Edting AVCHD

One of the problems we’re facing with SciCast is that just as video is becoming fairly universally accessible, the manufacturers are retiring the only type of low-end camcorders that really make any sense – mini DV. Sony, JVC and Canon each have remarkably few consumer DV cameras on the market, as they push towards supposedly more modern formats like recordable DVD-video and, particularly, hard drive recorders.

They’re all perfectly reasonable acquisition formats, but if you want to make films rather than force people to suffer through every second you shoot, you need to be able to edit the result. And this is where the non-DV formats rather fall down.

DVD-video is a lousy post-production format but still arguably better – at least for now – than the format used by Sony and Panasonic hard disc recorders, the snappily-named AVCHD. (just to be really confusing, there are also AVCHD camcorders that use data DVDs as the storage medium, or even flash memory cards)

The trouble with AVCHD is, ironically, how fantastic it is. It’s an MPEG4/H264 variant with an extremely large frame size. Which is, in short, crippling for current PCs to decode. Anecdotally, systems that can handle four streams of the MPEG2-based, DV-derived HDV format can just about handle one of AVCHD.

Playing back the video on your PC isn’t where your problems end, however – edit system support is sadly lacking. Sony’s Vegas editing package is supposed to handle it, and I hear rumours that Ulead Videostudio can too. What we really want, however, is support in iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premier. None of which is in place at the moment.

Right now, the best option is to – I kid you not – pull in full uncompressed HD via an HDMI capture card, but that’s hardly realistic for a supposedly domestic format. There’s an interesting thread here about forthcoming AVCHD support in Final Cut Studio, but it’s equally clear that the strain of cutting AVCHD material is going to drive demand for übermulticore desktop computers well into the end of the decade. Right now, the only viable option is to re-render captured footage into some intermediate codec for editing. Which isn’t something you want to talk your granny through. There’s no word of support in the likes of iMovie, either.

So we’re left in the faintly ridiculous situation that editing video is today harder than it was a couple of years ago. We’ve a plethora of mutually-incompatible formats, excessive render times even on the beefiest of desktop PCs, and still not many cameras with proper microphone inputs.

Personally, I’ll take cheap, reliable, and decent-quality DV over any format that’s theoretically HD but practically unplayable except in unedited form, direct off the camera. Harrumph.

(though I wouldn’t mind me some HDV…)

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