio at a rate of about 25 Mbps. Each video frame is compressed and then stored on the tape, individually using MPEG1 compression.

Summary

  • miniDV image size is 720×480. Data rate is 25 mbps.
  • HDV image size is either 1280×720 (few cameras use this) or 1440×1080. To display an HDV image on a 1920×1080 display, the image is stretched horizontally by 33%. Data rate is 19.7 Mbps (1280×720) or 25 Mbps.
  • AVCHD image sizes are 1280×720, 1440×1080 or 1920×1080 – with a wide variety of data rates from as low as 5 Mbps up to 24 Mbps.

HDV

HDV records video and audio also at a rate of about 25 Mbps. To record a much more detailed image, HDV uses a  compression scheme based on MPEG2. Unlike miniDV, which stores each individual compressed frame, HDV stores a compressed full frame, and then follows that with 14 frames recording only the changes from the first frame.  Since the HDV codec only stores a full frame once every 15 frames, it can do a remarkable job of compressing a 5x larger image into the same space as standard definition recording. (There is also a 19.7 Mbps HDV version for the 1280×720 image size – however, there are few if any any consumer video cameras that record in 1280×720 mode on HDV so we will ignore that.)

The 15 frame sequence is known as a “group of pictures” or GOP. There is also a version with a 7 frame GOP.  While HDV works very well, a major disadvantage is that a single tape drop out will typically ruin up to a full 15 frames – or 1/2 second of video. In the older standard definition encoding, a single dropout killed one frame or 1/30th of a second and no one noticed. With HDV, everyone notices a tape dropout!

AVCHD

AVCHD uses a version of MPEG4 encoding (H.264 or MPEG4 Level 10) that is twice as efficient as MPEG2. That means a 15 Mbps AVCHD encoding is roughly equivalent to a 30 MBps HDV recording (if such a thing existed). However, AVCHD can support multiple image sizes up to the full 1920×1080 HD resolution – plus 1440×1080 and 1280×720.. A 1920×1080 image requires 33% more bits than does a 1440×1080 image.

Most AVCHD based cameras record to Flash memory, and some to hard disk memory. Tape dropouts are then a “thing of the past”. This is a major plus for AVCHD. (Note – you can buy an expensive add on that will record HDV direct from the camera to hard disk to avoid tape drop outs – but these are expensive!) The major negative of AVCHD is that editing is very time consuming or requires huge disk space. And while tape dropouts are gone, you can still get corrupted file problems on the storage media (it happens to everyone eventually).

Editing AVCHD

Editing standard definition video is straightforward since the original video contains each and every frame. Editing HDV and AVCHD is more complicated because the original video does not contain each frame. Further, AVCHD uses a complex encoding scheme that takes a lot more processor time to encode – and decode. Consequently, no matter how you slice it, AVCHD can take longer to edit.

At this time, there are very few editors available that can edit AVCHD files directly (Sony Vegas being a notable exception that can edit AVCHD). Thus, most solutions require that the AVCHD files be converted to an editable format.

On the Mac, the easiest solution is to connect your camera and let iMovie (or Final Cut Express 4 or Final Cut Pro 6) automatically import and convert the AVCHD format files to the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) or ProRes 422 codec format. However, converted files expand by 3 to 5 times larger than the original! Where as an hour of HDV or SD video might be less than 13 GB, an hour of AVCHD might be 49 GB! Fortunately, hard disks are now cheap.

So the disadvantage is disk space – but the advantage is very fast editing.  If you have an older version of Final Cut Express (e.g. HD or 3.5) or Final Cut Pro (e.g. 5), you can use iMovie as your importer and then directly import the resulting converted files in to Final Cut (or just edit in iMovie if you want). If you set your time line sequence to AIC codec in Final Cut, you can import and edit all the files directly without a “rendering” step.

On Windows, the most straight forward solution is to use Sony Vegas – or the newest version of Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 or Premiere Elements 7 (update: or Magix Movie Edit Pro or Pinnacle Systems video editor). The advantage to direct AVCHD editing is very fast access to the files – the disadvantage is that each transition (dissolve for example) or title may require that the AVCHD be decoded into individual frames at edit or render time. So the time issue just gets pushed to a different part of the editing workflow.

Other wise, you’ll need to buy an application like VoltaicHD[1], which will convert the AVCHD files to AVI files that can then be imported to other editors (but which may require a rendering step in the editor). The files will also become a lot larger after conversion.

Some AVCHD capture programs enable you to view thumbnail clips of the original AVCHD that is still on the camera – and then select to import only the clips you want to work with (iMovie, Roxio Toast 10). Many also provide a way to quickly copy the compressed AVCHD files and archive those files – either by writing them to hard disk or, for some, burning to a DVD data disc for long term storage.

UPDATE TO NEXT PARAGRAPH: ROXIO TOAST 10 IS DEFECTIVE AND IS UNABLE TO CORRECTLY PROCESS AVCHD FILES. IT WILL PRODUCE FILES WITH UNSYNCHRONIZED AUDIO AND VIDEO.

Another method that works on the Mac is to use Roxio’s Toast 10 software. It can read AVCHD files from your camera and convert them to any format – including HDV or NTSC DV for subsequent editing. Obviously, if you decode a compressed AVCHD file and then re-encode into another compressed format like HDV, you will lose a tiny bit of image quality. Depending on the original source material, most people won’t notice.

Finally, there is the issue of dealing with 24p – or 24 frames per second mode. Depending on the camera and the editing software used, you may have to perform an “inverse telecine” operation on the original 24p video prior to editing. See footnote 2.

Update Fall 2012

Since this post was originally written, another popular solution has emerged called Neo Scene which converts videos to the Cineform codec (now owned by GoPro). Neo Scene converts your AVCHD into the Cineform codec – files do become much larger but editing becomes much quicker and smoother. The Cineform codec is better suited for editing than is AVCHD and many editing programs can play Cineform coded video in real time, smoothly.

I do not – yet – own this product but have used the trial version and have used the free GoPro Studio (which also uses Cineform but does not support so many cameras). Cineform really works.

Cineform can also handled 24p files embedded in a 60i video stream. Versions are available for both Windows and Mac, and based on my experiments on Windows – Cineform coded files work fine in Sony Vegas Movie Studio 11 and in Magix Movie Edit Pro latest versions.

Working with 1920×1080 AVCHD

On the Mac, if you are using iMovie as your editor, you need to be aware that the AIC codec only stores 1440×1080 images. So when you import your 1920×1080 images, they are re sized to 1440×1080 and then stored in the AIC format.

Does it matter?

Reading online forums, I see many people are focused on their 1920×1080 pixel resolution of their new Flash-based camera – but neglect that many consumer lenses cannot deliver the full resolution anyway. And after transcoding and editing, they then generally output their final production to 1280×720 video for online upload, or display via AppleTV, Sony PS3 or XBox 360. Or they burn a standard definnition DVD at 720×480.

What that means – 1920×1080 may not be as important as you think. Yes, 1920×1080 recorded on your camera, and then hooked up to an HDTV via an HDMI cable will look super! But only if you play back from the camera.

If you edit, transcode and ship as 1280×720 or standard DVD, no one will be able to tell the difference if you recorded your original in 1920×1080 or 1440×1080 or 1280×720.

What is more important to image quality is the person behind the camera making good decisions about what to photograph and how to photograph – and using a tripod of monopod wherever possible for steady images. Avoid excessive fast pans and fast zooms – which can make your highly compressed media turn to mush trying to deal with so much rapid motion.

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Notes

[1] There are a bunch of Windows-based programs that claim to convert AVCHD to other formats. Oddly, the programs are nearly identical except for minor changes to their user interface. Most seemed to be based on the freely available ffmpeg program (but which does not support AVCHD) with some AVCHD decoder added on. The programs are so similar, that I suspect they are all distributed by the same organization under different names (but all priced at $35) as some sort of market strategy. Who knows? Anyway, VoltaicHD is its own program and not part of the mass distribution of similar programs. I’ve run a demo of VoltaicHD and it worked fine.

[2] Working with 24p. Some of the newer cameras offer 24 frame per second shooting mode. Some, like Canon’s HG10, HG20, HV20/HV30 stuff the 24 frames into a 60-interlaced fields sequence using a technique known as 2:3 pulldown (which I will not try to explain here). To edit this type of 24p, you must first pre-process the video (which otherwise resembles normal 60i video) to remove the pulldown frames prior to editing. The VoltaicHD program has an option to do this automatically during the transcoding from AVCHD step – which will save you time in the longer run. Otherwise, for example, I have imported using iMovie, but then run the imported videos through the JES Deinterlacer using it’s pulldown removal option (also known as “inverse telecine”), which adds another step and more disk space to the issue of shooting in 24p!